“We’re going to the Greek Larder for your birthday treat,” my other half texted to me, “You’ll like it – they change the menus every day.” She wasn’t wrong – this self-styled Greek restaurant, deli and bar masquerading as an Ideal Home Show set, succeeds in cooking ravishingly tempting and focusing on relatively short menus of regional dishes hand-made from great fresh ingredients in an open kitchen by charming Greek staff, a formula that works in spades for me… all of which makes it all the more baffling that the estimable Fay Maschler, queen of restaurant reviews in the Evening Standard for as long as anyone can remember, came to give the Larder a highly stingy two stars (see here.)
The Larder might also be seen as an antidote to Greek-by-numbers tourist menus, a fate that befalls every national cuisine, often to the point where the menu sends itself up and becomes a cliche. However, putting on authentic “authentic” dishes (ie. those labelled such by restaurant marketing parlance rarely come close) is never enough on its own. It must be matched by technique, verve, service and care, the latter of which is the stumbling block for so many establishments, which in the final analysis err on the side of slapdash.
It being a wet November night, we had no difficulty getting a table, though it was pleasant to see that the customers already there crossed the expanse of multicultural London. The atmosphere is midway between a modern high-class grocers and a canteen, which I don’t mean as an insult. Quite the reverse, the Larder actually feels quite homely and not especially like designer-conceived restaurant.
No bread (it might well have featured on the menu as an extra, can’t remember), but olives were on the house. Three different varieties, Greek (natch!) and decidedly better than your average olives. We also ordered two red wines which demonstrated conclusively that my previous experience of Greek wines was misleading: 2014 Agiorgitiko and 2011 Hedgehog. Why had I not come across Hedgehog before? It was rich, potent, a mouthful of evocative forest flavours, exactly as described. If you go to a restaurant without gaining a new and eye-opening experience, you’re going to the wrong restaurants, and this was one such moment.
For starters we dipped into meze and souvlaki. For me, grilled octopus Paros style, for her a pastry wrap with fava bean puree and all manner of other wonderful things. Octopus legs from a mature beast can be stridently muscular to the point of being inedible; these had texture, to be sure, but were tasty and well-seasoned with the hint of chewiness, helped by a smash of olive oil and a smear of hummus-like paste on the plate.
For mains she chose “duck fricassee” with horta (aka wilted greens), while I went for Old Spot (poor old spot!) stuffed with vine leaves and apricots, served with chick peas and Romanesco in a delicious gravy. One word of caution: her duck was certainly not fricasseed, but seared and roasted duck breast, sliced pink and served atop the greens. It was well-executed without being the tastiest duck I’ve ever sampled. A hunk of pork worked well with its sympathetically-chosen accompaniments, demonstrating both tenderness and depth of flavour. The one side of fries with wild thyme went down a treat, being crisp and moreish.
But the highlight? The Greek baked cheesecake studded with morello cherries and accompanied with a spoonful of stewed pear. It sounds nothing but this was, as I told our proud waiter, the best cheesecake I’ve eaten in many a year. It tasted zingingly fresh, creamy and zesty, and had a thin, dark and crispy base that beat crushed digestives out of sight. A perfect combination and well worthy of praise; not only that, but the honey-rich dessert wine I selected to go with it proved sublime, leaving me well-satisfied from my birthday treat.
My assessment? A rather decent 3.8 stars out of 5 (0.1 each knocked off for not including bread and for misdefining fricassee) and a good parallel with the Italian Rubedo, praise indeed. Perhaps not an “occasion” restaurant, but certainly better than Fay’s assessment – and for trying to use good ingredients, some sourced locally and some imported from Greece, they deserve.