Greek cuisine tends to get lost in translation. Friends and family come back from Greece waxing lyrical about light-as-a-feather dishes of grilled fish and cooling salads. In Western Europe, meanwhile, the birthplace of democracy is known, culinarily speaking, for stodge: think robust oven-baked dishes, or grilled meat served with pasta and potatoes. Worse, more often than not, the fare on offer plays second bouzouki to the tasteless decor (Discobolus, trident, Doric columns) and obligatory entertainment. In my old stomping ground of Walthamstow, the local Greek restaurant proudly advertised the plate-smashing and the dancing in the window, with no mention of the food whatsoever.
It’s fair to say that Olympia, a stone’s throw from the Heysel complex, is unburdened by any notion of a potential renaissance of ‘export’ Greek cuisine. The most – nay, only – adventurous item on the menu was in fact the house cocktail, consisting of banana liqueur, orange juice and ouzo: borderline unpleasant yet moreish. The lack of Apollos, Zeuses or any Parthenon-inspired features, while refreshing, couldn’t hide the fact that we were, essentially, in A.N. Other Greek restaurant. Fine: that’s precisely what we were after.
We decided to graze on a meze for one between the two of us for starters. All the usual suspects were present and correct: fried squid rings, stuffed vine leaves, grilled prawn, tzatziki, tarama and a cheese-stuffed filo triangle. All were very good indeed, the squid mercifully not overcooked and therefore avoiding acquiring a rubber-like consistency. Quantity-wise, we both dreaded to think what a meze for two would entail. Our table probably wouldn’t have been big enough.
For mains, seeing as we were both in carnivorous mood, we plumped for the mixed grill for two. Nouvelle cuisine it wasn’t, but boy did it hit the spot. The cooking of the each type of meat – beef steaklets, lamb chops, pork kebabs – was spot-on, the flesh still moist yet charred on the outside, like it oughtta be. The portions were on the unreasonable side of generous – and that not taking into account the sides of braised witloof. And roast tomatoes. And lemon-pip-shaped Greek pasta with tomato sauce and cheese. And a baked potato each.
We wisely eschewed desserts, contemplating how much we’d just eaten and vowing to take it easy for the next few days. The bill, which also included a half-bottle of Peloponnesian red and a half litre of sparkling water, came to €68. The food served at Olympia is a as unoriginal as they come but, if all Greek restaurants with their identikit menus offered the same value for money, then maybe people would consider going Chez Zorba not just for the annual five-a-side football team dinner but also – simply – for a most satisfying feed.
61 Avenue Houba de Strooper, 1020 Brussels; tel 02.479.12.97