Athens: budget gourmet Cretan cuisine and a vintage feel at Aster
Rain, and in general, cold weather is hardly the norm in Athens. But with just a few days (and nights) like these you need to have a plan for a cosy little evening treat. Aster, in the homey Petralona neighbourhood, is a lower ground floor Greek bistrot with the perfect balance between a living room ambience and homemade cooking. All in good prices.
Mosaic-tiled floors and formica tables are just about the first impressions you get as you walk down a couple of steps from the entrance of this neoclassical building on Troon street. The 1960s feel gets to you and as you gaze around, the friendly waiter walks up to you full force to ask whether you've made a booking. Oh yes, with just a handful of tables indoors and even fewer outside (assuming weather permits) you must plan accordingly, or at least arrive by 8pm on a weekday. On weekends, think again!
The menu is mainly drawn from Cretan memories of the owners that apart from restauranteurs are also actors; hence the cool vibe and the young crowd. They opened Aster back in 2012 just as the area was getting popular with more night entertainment options for the more alternative ones.
As you're quickly drawn by the enticing aromas of the open kitchen, be sure to order enough and try a bit of everything. Asteropitakia (named after the place's name) are the small phylo pastry cheese puffs you'll have to order. Coming in two options, sweet or salty, these are perfect to go with some distilled raki. Another specialty of them are the freshly handcut thick fried potatoes (well, almost fried, so fear not for the healthy freaks out there!) that go perfectly well with the meatballs.
The zucchini fritters with mint will give instant bliss to your palate and as you progress to the main course (although everything's to share) give a try to the grilled half-chicken - tender, moist and marinated to perfection! If you want to go more heavy, their pork sausage is also very good, traditionally made.
The crowd comes early in the evening here, so even if you plan for an 8pm dinner you won't be disappointed. The vintage ambience (reminding you of your grandparents home decor) and the tasty bites will keep you going until the late hours of the night... if not, raki and handcrafted beers (try Chios) should do the trick!