I am the Jon Snow of Greek cuisine. I know nothing beyond its Mediterranean roots, olives, feta and halloumi. I am intimidated by it but also rather curious to know more.
My education came a few weeks ago when some friends decided to have lunch in Camden. I’ve not explored the area as far as foodies go but with a little help from Zomato
‘s “Search Nearby” function, we managed to find something alternative to Camden’s typical pub/diner/fast food offering. Lo and behold, it was a Greek restaurant called Andy’s Taverna
The restaurant has been around for yonks which you can tell by its unfussy interior (and their website too… I mean, who uses Comic Sans these days?!) It’s not the most glam of all places and is down right casual but this is actually where its charm stems from – pocket-friendly prices, the warmest staff, and authentic Greek food.
My ignoramus self glanced at the menu and knew in an instant I was rather out of my depth. Fortunately, our friend S is the Gandalf of Greek cuisine so we let her pick our fare. We ended up getting Andy’s Special Mezedes. At £18 per person, you get 7 cold starters, 3 hot starters, a mix of kebabs and sausages, plus a Kleftiko.
Our seven cold starters consisted of houmous, tzatziki, an aubergine and garlic dip, gigandes (giant baked beans), herbed potatoes, beetroot salad and taramasalata. Served with homebaked bread, to my delight these were not too unfamiliar.
My favourite of the cold starters was the taramasalata which I’m not usually keen on. It had the right balance of creaminess and fishy flavours. The beetroot salad was deliciously tangy and D enjoyed the tzatziki so much we ordered another plate. The houmous was ace and aubergine dip had a nice garlicky twist to it. However, I didn’t partake on the potatoes nor the beans.
The hot starters started coming around after we’ve stuffed ourselves in bread and dips. The calamari was perfectly battered (ie not too much coating and plenty of cuttlefish) but the flavour was just okay.
The grilled halloumi was pretty good and it was atop a slice of lountza (that’s smoked pork for Greek food dummies). I thought this was going to be one salty and rubbery number but it wasn’t. Meaty and substantial, I definitely enjoyed this smokey stack.
Our server Harry then cleared our plates and placed a bowl of Greek salad in front of us. I think we were all in shock about the amount of food we were getting for less than £20. We were relatively full at this point.
And then Harry laid a platter of mixed of Greek meats/kebabs and sausages faster than we can scream “Opa!” No doubt, belts had to be unfastened to make room for all the grilled chicken, pork, lamb, spicy sausages and garlic sausages. They were tender and flavoursome and the garlic sausage had my vote. Still, it was all too much, even for four foodies.
However, it didn’t end there.
The piece de resistence of our meal was the Kleftiko, aka Andy’s most popular dish. It’s a (massive) piece of oven baked lamb leg/shoulder in spices and served with potatoes.
FUN FACT: “Kleftiko” means “from the Klephts”. The Klephts were essentially bandits from the Ottoman empire who would steal flock and stock from nearby farms and cook them in underground pits to conceal smoke. (That’s also where the work kleptomania comes from!)
It would be rude to not try the Kleftiko so we all had forkfuls to begin with… only to find the lamb melt-in-the-mouth tender and so absolutely flavoursome. Damn the expanding waistlines and muffin tops, we devoured this massive plate of lamb like pros.
After finishing our meal, the restaurant manager Petros kindly offered us some digestifs and coffee on the house. The liqueur was traditionally Greek and it tasted strongly of cinnamon. Pleasantries exchanged and he talked about how the restaurant withstood all the planning developments around Camden area. He came across as super passionate and I can see why.
Truthfully, Andy’s Taverna is charming. The staff are absolutely great and friendly and I see how Greek hospitality stems out of familial settings. Food is ridiculously generous and if it’s where you’d bring friends to an introduction to the Mediterranean cuisine, then you’re in for a fantastic experience.
81-81A Bayham St, London NW1
Ave spend pp: £30