Before I was enamored with all things Japan, there was another country I was obsessed with. Thanks to a book of mythology and a few family vacations, Greece is the country that has held my fascination from a young age.
Since I lived in Germany for most of my childhood, Greece was easy for my family to travel to. I became fascinated with the history, art and architecture of the islands we visited, exploring ancient cities and hearing the stories associated with them. As I grew older, my attentions went elsewhere, but I still have a deep love for the country. I even got the opportunity to study ancient art and architecture in Athens in 2011, which further solidified my admiration. Living in Athens gave me a new perspective on the country, and an even greater appreciation for the culture, and of course, the cuisine.
There’s nothing quite like being 21 years old in Athens, eating lunch at 11:30am, and being served a shot of ouzo (strong, licorice tasting liquor) before my basket of fried, whole sardines made it to the table. Breakfasts of massive pastries, on-the-go gyros with French fries stuffed in the middle, and “salads” that mostly consisted of cheese- it was a foodie’s heaven and a metabolisms worst nightmare. I can’t wait to return and explore more of the food with a more flexible budget than I had as a college student.
The Full Greek
Since this year’s pandemic have made international travel impossible for most of us, I had to find a way to get my Greek food fix locally. Unfortunately, it’s actually quite rare to find a restaurant that serves Greek food (or any Mediterranean east of Italy/Middle Eastern cuisine) in Tokyo. Luckily, there is one restaurant that was recommend over and over during my search: The Apollo in Ginza.
Located on the 17th floor of the Tokyu Plaza in Ginza, this branch of the famous, trendy restaurant out of Sydney, Australia boasts large marble counters, an open kitchen and a great atmosphere. The huge wall of windows overlooking the sparkling city of Ginza adds to the bougie feeling, and is far and away from the outdoor seating of metal chairs and plastic tables I associate with my meals in Athens.
I was joined by a friend of mine who fortunately was just as excited as I to go all in and order the course menu, “The Full Greek”. While a little expensive, I found the price to be fair for the quality that we received.
We started with cocktails to celebrate the end of the work week, which all had great, Greek related and sometimes puny names, like the “Sissy-phus” (orange, grapefruit and mint cocktail). Overall, the cocktails we ordered were ok, but we both found them to have a slightly medicinal taste that we were not fond of.
However, the real star of the evening came next: the appetizers. Olives, taramasalata dip with pita bread, a Greek salad, and a sizzling skillet of saganaki.
The olives came with an empty sardine can, which felt a little odd and out of place in this fancy restaurant, but was also a bit endearing (and why not reuse the can?). Even though the food is upscale, it’s not overly serious. In an odd way, that can made the whole mood of the meal more relaxed. The olives were just olives, nothing special but they went great with the…
Warm pitta bread. Oh, soft warm pita bread. So comforting, so nostalgic, so… limited. Our four slices each went far to quickly. It came with a taramasalata dip (aka taramosalata), a dip made from mullet or cod roe, olive oil, lemon juice, and a starchy base (bread or potato’s). I’m not sure what the restaurant uses for its base, but it was fantastic. The bold, salty flavor of the dip paired perfectly with the pita.
The Greek salad, or as it was written on the menu “Village salad cucumber tomato radish creamy feta olives” was alight. I give it a so so review because 1) what kind of Greek salad comes with only a small slice of feta? I know feta is very expensive in Japan, but that’s the best and most important part! 2) Where the heck did those radishes come from? The spicy, crunchy and sharp flavor of the radish clashed with the lighter tomato and cucumber. I guess that’s why they call it a “village” salad instead of a “Greek” one.
But any concerns I had about the salad were swiftly forgotten upon the arrival of the saganaki (fried cheese). The skillet of sizzling, golden brown, topped with honey fried cheese instantly took me back to the unhealthy but glorious Greek food I had enjoyed in Athens. It was fantastic, and I honestly struggled to share the dish evenly with my friend.
A helping of roasted potatoes came next, and by themselves they were fine. But with the leftover taramasalata (since we had quickly run out of pita bread) they were great. The also went very well with the main dish: the lamb shoulder.
In three decades of aggressive eating, I’ve realized that lamb only comes in two forms: delicious or inedible. The way the lamb is prepared and cooked is crucial. So, I was very happy when this turned out to be the former. Perfectly cook, melt off the bone lamb shoulder topped with lemon Greek yogurt hit a craving I didn’t realize I had. The seasoned meat I’d enjoyed in Greece instantly came to mind, and the dinner had completely satisfied my desire for Greek flavors.
Not to be outdone, the final dish of the really pulled everything together, but in a completely new way I wasn’t expecting. The final dessert is called avgolemono pie. I was confused when I first saw the menu, as avgolemono is a term for a sauce made from lemon and egg- used mainly for savory dishes. However, this signature dessert did not disappoint. The dessert is made up of a lemon curd topped with an olive oil crumble and meringue. It was reminiscent of a key-lime pie, or lemon tart, but the olive oil crumble gives it a different, lighter flavor and a crumblier texture. This dish actually reminded me of flavors I enjoyed in Sicily, with its mix of lemon and olive oil. I had never tried a dessert quite like it before.
Overall, we were very happy with the meal and really enjoyed it. I’d love to return again, especially for the appetizers. It was a great way to reminisce on my time in Greece, and a heck of a lot more affordable than a plane ticket.
The Apollo Ginza
English menu available
Adress: The Apollo Ginza, 5 Chome-2-1 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo