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On a day hot enough to be an afternoon in Greece, Tealight took some time with The Athenian to talk about how Efthymios and Neofytos (Tim and Neo to you and me) have taken the Athenian from a single Sunday market to operating various sites across London and one in Bristol.
Tim and Neo are not Chefs by trade but their story was definately worth covering for the Tealight blog.
Quick Fire Athenian Facts
What did you do before the Athenian?
Tim: Sound Engineer
Neo: Investment Banker
Where are you from?
What's your secret kitchen tip?
Tim: An even healthier yet delicious version of moussaka, where none of the ingredients are fried and the béchamel contains no butter!
Neo: Keeping it simple, buy less quantity but higher quality to get a better result
First food memory?
Tim: My Mum's Greek version of what you would call Spaghetti Bolognese – macaronia me kima – it’s delicious!
Neo: Beside Souvlaki, grilling fresh fish on the beach with lemon, olive oil and salt.
Apart from The Athenian, where do you eat for memories of home?
Tim: I'd book a flight to get home to be honest – that's one of the reasons why we started The Athenian!
Neo: If it's not souvlaki, I'll make my own yemista – stuffed tomatoes and peppers with rice and herbs!
Tell us three ingredient facts:
Our Oregano is from Karpenisi, outside Athens
Our Olive Oil is from Crete.
Our Tzatziki is Tim's Mum's recipe and our tyrokafteri, souvlaki sauce and melitzanosalata are all homemade in our kitchens.
I need to declare this from the start. Greece holds a strong place in my heart and this is what food is all about right? Pulling on your heart strings and getting the emotional juices going.
Anyhow, when the three of us sat down on a side street in Shoreditch, in what was basically an inferno during London's recent heatwave, I couldn't contain my excitement about trying Souvlaki and Gyros.
But before we got down to eating any food I wanted to understand Tim and Neo's inspiration for starting The Athenian which, ultimately turned out to be a desire to be able to eat food of the same quality, if not better, from their respective places of birth.
When The Athenian was in its infancy, Tim spent time in the remote mountain village of Vamos, Crete with a local lady, Mrs Koula, and realised food was her life. Hugely inspiring and an epiphany, Tim, wondered how could he bring this back into the UK to represent Greece in the best way possible and in a positive light.
These culinary values have become so much of The Athenian's offering that today; The Athenian's halloumi is handmade in small batches in Messina, southern Greece, Oregano is from a small village outside Athens, Olive Oil from Crete and all dips have a slight twist but remain authentic. Ingredients from Greece, to The Athenian, to your mouth – exactly how it should be. Not a supermarket brand in sight here.
After meeting on Twitter, and working a Sunday market together, Tim and Neo soon realised they shared this desire to the core and set about bringing intelligently sourced and high quality ingredients from all over Greece to the UK and setup the Athenian in June, 2015.
What struck me midway through the interview was that Neo and Tim are two very smart guys operating a rising brand on strong values, a high quality core product and an unquestionable drive. You'll all be aware of Greece's recent financial troubles, and with that negativity about Greece in the news, Tim and Neo use this as motivation to show the better parts of Greece, rather than the doom and gloom of the financial crisis.
By paying attention to the positive items of their cultural backgrounds, Tim and Neo are creating an experience that may even be better than what you get in Greece. The amount of attention that has gone into their product and the ingredients is commendable.
And that's what the Athenian does, it delivers on Cyprus and Greece's best parts, the ingredients and the people, rewarding you with arguably London's leading Souvlaki.
We’ll be back for sure.
In Part 2 we’ll be covering the food, so sign up below for more from Tealight and their adventure with The Athenian.