Real Greek Food that was so nearly Malaysian!
The plan, as I understood it, was to meet at a new Malaysian restaurant in Westfield Stratford for lunch. Now, you may remember, I lived in Malaysia as a child, and I still have very fond memories of the food – particularly of the satay, which we ate almost every afternoon at the local swimming pool. The satay man sat cross-legged tending a small barbeque by the pool, his skinny daughter, about my age, with a snake wound around her neck. And, at about 4pm, when we’d swam enough but were starving and grumpy in the way children tend to be, we were treated to skewers of delicious spicy meat and, if we were lucky an ice-cream soda from the bar. So, I was excited, anticipatory and looking forward to satay!
Anyway, as I was walking through Westfield, I got an urgent text asking me to meet in The Real Greek. So, I popped over there, to find Michelle looking slightly confused. The restaurant we should have been reviewing hadn’t opened yet. Not just for lunch – Not at all! Happily for us though the folk at The Real Greek, were full of Mediterranean hospitality and very welcoming. I already knew they had a fabulous new menu because I had been lucky enough to be invited to a launch event a week or so earlier – but, as is often the case with these things, it’s very hard to get reasonable photos. The Real Greek have been collaborating with Greek Cypriot TV chef, Tonia Buxton on a new seasonal menu, and the launch event was an introduction to the first new dishes that were to be introduced across the Real Greek Restaurants. In fact, one of the few reasonable pictures I have is of the gorgeous Tonia Buxton teaching us all how to roll Dolmades! So, I was actually rather pleased to get a second chance to review the dishes on the new menu at the Real Greek. And try some old favourites again.
My personal favourite of the new dishes was Prawns with Feta. It’s a simple enough dish; prawns served with white wine, dill and black pepper with a topping of tomato sauce and feta. Apparently the Greek and Cypriot name for this is Garides Saganaki. Very popular at the launch event, I was delighted to find that the version served up in the Real Greek in Westfield Stratford was every bit as good. Plump juicy prawns in a rich sauce…the feta adds a salty flavour that works very well.
Of course, I’d learnt to roll Dolmades – or Koubebia as they are known in Cyprus at the launch. I don’t think my version was quite as neat and tidy as those served up to us at the Real Greek on this occasion, but more significantly, the dish was meatier than I remembered, with a dense lamb and rice stuffing scented with mint and cinnamon and a piquant tomato sauce on top.
The only dish I questioned at the launch was the Beef Stifado. And, once again, for me this was weak. Although the sauce had a lovely flavour, the meat just seemed a little chewy. No horse jokes needed here, I know how fussy the management of the Real Greek are about sourcing and I think it is simply a dish that needs a little longer in the oven. Perhaps by evening service it cooks down a bit?
The final of the four new dishes was Artichoke a la Polita, a vegetarian artichoke stew with carrots, baby potatoes, pearl onions, dill and lemon. Apparently Anginares a la Polita is particular popular in Greece in Sarakosti (Lent), and during the summer months. The result is light and refreshing, but full of flavour. If I had any idea how to prepare the artichokes (only the hearts are used in this dish), I’d try making it myself.
On to the best of the rest (there were four of us, so we enjoyed a huge range of dishes between us!). I loved the salt cod fritters which came in a batter that was so light I really didn’t need any of the mayonnaise served on the side.
Octopus was just a little chewy for me. Not badly so, and I am not enough of an expert to know whether that is just how it always turns out. Unlike some people, I don’t mind the beast itself – in fact I think it’s rather beautiful to look at, but to cook it well seems to be very tricky. The Real Greek do serve nice chunks of flesh though, which is a much better experience than chewing on a stringy tentacle(!)
The tabboulah was fabulous and a very welcome addition to a table heavy by now with meat and fish dishes. There’s a little bit of me that would like to see this served more often as a palate cleanser. It really does help when you have a mixture of quite rich oily dishes – that mixture of parsley and mint is like taking a spoonful of Mediterranean sunshine.
I didn’t try the halloumi skewers but they looked faultless, with a light golden crust and melting cheese centre.
And, I certainly didn’t have space for dessert, though we did end up with a chocolate cake and cheese cake slice on the table together with the greek sweetmeats I ordered!
The Real Greek wins through being a down to earth restaurant with pricing that makes it a viable place to visit when you are out shopping, with a group of friends or just really want something to eat. And, it serves real food…properly cooked dishes that are made with good quality ingredients. Well worth trying.
The Real Greek
2 Chestnut Plaza
Westfield Stratford City
London E20 1GL