It would be fair to say that I am a connoisseur of hummous. An odd thing to be an authority on, perhaps, but my penchant for it cannot be denied. So, when Elysée in Fitzrovia recently reopened after a year of refurbishment, I was eager to see if their version of this traditional Mediterranean fare had also received a facelift. Indeed, it was better than Botox!
Elysée is the oldest Greek restaurant in London and something of an institution in Fitzrovia. It opened on Percy Street in 1936 and is still owned and run by the founding family. During the years it has played host to many a famous face, including Prince Philip, the Beatles and Mick Jagger. But the plate smashing and loud music stopped about a year ago, when they closed down for a much-needed refurbishment.
I am very happy to report that the doors of Elysée are open once again, after a long year of setbacks and delays. And it was definitely worth the wait.
The interior is stylishly decorated, with sleek lines and inviting colours brightened by strategically placed bursts of vibrant fresh flowers. The ground floor, or the ‘Club’, as it’s called, is more of a ‘traditional Greek restaurant’, with long rows of tables and space for the band that plays a combination of jazz and Greek music six nights a week. The extensive menu has a modern flair and boasts dishes of monkfish with spanakopita and lobster sauce, pork skewer with basta bacon and crispy sage, and three different cuts of Galloway Longhorn steak.
But there is much more to Elysée. A short climb up the elegant wooden staircase reveals a smart, well-stocked bar with plush chairs in front of a welcoming fireplace. Further exploration leads to a spacious dining room neatly and sparsely decorated with an ironic chandelier created from remnants of smashed plates. There is also a private dining area and an undisturbed alcove ideal for business lunches.
Perhaps the most exciting enhancement to the restaurant is the casual, cosy roof garden where the retractable ceiling panels allow for maximum enjoyment of London’s sunny days, and heat lamps do the same during the rest of the year.
We chose the casual atmosphere of the outdoor terrace and I was barely seated before placing an order for hummous. While I waited with great anticipation, we mulled over the impressive cocktail selection – a mix of traditional and edgy concoctions. My friends ordered an Elysée Gin Martini with Hendrick’s and a Batida (a smooth blend of cachaça, condensed milk, lime juice and choice of seasonal fruit) while I, being the wine girl I am, went straight for the wine list.
I was thrilled to see they offered Greek wine by the glass. I always love trying new wines especially when they’re offered by people I trust to provide high quality. For white, the choice was Domaine Gerovasilliou Malagoussia from Epanomi, but I went for the red, the Gaia Notios Agioritko 2008 from Nemea. It was superb! I found lots of brambly fruit with savoury notes; it would be easily enjoyed on its own without the need for food.
The upstairs menu differs from the Club as it offers a larger range of smaller dishes or ‘mezedes’, cold and hot. I am a big fan of ‘small plates’ as I’m curious to sample lots of different foods but don’t necessarily want to tackle massive portions. We soon placed an order for five or six dishes to get us started.
Smiling and friendly, our Russian server Oxana was soon filling the table with copious plates and bowls, including some of the biggest green olives I’d ever seen. The mixed nuts that accompanied the olives were baked with a secret herb coating (our guess was thyme and sage) and were a delightful change from roasted almonds.
The moment of truth had arrived: it was time to taste the hummous! The flavours were rich, the texture creamy and the large portion of warm, fresh pita perfectly pleasing. Delicious! Now that the hummous had sailed through my scrutiny, it was time to enjoy the inventive twist that Elysée gives to all of its traditional Greek cuisine. Some of our favourites from this first round were the tzatziki, dolmades with wild mushroom and grilled halloumi with juicy watermelon.
By now, our glasses were empty and I persuaded my dining companions to share a bottle of Greek red wine. We could have had the wine I’d just enjoyed by the glass, but instead I chose one only available by the bottle, the Ktima Alpha Axia, a blend of Xynomavro and Syrah 2007 from Amyndeon. Yet another delightful surprise – even more so for my friends who were perhaps in slight trepidation about the merits of Greek wine. This one was darkly coloured with lovely black fruit on the nose and palate, superb balance and tannins that weren’t overpowering, and could easily harmonise with the delicate tenderness of the lamb souvlaki.
A few of the other dishes that impressed us were the potato and dill salad, salt cod fritters, pickled artichoke and broad beans, the grilled squid with chilli and lemon and the crisp whole red mullet stuffed with fennel and tomato. Sadly, we simply had no room for dessert, but I look forward to a return visit to sample the risogolo with pomegranate granita, chocolate pot with orange mint salad and the date pudding with toffee sauce.
Renewed and refreshed, Elysée now boasts an alluring menu abounding with choices for vegetarians and carnivores alike, presented by friendly staff in an atmosphere that combines the warmth of the Mediterranean with chic style and trendy sophistication.
Summary: a restaurant worth discovering.
Elysée, 13 Percy Street, London W1T 1DT. Tel: +44 (0)207 636 4804. Website.