Eating Out: Lucinda O'Sullivan at El Greco in Bray
Thoughts of tasty pikilia and delicious baklava still linger, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, following a visit to El Greco, a new restaurant in Bray, which offers a warm welcome and great, traditional Greek food
People sometimes say to me, "How do you pick a restaurant to review?" The answer is simple. In a review, people want to know about new restaurants, and new eateries are opening apace – especially in Dublin.
What's happening on the Dublin restaurant scene is that guys with cash and clout are snapping up city-centre properties and leases, at what are knockdown prices, and installing established chefs, restaurateurs, or using already successful formats, to front them.
Unfortunately, the same can't really be said for Cork or Limerick, where the scene has remained static for quite a considerable time. A pity, because the competition of new eateries keeps everybody on their toes and creates a vibrant dining arena.
And so I found myself at a new restaurant in Bray, Co Wicklow, located in an upstairs premises on Main Street, which, for a number of years, housed the former Shelby's Brasserie. After a short-lived tapas place and an Indian restaurant, El Greco is the latest incumbent.
The welcome was warm and we ensconced ourselves on a comfortable banquette by the window. Greek restaurants in Ireland are few and far between, and the owner told us he was previously at the popular Corfu in Parliament Street.
What I like best about Greek restaurants, as well as Turkish and North African restaurants, is their mezze selection and the amazing desserts.
All of the popular starters (€3.95-€8.95) are there: calamari; stuffed vine leaves; stuffed mushrooms; pan-fried jumbo prawns; keftedes (meatballs); saganaki (pan-seared cheese); hummus; and pan-fried beef liver with fried onions. We "jumped on" pikilia to share, at €15.95. This is one of the most popular Greek taverna dishes, offering a grilled or fried mezze selection, and it was a real winner.
A rectangular tray held souvlaki; stifado; calamari; dolmadakia; tzatziki; feta cheese pie; spanakopita; garlic mushrooms; olives and pitta bread. We nibbled our way happily through crisp little parcels of feta and spinach, chomped on delicious calamari rings and a skewer of chicken, gobbled the stuffed vine leaves, washing it all down with Castellani Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC 2011 at €21 – having been allowed to taste two other wines by the very helpful owner before making our choice.
Salads and pasta were €7.95-€11.95, while mains of kleftiko (a traditional roast leg of lamb dish with herbs and potatoes) and stifado (a slow-cooked beef stew) were €13.95/€14.95. Grill dishes, €14.95-€20.95, included lamb chops, sirloin steak, chicken souvlaki and a mixed grill. My friend, Mary, had the great Greek favourite – moussaka (€12.95).
At El Greco, this dish was made with minced beef, and looked and tasted a bit "flat", although it came with a nice salad of minted cucumber, sliced peppers, tomato and red onion.
I had jumbo prawns (€18.95), of which there were plenty. They were cooked in a tomato sauce with Greek herbs, a "touch of ouzo and feta cheese", which was pleasant and served with rice.
We followed up with delicious baklava (€4.95) to share, with a scoop of ice cream. If you haven't ever had baklava, they are divine layers of buttered filo pastry, interspersed with nuts and cinnamon, soaked in a honey syrup. On this front, they also had revani, a rich sponge cake bathed in honey syrup; and galaktoboureko – traditional Greek milk and cream pie – and, yes, more honey syrup.
There was Greek music playing, but they could camp it up with a bit of colourful decor being added to the contemporary brown brasserie decor in situ – then they might add a bit of competition to the many Italian restaurants in Bray.
Our bill, with optional service, came to €81.18.
I'm still thinking of the pikilia and the baklava.
El Greco, 73 Main Street, Bray, Co Wicklow.
Tel: (01) 272-3733
Three to try:
Cape Greko restaurant
Unit 1, First Floor, New Street, Malahide, Co Dublin.
Tel: (01) 845-6288, www.capegreko.ie
Style: A Greek Cypriot eatery with a very extensive selection of traditional dishes, mezze platters and grill dishes. Good vegetarian options, too
Price: Mains, €15.95-€28.95; early bird 2/3 course, €18.95-€21.95
Try: Seafood souvlaki – monkfish, organic salmon and prawn kebabs, €20.50
Wine: From €20.50
4 Marlborough Street, Cork.
Tel: (021) 494-9724, www.nosta.ie
Style: With its roots in Greek and Turkish heritage, the menu at Nosta is a mix of colourful food made from scratch and baked in the wood-burning stove, which is set in the middle of the restaurant
Price: Mains, €10.95-€24.90
Try: Istim kebab – fried aubergine layers wrapped over lamb shank and cooked in tomato sauce, €19.90
Wine: From €20
Corfu Greek restaurant
12 Parliament Street, Dublin 2.
Tel: (01) 675-0050, www.corfurestaurant.ie
Style: The white-and-blue decor, plus the food in this Greek eatery, transports you, in spirit, to the Ionian Sea. Choices include mezzedes to moussaka to vegetarian
Price: Mains, €10.50-€19.95; 3/4-course set menus, €15.95-€21.95
Try: Mixed mezzedes (Chef's Choice), €14.95
Wine: From €18.95
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