Santorini. What an amazing island, "the best island" according to our Athens taxi driver. Great food, great beaches and one of the most picturesque sunsets in the world. Dotted with little villages comprised of white washed houses, cobblestone lanes and blue domed churches overlooking the volcanic caldera. Every time you turn a corner it makes you want to weep the vista is so beautiful.
Once again we got a head start on the island's food scene by reading some blogs before we went. Fellow London based blogger This Catty Life went to Santorini a few weeks before we did and provided some real gems in her own Santorini restaurant post. We got to try a few on her list but didn't get to them all, but her advice was invaluable, and a body of work we've added to below. Oh and just to make it easier for you, Santorini doesn't actually have a street number system. So restaurant addresses simply consist of the name and the village. All part of the fun ;)
Before we get cracking, we should mention breakfast. Our hotel served a sweet breakfast to our room every morning. Was a great way to start the day. The room had its own balcony with table views out over the caldera and down into Oia for the sunsets. If you're staying in a hotel try to get breakfast included when booking. Not all places offer it.
SANTORINI RESTAURANTS: VILLAGE OF OIA (pronounced Eee-Ah)
Oia, 84702, Santorini
Cyclades Islands, Greece
Balcony restaurant, Main pedestrian street into Oia
Trip Adviser reviews here
Thalami is one of the more prominent balcony restaurants as you walk along the main esplanade into Oia. I was a little dubious at first as it looked like many other of the tourist orientated places that could have potential to be a bit sh*t. At around 8 - 15 euros a dish it was relatively cheap compared with many other places in Oia (which tend to be pushing 15- 30 euros a main) so I felt that could either be a good or a bad sign. Thankfully it turned out to be a good sign. It was a no nonsense Greek taverna and the most authentic Santorini fare we had all week.
Thalami scores high on the balcony setting and its good value. It has a good selection of local wine by the bottle (the girls had a bottle each over the course of dinner). Service was fine, but rather sporadic considering it wasn't busy (no one in sight for hours at a time it seemed). I suspect it could be rather patchy when it is busy.
Mains were around 10 euros per dish. We ordered quite a few dishes from here and gorged ourselves. Highlights were the Santorini specialties of tomato fritters (domatokeftedes) and the fava bean puree' which is made using the santorini fava (a special and highly regarded local variety of yellow split pea). One of our travelling companions is a hummus fanatic and this was a new twist on pureed mushy tastiness that had her buzzing (or maybe it was the bottle of wine?)
Their "santorini salad" was also interesting (with corn and caper leaves) but not sure it was an iconic traditional recipe like the other dishes above. But it was nice change from the daily Greek salads we had been eating. The grilled prawns, meatballs, slow cooked lamb in lemon, baked vegetables were all good simple fare and tasty enough. This was solid traditional taverna food and not trying too hard like many of the uber modern fusion type joints in Oia. Worth a visit
Service: OK, sporadic
Gourmet lover rating: ♥♥♥♥ 3.5/5
218? CAFE RESTAURANT
Oia, 84702, Santorini
Cyclades Islands, Greece
Tel. +30 22860 71801 or +30 22860 71809
Fax: +30 22860 71809
Tripadviser reviews here
We had high hopes for this place. With 218 degree views of the Caldera, stylish interior and modern menu (18 - 25 Euro mains) we thought this might could be one of the better restaurants in Oia. We ordered the pork medallions on bed of risotto, lamb with potatoes, chicken breast with pesto and something else I cant remember. When the food arrived it was a little bit of a let down. A few dishes were nicely presented, but they were trying a little too hard and missed the point completely - the food itself was poorly executed. The pork was a bit tough, pesto was a little overbearing. The lamb was served on a bed of potato wedges FFS! Everything about the restaurant pointed to high end cuisine but it fell flat.
Not to slam them too hard, it was an ok meal. We've certainly had worse, but for that price I personally think your hard earned pennies are better spent on more charming and authentic taverna food like Thalami. It's a shame really because the setting is fantastic. We did however have a good set of desserts and took an extra hour to enjoy a round of cards. Perhaps this is the tip: skip dinner and go for an afternoon or late evening coffee and a dessert and simply drink in the view.
Gourmet lover rating: ♥♥♥ 2.5/5
Oia, 84702, Santorini
Cyclades Islands, Greece
Tripadviser reviews here
This was our final night in Oia. We were casting a wider net in Oia and strolled past this one on one of the forked lanes off the main esplanade. Going on menu again the food was of the more modern style (13-28 Euro mains), but it seemed more built around seafood which appealed to me. It also has a good balcony with a view. This particular evening we also had a few amusingly drunk american tourists make a scene getting lost exiting the premises and were stumbling all over the place and get escorted out. One bottle of wine to many wethinks.
Bex went for a fish fillet on couscous (wasn't that enamoured) but I ordered a whole baked glorious bream with fresh herb salad and fava bean puree' (above). The others went for chili crab spaghetti and lamb shank. Unlike 218 they were shooting for the high end and let the ingredients do the talking. Whilst Bex's fish fillet on couscous was a little dry and detracted from the overall rating the food was pretty good. Also doing the talking was a rather over friendly maitre d (english had a russian accent?) who started out with some friendly banter and the odd joke - which we liked. But it quickly elevated into the mildy annoying category. After the initial round of laughs he took upon himself to pepper every encounter throughout the evening with a jokey banter which half the time we didn't get and towards the end felt a little over the top. But he gave us some good advice on wine which is the most important thing really.
The salad had a twist, featuring crisp bread triangles and melted goats / feta cheese with olive tapenade - which made it look like a mediterranean nachos. Was rather tasty. The same empty feeling of relative value and enjoyment permeated the meal for me. For the money I still think you'd be better piling your table with cheaper local dishes cooked in the traditional way. Another nouvelle cuisine mis-fire in Oia. Of the two nouvelle places Bex preferred her meal at 218 - I preferred Red Bicycle. Guess it came down to the respective dishes we ate. Much of a muchness really.
Maybe give one of these modern Oia restaurants a blast for a night and gasp at the view - but take my advice and go for the traditional tavernas and seaside places as a general rule. They'll give you a better feel for the local cuisine and better value.
Service: Attentive if over-friendly
Gourmet lover rating: ♥♥♥ 3/5
SANTORINI RESTAURANTS: VILLAGE OF FIRA
Lagoudera Shopping Center, Fira, Greece
+30 22860 24869
We only had one night in Fira. We had a hot tip from Catty life to hit Naoussa with the promise of best Moussaka on the island. This was our best meal, and the best restaurant we encountered on Santorini, hands down.
The waiters were charming and full of suggestions and rather accommodating with special requests. Stand out dishes were the eggplant dip, the slow cooked veal stifado and the moussaka. All packed full of flavour. The restaurant space is charming enough, rather small capacity situated on a first floor balcony. No view or anything like that. The food more than makes up for it
We found out after the fact that Naoussa is rated No. 1 restaurant in Fira on tripadviser. With food like this it doesn't surprise us at all. Damn lucky we got ahead of the crowd (entered around 6pm) as when we left there was a queue down the stairs and out the front at least 40 people long! Get there early (or late) people!
Food: Amazing and flavourful
Gourmet lover rating: ♥♥♥♥♥ 4.5/5
SANTORINI RESTAURANTS: ISLAND OF THIRASSIA
Island of Thirassia
Only one of three restaurants on Thirassia's only port (popular stop for volcano boat tours). Cant miss Captain Johns when your boat docks (is on the right). Incidentally the volcano boat tour is awesome and would recommend it highly. You get to swim in hot springs, climb an active volcano and marvel at the remnants of what was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. A highlight of the trip
We were informed by our lovely tour guide (mama Joy) that "the only place she eats is Captain Johns". Hopping off the boat I asked her why and she said its the best food on the island and where she eats nearly every day. Also she likes to support this particular taverna because seven families earn their living off of it. Now I suspect -and it was kind of confirmed, that this practice of overtly telling us where to eat was actually a cosy deal between the cruise operator and the restaurant in question. Sure enough nearly every person on our boat hit Captain Johns and ignored the rest.
We did too without thinking about it too hard - and got a sweet corner table next to the water. Cosy deal or not the food didn't disappoint. If you wanted food pronto they have a counter inside where you can serve yourself and take what you want. The grilled swordfish skewers and stuffed tomatoes were fantastic. Forgive the washed out photos - we were using disposable film cameras that day on the boat. Regardless of the recommendation all the restaurants in this port were grilling fresh seafood over coals right in the middle of the restaurant. It was fantastically fresh and wonderful. Get to Thirassia if you can and eat some BBQ fish or squid. Its fantastic.
We also walked up the epic 250 odd steps in the baking hot sun to the village at the top of the cliff. Amazing views over the caldera. Our tour guide Mama Joy described the village (Agrilia?) at the top of the cliff as representative of "village island life 30 years ago" mainly populated by farmers and fishermen. And amazingly it was. Not a super slick hotel apartment sign or swimming pool in sight. Lots of empty and derelict buildings. Small children playing in the front yards, washing hanging out on the lines and vegetables growing in the gardens. Was a fascinating glimpse into the past and also gave you a slight feeling of guilt however small, of contributing to such a vapid touristy transformation of the main island villages of Oia and Fira. All those crap jewellery, art and nick nack shops etc. But the islands have clearly thrived off tourism so the guilt is short lived.
Service: OK. Its self service if you choose, although helped carry our large order. Do do table service too.
Ambiance: Waterside views are amazing
Food: Great, fresh grilled seafood cant go wrong
Gourmet lover rating: ♥♥♥♥ 3.5/5
GOURMET LOVERS / CATTY LIFE HIT LIST: BEST SANTORINI RESTAURANTS
OK gastronauts, we've summarised and roughly ranked our favourtie Santorini restaurants as a list. We've also combined this list alongside Catty life's recommended list (in italics) to give you a great jump on the Santorini food scene:
NAOUSSA TAVERN Gourmet Lover's favourite restaurant in Santorini (4.5/5). Get there early (or late) to avoid the crowds. Order anything slow cooked and talk to the waiters about recommendations and specials. Catty also recommended Naoussa... Naoussa Tavern , not on the main sunset esplanade of Fira, but about two “lane ways” back, parallel to the esplanade. Recommended to us by some friends, this tavern is family run and makes the best moussaka on the island.
CAPTAIN JOHNS (3.5/5) Thirassia has a great little port you will probably stop at if you get the one day volcano cruise. Go to any of the places with seafood grilled out the front on a BBQ. Captain Johns on the right is both self service if you're in a hurry or table service if you're not. Stuffed tomatoes were good. Eat all of the grilled seafood you can get your hands on. Octopus. Swordfish skewers. Anchovies. Get. In. My. Belly.
THALAMI Gourmet Lovers favourite in Oia (3.5/5). Not amazingly high end or special but it was honest, simple and authentic cuisine. Great value too. Get the santorini dishes if you can. Tomato fritters, fava puree and so on.
RED BICYCLE Gourmet Lovers best of the 'nouvelle cuisine' restaurants we visited in Oia (3/5). Waiters were friendly, food was good. Go for the more extravagent dishes to fully appreciate. Baked fish, lambs shank etc.
218 CAFE RESTAURANT (2.5/5) Its all about the 218 degree balcony view. Go here for a light salad lunch or simply for coffee and dessert in the evening and drink in the view. Our main meals were a bit underwhelming and poorly executed (but still quite munchable). We hear its sister restaruant 1800 upstairs could be the more serious gastronomic enterprise.
Additional reccomendations for Oia from catty (which we didnt try):
SUNSET TAVERN in Amoudi Bay, this one’s easy, just drive all the way down to Amoudi Bay and it’s the last restaurant on the end. This is a seafood restaurant and probably pricier than any old tavern but the food is fresh and the ambience is magical at sunset
MELEVIA CAFE PATISSERIE , on the main sunset esplanade of Oia, selling homemade Greek sweets and the most gargantuan slice of baklava I’ve ever seen.
AVOID KASTELI TAVEN though it looks like a nice traditional tavern, the food is bland and servings are tiny! We were bitten
FAMILY TAVERNA , on the beach front slightly to the south of where the central road in Kamari meets the esplanade. Best Greek salad we had, with creamy smooth feta. Also the best fried calamari and potato chips, and according to the boys, the best frosted beer glasses on the island. Our favourite.
GOD'S GARDEN , slightly off the main drag on a street adjacent to the beach. A little humid without the seabreeze but their slow cooked lamb more than makes up for that.
So after five nights and a tear in our eye we said farewell to this island paradise. Some final tips
LEARN THE PLEASANTRIES We always at the very least try to learn basic local greetings and phrases as a courtesy.
Kalimera (Good Morning)
Kalispera (Good Evening)
Yaisou (Ye-ah-sue : Informal hello)
Yaissus (Ye-as-sus: Plural / Hello to group of people)
Efharisto (Ef-har-istoe: Thankyou)
HIRE BIKES (motorbikes or quads). If you're not experienced the quads are easy to ride. Nothing like cruising round winding ocean roads into the setting sun with the wind in your hair and your lady on the back. Best way to get round the island. If you get a car or a bus you are missing a trick.
ARRANGE PORT TRANSFERS BEFORE ARRIVAL. We were offered a port transfer when booking our hotel for 20ish euro but didnt take it up as we had travelling companions and assumed we could take a cab together to Oia. Surprisingly no cabs in attendence when the ferry docked and several hundred eager tourists all milling about looking hopefully for their hotel transfer or a taxi. Luckily our friend's apartment owner just showed up without being asked and were kind enough to take us most of the way to our place at no cost. We were lucky. If you didn't arrange one it could easily be a bit of hassle sorting one out at the port.
CHECK YOUR FLIGHT STATUS BEFORE DEPARTURE On our final day we hired a bike and spent the morning looking at the ancient ruins of Thira. We caned it back to Oia for 12.30 so we could get our bags and jump on our transfer to the airport. We arrived at the airport in good time to find easjet had delayed the only flight to London by 5 hours. 5 hours!!!! F#$%ers! We were less annoyed about being stuck on the island and the sunshine for a few more hours, rather that we could have spent an extra few hours at the beach had they sent a text message or emailed us. We just sat in a taverna next to the sleepy airport and read our books. Wasn't all bad but still...
Santorini we love you! Miss you already.... *sniif*