Many thousands of words have been written about mom’s food, we love it, we seek it, we have glorified it, we have given it a place to sit and it hardly falls from there. But let’s not laugh, we have a weakness for this food because usually some nice memory wakes us up, because it transports us to a comfort zone just with its smell, without this meaning that our grandmothers, our mothers, our fathers – who used to cook in our house – they are also the worst cooks. But even if their spaghetti was boiled or the eggs instead of fried were swimming in oil, the fact that the dish they brought us was their way of taking care of us is something that has been written in us, and it is not easily erased.
We have left our homes, there is not much time to wait until a pasticcio is made, so we can look for the food that raised us outside, in the measured kitchens of the city that have resisted time and have their hype in recent years – from where they once served the surrounding workers or the Athenian intelligentsia of another era who arranged tour fixes for them, now they are filled with the above but also with tourists who have searched for “do it like a local” guides, and with the real locales that define the “phase” in this city, with those that a part of the city checks their stories to see which are the places to be.
At Pharaoh, they have not invested in standard electric ovens, nor do they use natural gas, instead they decided to show off the power of wood with the wood oven, putting pots on stoves and making the “seasonal” meatballs and pork steak that accompanied them with charcoal-grilled zucchini and squash.
These days these spots are shooting tzatziki and baked potatoes, egg-lemon cabbage dumplings and yuvarlakia soup, braised chicken with noodles, and celeriac pork in front (literally) of DJs expressing their eclectic musical tastes in a bar with a vibe like no other. – at least us thirtysomethings.
At the same bar, a little further on, fires are lit in its open kitchen, and the seats in front of it act as chef’s table. Except that in this case, instead of watching fine dishes being set up with surgical movements, we see casks that have come out of the wood-fired oven being opened and inside they hide giants of herbs.
“I make a cuisine that does not thrive in the cities,” he will tell me Manolis Papoutsakis and it’s true, it serves something that we usually look for outside the urban landscape in an off broadway location – if we consider that it’s not a culinary or drinking area – but typically a central point of Athens. He has brought the kitchen of the village, of the mother, of the grandmother, of the Sunday table to Expirationbetween the Kaningos Square and Museuma breath away from Omonia and just as much from Vathi Square.
The chef doesn’t need much introduction, tho Carob and Ten Tables of Thessaloniki are not famous by chance, they may be different from each other but they are both deeply delicious. In his first venture in the capital, he gets his meats from the famous John of Exarchiaand he has chosen specific things: PDO Elassona lamb, pork from Veria, organic beef, local rabbits and free-range roosters, the sausage that the butcher makes for him.
His pulses are from Prespes, his flour comes from Lemnos, he gets his groceries from Bostani tou Pagrati, which is trusted by many of the city’s best restaurants, while on Saturday he also loaded a car with things from Laiki of Kallidromi. It works with extra virgin olive oil from Kalamatavinegar is supplied by Sitiafrom the estate of the sui generis winemaker Housekeeper while the food is not quenched with any and all wine but with that of the pioneer Tetramythos winery.
The menu is renewed and printed daily, it will follow the seasonality, it will remain rustic. At Pharaoh they haven’t invested in standard electric ovens, they don’t even use natural gas, but they decided to show off the power of wood with the wood oven, putting pots on stoves and making the “of the hour”, the meatballs and the pork steak accompanied by chutneys and Courgettes on charcoal.
The wild stamnagathi that was also grilled and had fresh anthotyro added to it was the epitome of less is more. I bet the cauliflower with sourdough will be an instant hit – it’s also what you need to dip into their sourdough bread. They also had a cheesy one, and a sweet pumpkin baked in the oven with curry – which was the only twist – with cumin and a dollop of sheep’s yogurt, and greens fried with egg eyes.
Two days after I first visited they brought out the lamb with pickled artichoke leaf jus, the lemonade chicken with leeks, carrots and celery, a pork with ascolymbrus, a braised beef with barley, the rabbit was pot and lemon oregano. The above may seem overly simple to some, and it is, but it is not taken lightly. The chef is experienced and masters the techniques, the good raw material makes them so delicious, the cooking over the wood fire gives another taste to the food per se.
With Manoli Papoutsakisthe other three who make up the company behind his idea Pharaoh is a well-traveled journalist, a wine expert, and an internationally renowned Greek baritone, i.e. the Fotis VallatosThe Perry Panagiotakopoulos and Dimitris Platanias. They have enjoyed many tables together before starting to serve in their own which they made from leftover marbles, they have shared so many bottles of wine which is the other great capital in this shop.
Their currently two hundred and fifty labels are all of mild intervention, these are wines with usually intense character, with corners and unusual highlights. They want to highlight the Greek vineyard and the producers who embrace the philosophy of natural winemaking while together with the Perry Panagiotakopoulou of Wine Kiosk another strong name of the wine, h Paisley Tara Kennettserving as general manager at Noble Rot of London and as sommelier and restaurant manager of the Athenian Zillers which recently won its first star, also has some suggestions of the same logic from the international vineyard. They have work from all the popular naturalists, old vintages that we don’t find on the market, they will seek out and bring limited hard to find lots – I found a Lacomatia of Slave, a rare and special robola that the producer himself does not currently have. But the best when it comes to wine at Pharaoh is its price. Whatever wine you choose costs only fifteen euros above the price you will find it on the shelf. And this is something we needed in this city, to be able to accompany our food with the wine we want without thinking too much.
Passing through a green curtain that refers to his stage work Dimitris Platanias you will come across a space made of raw materials, filled with assorted memorabilia many of which have traveled here in his suitcase Foti Vallatouwith its traditional ceramics Nikos Vallatoswith a portrait and a statuette in her likeness Um Kalsoomwith various small and scattered Egyptian elements and an homage to Galaxy of the Stadium.
In the place where they wanted to marry the Greek cafe with the French brasseries and the Japanese jazz bars, the bar turns into a bar from eleven thirty when the kitchen closes, it continues to offer wines, a few classic cocktails while the DJ remains the protagonist, as it happens of course already at mealtime. Unlike most places dedicated to wine, at Pharaoh the music is at the center, playing only from vinyls, we will pay attention to it, we will listen to afrojazz, Brazilian tropicália, anatolian rock and what reminds us of Worldwide FM Gilles Peterson.
The nice thing that I saw happen in this bar is that some of those who finished their food at the table immediately felt comfortable in order to transfer and continue their evening in it, while at one point a small queue was formed, and everyone was cool with that. I didn’t mention the pasticcio by accident before, they make it. And as much as I can’t fix this grandma’s pastitsio in my mind anymore, I can’t think of anything better than having the option to taste it in this bar, in a wine bar – restaurant which are uniquely composed by so many contrasts.
Starting next week, we will also try the sweets, galaktoburek, chocolate and almond paste that will be cut into pieces from the pan. And all this we will eat in a restaurant with a name that does not bear witness to it in the least – even in that it is idiosyncratic. So the story of the name goes like this: they were very close to renting another space that once sold fishing tackle, and looking for a connection to its past, Fotis Vallatos remembered that one of the most famous and good baits is called Pharaoh ‒ it suited him perfectly, since he finds the Egyptian culture very charming, while it also reminded him of the jazz legend, Pharoah Sanders.
That Pharaoh I feel like he came to make waves. And to quickly become a classic, in the best sense. Because something familiar is being revived, and something new is adding to the comfort food of Athens. Because it already gathers the discerning gourmets, and those who no longer want to come across many unknown words in the restaurant catalogs, it will attract wine lovers, and those who avoided wine bars for so long because they had taken them out of fear. Because it will also gather the indie kids who are always looking at what is playing on the speakers of the place where they will come out. Because it’s loose but not loose. And it also has that “je ne sais quoi” in the atmosphere that is required to distinguish a new arrival among the many that appear.
Pharaoh, Solomou 54, Exarchia
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