Newly-arrived Ampéli rockets to the top of London’s slate of Greek restaurants.
At the start of October, I was floating in the Aegean without a care in the world, and filling myself with wine and moussaka. This has little relevance here in February, save for two reasons: one, it means that little in the interim has matched that experience, and two, it gives me enough of an insight to declare Ampéli to be a top-tier Greek restaurant, filled with Proustian moments (for me) and stunning small plates (for everyone).
This is no mean feat, especially since Ampéli sits on Fitzrovia’s Charlotte Street, a stretch of foodie heaven that offers budding diners an embarrassment of riches. I’d advise you to shun the rest and make a beeline here, though, because everything on the menu is as delicious as it is reasonable – and that extends to one of London’s most intriguing wine lists, too.
Whereas others may draw on the collective strength of Italy, France, Argentina, Australia and more to ensure a grape time, Ampéli unashamedly champions Greek wines. Master of wine Yiannis Karakasis puts Retsina, Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko and friends in the spotlight, drawing on vintages from Crete, Macedonia, Santorini, and Attica. Red and white draw the eye instantly, but you can also try low-intervention orange wines, and prolong your stay by diving into the dessert wines. No need to be daunted by unfamiliar vintages either, for the exceedingly friendly wait staff are happy to direct you towards something you’ll love.
It really says something about the wine list that it’s strong enough to draw my focus from the food even for a moment, because dishes of this quality aren’t easily forgotten – especially with ex-Nopi and Brother Marcus chef Oren Goldfeld running the show. Diners can indulge in snacky starters whilst mulling over the rest of their choices; I’d endorse the tomato & goat’s cheese fritters with okra tempura and Greek yoghurt as, quite literally, food for thought.
Ampéli is a social spot, with small plates ready and waiting to be shared. A perfect evening here involves bouncing between hot and cold social plates – the barrel-aged feta Saganaki and addictive cherry tomato jam from one list, and the whipped feta with pistachio, Aleppo pepper, and seeded crackers from the other. The latter was an unexpected highlight of the evening, being somehow both a fleeting bowl of Greek sunshine, and something I’d devour religiously every week if they stocked it at the supermarket.
Manti with seasonal greens, Naboulsi cheese, and yoghurt sauce is glorious (and best mopped up with a bit of bread if you can spare it), but the hypebeast of Ampéli’s menu is found amongst the large plates. On the one hand, they’re just grilled lamb chops. On the other hand, they’re perfection; charred to an idyllic level of smoky sweetness, and punched up with Baharat, skordalia, and red onion. Truly, they were plate-lickingly good – or would have been, if we’d had a little less self-control.
Round off your evening with a short but spectacular dessert list: semolina cake and chocolate Mahlab mousse are both promising, but the unmissable dish here is loukoumades with mountain tea syrup and a bowl of poppy seed custard. Spectacular together, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I could have eaten the custard on its own and still gone home very happy. Just one more highlight in an evening full of them, really – it’s almost like I never left the Aegean…
Also published on Medium.