Get to the Greek at Avra
The range of dining experiences at our disposal has never been greater, but there’s been a good-Greek-taverna-sized gap in Thailand for as long as we can remember. Yes, there have been—and still exist—restaurants that dish up a serviceable moussaka, but for most their claim to be the real deal is compromised somewhat by the inclusion of regional imposters such as hummus and baba ganoush.
Avra has no such identity crisis. This deceptively spacious, ebulliently decorated standalone restaurant at the Lotus Hotel has a Greek verisimilitude that is hard to fault, right down to the blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, whitewashed walls, hanging clay pots, tumblers of iced ouzo, and, all importantly, the persnickety chef. “Konstantinos Sarrimavrogenis is not just a close friend of my husband, he’s also the son of a great Greek chef,” says the owner Anna Avramidou of her star attraction, who hails from Greece’s second-biggest city, Thessaloniki. “He was virtually born in the kitchen,” she adds proudly.
Avramidou and her team are still fine-tuning Avra, which opened in January. “If the octopus isn’t tender enough, we don’t serve it,” she says regarding the paucity of seafood on the menu, something they hope to remedy as soon as they find better suppliers. She’s also upgrading the wine list; 600 bottles of Greek wine, including an aromatic retsina, or resinated white, from Kechris Winery, are hotfooting it over as we write. And great efforts have been made to offer those unctuous spreads taramasalata (her husband managed to track the missing ingredient, cod roe, down) and fava, among other rare dishes.
The attention to detail appears to be paying off. On our visit, the place went from empty at 6pm to lively by 8pm. And this was a stormy Tuesday night. Avramidou has theories for why the place is buzzing, but could just as easily let the food speak for itself. A mezedes of pan-fried feta cheese comes ensconced in a crispy roll and primed with honey, sesame seeds and orange slivers, while the large Greek salad is shot through with morsels of Mediterranean colour, each one crisp and fresh and doused in olive oil. After these comes a slab of moussaka that yields without fuss, as it should, to the fork, revealing soft baked layers of runny béchamel, tender minced beef, potato, zucchini and eggplant.
Avramidou’s insistence that “a Greek restaurant must have a Greek chef ” might seem old hat in a city where an Australian can helm arguably the best Thai restaurant in the world (Nahm) and a Brit confidently fly the flag for Italian food (Theo Mio), but when the dishes are this comforting, and the alternatives so mediocre, it would be churlish to call her out for it. If, like us, you’ve been sating your appetite for Greek cuisine with lacklustre approximations of the real thing, dining at Avra is like being led from Plato’s cave and out squinting into the sunshine.
Avra, Hotel Lotus Sukhumvit, 1 Sukhumvit Soi 33, Bangkok; tel: 0-2258-2876; avrabkk.com