Hedonism from Crete at the Life Goddess:
Crete is one of those places high up on my bucket list that I haven’t quite got to yet. I have family on the mainland of Greece so my trips there tend to revolve around seeing them. But I often hear my cousins and other Greek friends talk about how wonderful the food is there. It’s an idiosyncratic cuisine with fantastic produce and in ‘raki’ the Cretans have a drink that makes ouzo taste like your mother’s milk.
I’ve been invited to a dinner hosted by the Region of Crete at The Life Goddess, one of my favourite Greek restaurants in town. Head chef for the night, Zinon Christofidis, has flown over from Crete to prepare a bespoke menu especially for this occasion and to top it all the evening is being hosted by Andy Harris, editor of Jamie Magazine and Fay Maschler, doyenne of food critics from the London Evening Standard.
My one concern is that we have been promised ‘raki’ based cocktails. Raki is the aforementioned Cretan spirit that got me into trouble as an adolescent when I led a stealth attack on my mum’s drinks cabinet. But to my relief the welcome drinks were rather civilised and I didn’t end up behaving too badly… possibly because of the barley rusk, tomato, feta and olive canapés that I had five of…
Andy talked about frugality and seasonality being at the heart of Cretan gastronomy. Crete is the biggest island in Mediterranean but also has mountains and the altitude gives an intense flavour to the herbs, potatoes and pulses that grow there. Fay then spoke quite movingly about the integrity of the ingredients and it was this that shone through in the starter, a rooster (male chicken) consommé that you wish your mum had made you when you were poorly given a creamy texture by the addition of Trahanas (bulgar wheat flour kneaded with sour milk). The peskytarian option was a deliciously rich and robustly flavoured fish soup. This was not fine dining but something much more real, rooted in the land and sea.
Trahanas turned up again smothered in cuttlefish ink with a couple of prawns delivering a piscine protein hit. This was delicious, a perfect late autumn dish with the lactic element of the trahanas making the dish was creamier than an Italian riso nero which would be blacker and more intense.
Horta (wild greens) came with caramelised goats cheese and baby vegetables marinated in ‘aged’ vinegar, tahini, Cretan extra virgin olive oil and pomegranate. This was a perfectly balanced dish with the sweetness of the goat’s cheese balanced by the bitter leaves pomegranate.
We had been drinking a mineral and herby Thalia Cretan Sauvignon Blanc which couldn’t be further from the grassy stereotype of that grape but for our mains moved onto a more aromatic Cretan Dourakis Rizitis made from the Vilana grape. These were everyday drinking wines but matched the food well. I loved the next dish-grilled sea bass fillet came on a bed of fava bean purée and was covered in a mastic and lemon sauce that was as unusual as it was delicious. This was Cretan cooking at its best. The char on the fish skin softened by the savoury oozing fava beans and the fish flavour zinging with citrus freshness.
If like me you are a fan of the robust flavours and textures of the southern and eastern Mediterranean then you should investigate Crete and its food culture. I just need to book that trip!
The Life Goddess
London, W1B 5PW