For a big city, there are some types of global cuisine that are seriously underrepresented in Bristol’s restaurant scene. And one such cuisine is Greek.
A few new choices have sprung up in recent years, but I miss my north London days, when the area in which I lived was packed with both Greek and Turkish restaurants, shops, coffee shops…authentic, family-run businesses that offered some seriously good food and drink.
When I lived in London, the Bankside branch of The Real Greek was a popular lunchtime choice, serving up delicious, authentic and filling souvlaki wraps that never failed to impress. Back then, though, the chain was still under the control of its original Greek chef-owner…so now that it’s owned by investment company Fulham Shore (whose portfolio also includes Franco Manca), is that authenticity still there?
The Bristol restaurant opened in November 2017 in Cabot Circus, and while you’ll find a lot of traditional Greek favourites on offer – and while we enjoyed our lunch out – it’s not a place to go if you’re looking for true authenticity.
Decor-wise, while The Real Greek has a clean and contemporary feel, it’s also got all the stereotypical design touches of a British Greek restaurant. The place is dominated by a massive mural of Santorini’s iconic rooftops and an invitingly blue sea, while look around and you’ll also find blue and white striped seat cushions, blue and white tiles by the open plan kitchen, a Greek flag behind the bar.
On the walls, a display depicting the original marathon route, an outline silhouette of Greece, a list of ingredients in both Greek and English and Greek film posters and print ads show little originality of design.
On the menu, meanwhile, you’re spoilt for choice – there’s around 50 different options to choose from, including hot and cold meze, souvlaki wraps, side dishes and desserts. I do like the fact that the calorie count of each dish is on there, to help those who want to make more health-conscious choices to do so, and there are separate kids’ and vegan menus too. Prices range from £2.75 for a bowl of olives to £7.75 for various lamb and octopus dishes.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m rubbish at making decisions at the best of times – especially when presented with a long menu. Which is why it’s nice that there are a few set menus on offer too, giving you a selection of meze dishes to enjoy without spending half an hour choosing.
It was the Peloponnese set menu (£32.50 for two) that caught our eye: a combination of eight different dishes, both cold and hot, and attractively presented, afternoon tea-style, on tiered stands. It’s a service style that makes complete sense: in their Cabot Circus restaurant, The Real Greek have packed a LOT of pretty small tables in, so it ensures that multiple meze dishes can be served without needing extra space.
We were presented with two stands: the cold dishes on one, the hot on another – and the chips in a separate bowl. And it was a bit of a mixed bag. We loved the creamy, tahini-spiked houmous, which still had a bit of texture to it, but the flatbread was more pillowy and garlic bread-like than we’d expected. The spinach with gigandes was warming and simple, if a little boring.
The filling of the spinach tiropitakia pastry was quite bitter and stringy, and the sweetness of the pastry more akin to a dessert, but the huge lamb kefte were nicely charred on the outside and still juicy and slightly pink in the middle, served with a beautifully sweet and crunchy slaw and a tzatziki that was overly sour.
The Greek salad contained all the requisite ingredients, but the slab of feta balanced on top was fridge-cold and a little bland. And while we enjoyed the crispy skin-on chips with their sprinkling of oregano, the halloumi skewer was disappointing. Nothing wrong with the courgettes and peppers, but the halloumi itself was dry, overcooked and tasted mainly of charcoal.
The boy was pretty happy with his kids’ meal, though – choose a main meal, a soft drink and a dessert for £6.75 (or head in on a Sunday and get a free kids’ meal with a paying adult). We chose the meze for him, giving you three options from the choice of eight. His Loukaniko pork and beef sausage, chips and houmous were speedily demolished…
Service at The Real Greek was pretty good throughout (including helping us to wrestle with some overly complex highchair straps), and friendly too. The food? Some positives, some negatives – for Greek food, the Cyprus Kebab House on St Michaels Hill still wins out for me.