back to santorini, and i’ve saved the most important thing for last – the food! oh the glorious, delectable food. we ate and ate and sipped crisp wine and ate and stumbled home in a haze of feta and rosé every night.
like any holiday spot, santorini is filled to bursting with tourist trap restaurants that are overpriced, unsavoury and just plain bad. plenty of venues with even a glimpse of the sunset don’t bother with good service or edible cuisine – they know gullible folk in port for the day on their cruise ships will fill the tables.
i did a lot of research before departing to ensure this did not happen to us. in addition to recommendations from travel blogs, friends and articles, we chatted to our hotel manager nikos, who helped us sort the goodies from the baddies.
we had some amazing meals – i’ve included my favourites here, plus a few extra that come highly recommended that, devastatingly, i didn’t manage to make it to.
the best meal of the trip, and arguably my life, was a simple, and mind-blowing lobster spaghetti at katina down in little amoudi bay in oia. i mentioned the 218 steps to the restaurant earlier in the week … you really feel you’ve earned something special after the walk down, and we were not disappointed.
there are three restaurants in the tiny port, but katina has topped many an esteemed food and travel writer’s list – go there. with little tables right up to the water’s edge and some of the friendliest staff i’ve ever encountered, we spent a very happy couple of hours licking our plates and gazing at the calm aqua water in front of us.
mama katina (who sits, plumply and cheerfully, in the corner waving at her customers) has been making her lobster spaghetti recipe for decades. our waiter helped us select three (don’t judge – we just walked 218 steps!) plump lobsters from the tank. two large, for the meat, and one smaller one, packed with a fuller flavour, he informed us.
the spaghetti, cooked simply and to al dente perfection in lobster broth and tomatoes came piled in an enormous dish, and we helped ourselves to lobster meat to toss together to our liking. so simple – so utterly delicious. a fresh greek salad and some crusty bread to mop up the juices were all we needed on the side.
to top off an incredible lunch, our bill arrived with an enormous slice of the best baklava my taste buds have ever encountered. this was no measly amuse bouche or aperitif. this was a great honking slice of dessert, accompanied by a big scoop of ice cream, so mouth-watering that i would happily have shelled out ten euros for it – but it was free, served with a smile. such service! despite groaning five minutes earlier that we’d never eat again, we gobbled it up greedily, before retreating to the sea before mama katina could fatten us up anymore.
coming in a very close second was vanilia in firostefani. a lovely little roof terrace filled with bouganvilla and, of course, breath-taking views. after enjoying some bubbles at the cocktail bar next door, we caught the end of the sunset during our entrées.
we ordered some seriously tasty cooked feta saganaki with honey and poppyseeds to start, with fresh bread to smear it on. sweet, salty and creamy all at the same time, it was a serious close-your-eyes moment. i had to physically restrain myself from clearing the plate to leave room for my lamb souvlaki. a traditional dish served with almost caramelised grilled vegetables, it was so scrumptious – but i also got a serious case of food envy over the tender tuna steak and wilting greens across the table. divine.
after taking in the sunset in oia, we arrived back in town late one night long after nightfall and very hungry. we seized the opportunity to try out another recommendation, dionysos in atlantis in the heart of fira. without the caldera view, the meal was a fraction of the price of the others we had, and just as delicious.
we had some of the best lamb kléftiko imaginable. actual, melt on your tongue slow-cooked lamb that had us shuddering in pleasure. the atmosphere was raucous thanks to the table of ten rowdy fifty-something greek women at the next table, who had us joining in on their sorority cheers and dance routines.
for our last dinner in fira we chose argo. a bit more modern, with an extensive menu, this place rates highly on a million ‘must do’ lists. i called ahead to ensure a good table, and we were rewarded with the best in the house – in a corner at the front of the roof terrace with uninterrupted views of the sunset.
we started with a sampler of hummus, tzaziki, taramasalata, fried zucchini, stuffed vine leaves and baked feta. the man had a mixed grill souvlaki, while i chose lamb shank. it wasn’t that pretty – but my lord was it tasty. possibly the best lamb shank i’ve ever had (there are a lot of ‘the best evers’ in this post, i’m aware… it was just that good). our table neighbours threw me a few concerned glances as i moaned my way through dinner to lamb-induced nirvana.
a pink slushie shot delivered as we drained the last of our two bottles of wine, while not particularly traditional, was my favourite aperitif of the trip.
a few we didn’t make it to (next time!) but have heard are sensational include: selene, traditional greek restaurant which has just relocated from fira to pyrgos, a ten minute drive out of fira (the only reason we didn’t visit). 1800 in oia is a bit more fancy pants and is said to be a very special night – just bring your credit card. ambrosia and nectar in oia is charming atmosphere and wonderful food. but beware, it gets filled with cruise ship tourists after it was featured on american tv chef giada delaurentis’ show a few years ago.
my tip – don’t just wander around and get sucked in by the charming waiters touting for tourist business at the door. the best restaurants don’t need to beg for your business and are often tucked away from the bustle. take recommendations from those in the know (and remember a lot of hotel staff will have an interest in sending you to a particular venue, so they’re not always the best to trust).