The first green shoots for this article were planted way back in early November, when – on one particularly rainy and windy night – I found myself unable to walk more than half a block from my own front door for dinner. I didn’t have high expectations for Greek food in Amsterdam (I’d been to a couple of Greek restaurants here years ago, and they’d been abysmal) so perhaps that made it a little easier for The Greek Embassy to blow me away. This? Fifty metres from my front door? I was converted!
Opening in summer 2023 on Weesperzijde, The Greek Embassy started as a coffee and pastries bar known as Kafenion, and then rebranded into a full-blown Greek restaurant that now serves dinner and Greek wines and beers as well. The first time I visited, we started with the taramásalata, which was white (not that lurid pink of my 90s memories), smoky-meets-creamy, savoury and delicious with the lightly toasted pita bread (ordered separately). We also got a portion of zucchini fritters, which were light, fluffy and delightful with the accompanying fresh tzatziki. As a main course, we split the mixed grill, which was a combo of beef patties (rather like kofte), succulent pork chops, sausage and a carb-heavy mix of fries and more pita bread. With hindsight, we should’ve ordered everything at the same time and used the pitas from the mixed grill to accompany the taramásalata because, as it was, we wasted quite a bit of bread (which was a shame because it was great). True to type, I also tasted two Greek wines: a white Chardonnay-Assyrtiko blend and a red Agiorgitiko from the Nemea region. Both were new grapes on me, and both were delicious.
If you like your Greek food with a side order of contemporary fine dining, head straight to the Europaplein where you’ll find the relaxed yet elegant restaurant KAIA. If you’re going for diner a deux (and you’re not looking for privacy), book a spot at the bar overlooking the kitchen so you can watch the chefs at work. Chef Manos Athanasiou and his team are refining Greek tradition into something very modern and innovative that deserves a front-row seat. We started with a fancy bread basket (it’s always appreciated when attention to detail is reflected all the way down to the bread) before cracking on with a surprise chef’s menu.
My two favourite dishes were the Athinaiki: sea bream tartare with a citrusy pea cream and taramá mayonnaise that echoes its classical Greek roots. And the Lachanodolmas: a roomy savoy cabbage leaf stuffed with rice cream, Greek herbs and lightly pickled vegetables with a “Avgolemono soup” – which paired excellently with the Paterianakis Vidiano white wine. Slightly less innovative but no less delicious was the Greek take on beef carpaccio, which looked a picture and involved egg yolk cured in Tsipouro (a Greek distilled spirit). Meat-led mains included lamb prasoselino – three textures of lamb with leek-celery puree and lamb jus – which paired perfectly with the Dougos Rapsani old vine red blend. While chicken krasato comprised surprisingly moist chicken breast with cherry glaze, carrot-olive puree, parsnip and a miniature chicken pie. I was honestly too full for dessert, but managed a few bites of the Greek yoghurt-based cheesecake with dulce de leche-style sauce and little white chocolate-covered liquid flavour bombs. A sugar crash was narrowly averted, and date night was complete.
Editor’s note: I was invited to eat at KAIA as a journalist, and I didn’t pay for my meal. Obviously I try to be as objective as possible, but I always disclose when I’ve had a freebie.
Meat & Greek
And now for something completely different. At the other end of the spectrum, Meat & Greek is a good value spot for classic Greek gyros. There are various options to choose from: meat or veggie based, plate or pita (with the pita format being cheaper than a full plate), and eat in or take away. I ordered the “Chef’s Favourite”: a plate laden with pork kebab meat, tzatziki, feta, pita, salad, red onion and a couple of sauces. It was a generous portion of food, but my main complaint was that the meat was too salty and a little dry, while the lettuce was wilted and lacked freshness. That said, it may hit a spot if you’re craving something speedy and satisfying for lunch in the Utrechtsestraat area.
One of the old school of Greek restaurants, Dionysos Taverna has been serving customers on the Overtoom since 1992 (before even my time in Amsterdam!). As such, the décor is a little kitsch, but the atmosphere is cosy and the service warm and welcoming. We ordered a few small dishes to share: the spanakópita was crispy, warm and brimming with spinach and feta. The taramá was fine, but glowed pinkly and wasn’t a patch on The Greek Embassy, while the bread we spread it on was dry, sliced cardboard. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the savoury-sweet lamb shank (a Dionysos special) and the chirinó saganáki: a pork dish made with saganáki cheese (a drier form of feta) and a tomato-based sauce. I’d never heard of the Greek house wine, but it was eminently drinkable and the whole experience was very affordable at only around €35 per person.
Of all the Greek restaurants I visited during the research for this article, Ikaria Park was the only one to serve kleftiko – my all-time favourite Greek dish of marinated, slow-cooked lamb in parchment paper. But before we get onto that, let’s talk about Ikaria’s charming location: it’s nestled into the Bilderdijkpark, in the spot once occupied by legendary Mexican restaurant Flora. Its tight-knit tables and twinkling fairy lights have now been repurposed into a Greek culinary enclave, complete with an extensive Greek wine list (including several natural wines, for whose of you who like that kind of thing).
We kicked off the meal by sharing a few pitas and dips that were not dissimilar to those on the menu at The Greek Embassy: taramásalata (also white, not pink), smoked aubergine dip, and tirokeftiri (spicy feta dip). The rest of the menu was designed to be shared, too: we ordered more obviously Greek dishes like saganaki (fried Kefalotyri cheese), keftedakia (meatballs) and dolmas (stuffed vines leaves), as well as less typical dishes like gambas in tomato and feta sauce and grilled chicken. But let’s face it, I was here for the kleftiko: in Ikaria Park’s case, it comprised shank of lamb, slow roasted with potatoes, tomatoes and half an oregano bush, drizzled with an unexpectedly creamy sauce. I’ll be honest and say it did not immediately transport me to the kleftiko of my Greek holiday memories. But it still tasted good, especially with a glass of Assyrtiko from Santorini. And the whole experience generally brought a ray of Greek sunshine to an otherwise grey day in Amsterdam.
Note: a couple of blocks from Ikaria Park is an outdoor kiosk called Ikaria Food (run by the same people). Since it was January when I visited, we only ordered coffee and pastries to go – and then stood and shivered on the Kwakersplein for a few minutes before deciding to walk and sip. That said, what we did consume was very good – so I’ll be back for more once the weather improves.