Just as you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, you can’t eat in some Greek restaurants without breaking plates. The tradition started at weddings where the broken shards of pottery symbolised the permanence of marriage and bought good luck. Of course, smashing things up is too much fun to limit to special occasions, so plate-throwing and dancing became a staple activity in boozy bouzouki bars, where getting a plate “to go” was the accepted way to release pent-up stress and energy. As soon as everybody else wanted to join in, the tradition then took an evolutionary step backwards and became part of the evening restaurant entertainment on Club 18-30 package holidays to Faliraki. A precious part of Grecian heritage reduced to the level of wet T-shirt competitions and a Sex On The Beach cocktail.
Sure enough, Theme Park Restaurant Syndrome strikes Minos restaurant every Friday and Saturday night. There are plenty of frisbeeing plates and Achilles the dancing waiter performs an energetic Syrtaki to the strains of-what else?-Zorba The Greek. On a rowdy night this probably goes down a storm but on the last visit, Minos was full of cooing couples who were clearly more interested in playing footsie than watching Achilles’ heels. Despite the waiters’ efforts to make people clap along with the music and shout “Yay!” everyone looked about as inspired to join in as Queen Elizabeth when she’s watching breast-flapping Maori dances on official visits.
Although the name of the Dionisos restaurant is inextricably connected with tales of drunkenness and ripping flesh, this popular chain is less insistent on the dancing/ plate-smashing antics and even the décor is more restrained: a crisp, pared-down modern look in Aegean blue and white which contrasts sharply with the colourful jumble that is Minos.
If you’re not sure what to order, a pikilia megali is a good way to kick things off, with different specialities including hummus, dolmadikia, tzatziki, feta, spanakotiropita, taramosalata, and other many-syllabled delights. That’s the trouble with Greek food: the dishes seem to include all twenty-six letters of the alphabet, leaving you with the suspicion that you’ve just ordered a quick brown fox jumping over a lazy dog for your starter.
Fortunately, it doesn’t taste that way. Both restaurants serve vine-wrapped dolmades that are lemony and dense with lamb-flavoured rice, while the smoked cod’s roe taramosalata is refreshingly natural-tasting despite being the colour of cheap lipstick. The only disappointments were the rather greasy pittas served at Minos, and the fact that both places padded out their salads with handfuls of lettuce. Strict Greek salad orthodoxy admits tomatoes and feta along with ingredients such as onions or black kalamata olives but lettuce is generally a no-no: these salads were more Iceberg than Peloponnese.
As for drinks, it has been said that, having invented tragedy, the Greeks went on to bottle it and call it wine. Fortunately, anyone who has been in Spain long enough to sample a few menú del día vintages has developed protective callouses on their taste buds, so the acid harshness of Greek reds should hold no fear. Retsina (Greek white wine containing pine resin) is a safer bet and after a couple of glasses feels like it goes with anything.
Main courses are generally a hardcore meat-fest with favourites such as kleftiko, a tin foil goody bag of melted feta, shreddy lamb roasted tender and juicy tomatoes, popping open at the touch of a fork. Also worth trying are Minos’s saganaki garides-fat, tasty shrimp drowned in the kind of thick tomato sauce that bread-mopping was invented for, and the daily specials (look for the Post-It note) on the Dionisos set lunch menu are always excellent. Dionisos deserves a particular mention for its desserts-the yoghurt is so thick and creamy that you practically have to chew it, and their sesame halvas sparkle on the tongue like Space Dust. Round off with a coffee fortified with Metaxa or a swig of Ouzo, which, as Greek men so readily demonstrate, really puts some hairs on your chest. Whether you sprout a luxuriant rug or not, too much of the stuff definitely puts the Hell into Hellenic.
Minos Aribau 137, Tel. 93 410 74 64 Open every day 1-4pm, 8pm-12am. Average à la carte: €24. Menú del Día: €7.81
Dionisos Marquès de l’Argentera 27, Tel. 93 319 75 77 (Call for details of other branches). Open every day 1.30 – 4pm, 8 – 12am (1am at weekends.)
Average à la carte €21, Menú del Día: €8.41