The Real Greek was founded in 1999 by celebrity chef and author Theodore Kyriakou and his team. His books include A Culinary Voyage Around the Greek Islands, The Real Greek at Home: Dishes from the Heart of the Greek Kitchen, and other cookbooks promoting Greek food. The group opened the Hoxton branch and won “Best New London Restaurant”. The openings continued with Bankside in 2004, Marylebone in 2005, Covent Garden in 2006, and Westfield and Spitalfields in 2008.
We visited the Covent Garden Real Greek on a cold and wet evening, but the pool of warm light from this former pub was every bit as enticing to two damp Londoners as the gently swaying lanterns of an island taverna. OK, so we weren’t going to sit at outside tables being caressed by warm sea breezes, but a bench in the cosy restaurant was welcoming.
This particular Real Greek is still easily recognisable as a pub in a former incarnation. It’s a small restaurant (seating for 50) with typically Victorian high ceilings. The walls now sport dark wood panels and the seating could be described as either convivial or packed depending on your relationship to your fellow diners.
The narrow benches are high with stools to match. The small dishes are presented on stands so the food is ‘stacked’, rather than having plates searching for non-existent space on the table-top. A practical solution to the slightly cramped conditions. This is a favourite eatery for theatre-goers who grab a quick and affordable bite before paying a fortune for seats in the stalls.
The food is, unsurprisingly, Greek. The menu concentrates on meze rather than hearty moussaka or whole spit-roast lamb. The plates are best enjoyed shared with friends – these dishes have an authentic taste and texture, and will be familiar to those who have visited the Aegean.
We started with some chubby black and green olives while we perused the menu. A good selection of standard dishes of both hot and cold meze. It’s difficult to refrain from over-ordering. Choose a few dishes at a time. This kind of mix-and-match dining works for a couple but is even more interesting for a group, with each person able to try a greater number of savoury delights.
Greek Flatbread is a must and it is truly the Real thing here. Don’t think dry and meagre shop-bought pitta but more a light and spongy disc with a delicate smoky flavour from the grill. Have this with some dips such as the thankfully non-coloured taramasalata or some Hummus with a suspicion of chilli. Gigandes Plaki are large butter beans. That does not sound very appealing but these are a world away from the bland and pale articles with which we were punished at school. These tender beans are simmered in a tomato and herb sauce and you’ll want to order more of the aforementioned bread to mop the juices. Another flavourful meze is the Spetzofai sausage casserole which offers spice from the meat and sweetness from red and yellow peppers. It’s new to the menu but I suspect it will stay.
Souvlaki is the most substantial item here. It’s the Real Greek wrap or kebab. It’s called Gyros in Greece. You have the choice of pork, lamb, chicken or halloumi, with onions and peppers, grilled over charcoal. The cooked goods are then wrapped in flatbread and garnished with tzatziki and tomato relish.
There are a lot of wines here that can be ordered by the glass or carafe as well as bottle. That’s handy for when a glass is too little and a bottle is too much. Mavrodaphne sweet red dessert wine was rather good. It’s like a very young and light port with hints of dried fruit. Have this with Greek Lemon Cake or Travithes (deep-fried pancakes) with Honey.
The Real Greek is a small chain and it’s popular. Those looking for casual dining in central London have a raft of options but these restaurants draw those looking for good food at a reasonable price and in surroundings which are far more enticing than the plastic and luminous alternatives. I’ll return for a Greek salad and a Halloumi wrap, and perhaps another slice of that Lemon Cake.
Mon – Sat: 11:30am – 11:00pm,
Sun: 11:30am – 10:30pm
The Real Greek – Covent Garden
60 – 62 Long Acre, London WC2E 9JE
Tel: 020 7240 2292
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018