Kitchen contenders: Greek cuisine
Greek cuisine is surprisingly under-represented in Hong Kong. The country is renowned for several iconic dishes, including dolmades and souvlaki and moussaka. Its yogurt is so delicious, it nearly defies description.
For quite some time, Hongkongers have sated their appetites at Ricks Greek Bar on Elgin Street. Expectations were high when Greco Pi opened recently. But Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, parties, drunkenness and ecstasy, is unlikely to be ecstatic quite yet.
On a warm evening, Greco Pi is a good place for alfresco dining. The breeze occasionally brings with it the sound of the traffic below, although the cars are likelier to be drowned out by the '80s pop anthems from the bar next door. Still, the more Mythos beer you drink, the more entertaining the music is.
Huge, ungainly chairs surround the small round tables here, and while one (non-Greek) waiter was doing his best when we visited, the place gets more takeaway business than customers willing to drink and dine from its paper plates and plastic glasses.
Greco Pi's website talks the humble cafe and its "celebrity chef", Yiannis Alifragkis, up to extraordinary heights. But perhaps we visited too soon after its opening because there was no sign of Alifragkis and we were catered for by Russian and Filipino chefs instead.
They were able to offer only two of the six dips on the menu - the tzatziki and the non-dip of feta French fries. This was odd, as the listed ingredients didn't seem hard to come by, and we were left craving the patsarosalata (beetroot and yogurt) and melitsanosalata (eggplant and yogurt) dips.
The menu also includes Greek salad, and chicken and pork souvlaki presented in various sets.
With our choices somewhat limited, we ordered the tzatziki and pita (HK$38), feta French fries (HK$28), Greek salad (HK$58), and a variety of chicken and pork souvlakis (with pita HK$32 alone; in a set of pita, French fries and a soft drink, H$57), as well as souvlakis in a pita stuffed with salad and tzatziki (HK$58 or in a set, HK$83).
The tzatziki was good, but didn't taste home-made and could have done with more cucumber, but the yogurt base was thick tasty. The fries were crispy and went well with the feta crumbled over them. A pleasant contrast to the dip and fries was the salad, with plenty of lettuce, tomato and onion but a bit thin on the olives and feta. The meat was well marinated and had a tasty bite to it, although a few skewers were on the chewy side. The wraps were our favourites.
The winner of the evening was the Mythos beer - perfect with the weather and the food, and outshining the Thessaloniki dry white and Rapsani red - and the delicious (off-menu) yogurt with honey and crunchy walnuts.
Our other contender, Ricks Greek Bar had little competition until recently and perhaps had no reason to try hard. It certainly looks the part: its whitewashed exterior with blue accents gives a good impression of a Greek taverna, albeit in SoHo rather than by an Aegean beach. On the weekend night we visited, there were plenty of customers chatting to a background of Greek music, and the half windows were folded back.
The menu here is a treat after the limitations of Greco Pi, with Greek staples such as taramasalata with pita (HK$88), htapothi salata of grilled octopus (HK$98), spinach and cheese pie (HK$78), grilled sardines (HK$78) and, of course, souvlaki (beef, lamb or chicken, HK$98).
The waitress was initially a bit frosty but became more chatty and informative as the evening went on.
We started with the pita with artichokes, olives and anchovies (HK$78). Although listed in the dips section, they were served whole in small dishes. Sadly, the anchovies weren't fresh, but the trio got our taste buds going, and we asked for more pita. The hummus (HK$68) had a great texture but lacked punch and quantity, and the Cypriot deep-fried halloumi, HK$68) tasted just as it should but had somehow lost its squeak. The generous serving of Greek salad (HK$88) had a delicate slab of feta on the top, drizzled with olive oil.
The mains elicited the most joy, with the stuffed squid (HK$90), a whole squid cooked until tender, and stuffed with the perfect amount of pork and garlic. The char-grilled lamb cutlets (HK$98) were roasted to a pink medium - crispy and spicy on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside.
The verdict: For a good range of authentic and mostly good Greek food, Ricks is still the place to go. But once the famous Alifragkis turns up at Greco Pi, we will go back.
Shop 13, Causeway Centre, 28 Harbour Road, Wan Chai
Tel: 3101 0782
Ricks Greek Bar
51 Elgin Street, SoHo
Tel: 2810 6106