So many bars and restaurants to choose from, especially the cool shaded tables set out in the street. What we associate with southern European countries – envy really – is the opportunity to sit, eat and drink with friends without huddling in boots, coats and woolly hats!
Our guide for the trip – Evdokia (Evi) – took great care of us. Our first lunch was at Zythos restaurant, greeted by the manager – great smiley face and firm handshake – who discussed the menu and recommended dishes for us to try. He suggested I try the burger made from local buffalo meat and was amused that I wanted it without the bun! Leslie went for the calamari straight away as no-one in the UK knows how to cook it properly (he says), and courgette puffs, delicious little patties deep fried. Forget the hard, salty blocks of feta cheese you get at home – this was fresh, soft and creamy in a perfect Greek salad. Local beer and a very pleasant, aromatic dry white wine, recommended by the owner, completed a superb lunch. Evi said she definitely recommends Zythos for an evening treat too.
Just around the corner from the hotel, dinner was at Ouzou Melathron tavern. Down a cobbled alley brightly lit with a medley of birdcages strung across like bunting, a company of life-size model figures ranged along the roofline, each representing a different trade associated with the area. Again, helpful staff recommended a fish mezze so that we could try a mixture of fish dishes plus lots of different versions of calamari – fried, baked – with fresh peppery rocket salad and potatoes baked in oil and lemon. As you can tell, we love this way of eating!
Rather than wine, we tried tsipouro, a 40% proof Greek clear liqueur diluted with water to give a clean, light drink surprisingly good with fish. Dessert was a traditional white, creamy mousse with a thick red juice made from tree resin – called masticha – very sweet. We met the gracious owner who clearly knows how to keep customers happy. An excellent restaurant.
After a busy day walking on the city tour, the day ends with another restaurant, the Panellinion, just a short walk from City Hotel. We had the Cretan salad, similar to traditional Greek salad with feta cheese but also containing pieces of crunchy, deep fried bread. I loved the roasted red peppers and courgette patties, and especially the choice of vegetables in the menus rather than just meat dishes. There was also a black risotto which was actually quite tasty. Wine or coffee is always served with a glass of water, and even though it was nearly midnight as we walked back to the hotel, bars were still packed with people, drinking and chatting noisily but not falling over drunk or rowdy like you often find in the UK.
For our third dinner in the city, we struggled to find a table for a very Greek ‘souvlaki’ experience at Ellinikon restaurant. Having sampled lots of fish, it was good to try meaty flavours again. Just off Aristotle Square, each restaurant takes care to present a different image through decoration as well as choice of dishes. Here, the shelves are packed with dried pastas, jars of olives, colourful bottles with precious olive oils and vinegars. The food was excellent, atmosphere buzzing, and great staff members. When we thought we were finished, we were presented with complimentary wine and a luscious chocolate sponge dessert with ice cream. We felt obliged to finish both, of course, so we were definitely glad of the walk back to the hotel afterwards!
Our final evening included a meal at the Ergon Restaurant (Greek Deli & Cuisine) with a fine spread of traditional Greek dishes to try. As well as the Cretan salad, we had pork skewers and a red risotto coloured with beetroot – very interesting taste. We love taramosalata so tried their smoked version. This is much paler than the pink version we find at home, with a lovely smoky taste that is different from our sweeter, smoother version. This has to be the best way to enjoy a meal, with friends, in the warm evening breeze from the Aegean Sea.
Clearly, for lovers of food wine, art and culture, Thessaloniki and this region of northern Greece is an exciting place to explore and has to be included on the list of travel destinations for the future. The city has 15 UNESCO monuments, 29 museums, festivals and concerts happening every year. Public transport is frequent and includes travel further afield. There are thermal baths available around the region and Kerkini Lake is a centre for lots of outdoor activities, so whatever holiday experience you prefer Thessaloniki seems to be an excellent option.
- Read Thessaloniki: Part 1 – a buzzing, lively city worth a visit
- Read Thessaloniki: Part 2 – for lovers of the arts, history and culture