“ Address: Units 1&2 Riverside House / 2A Southwark Bridge Road / Bankside / London / England / SE1 9HA / „
The Real Greek is a chain that offers a tapas-style menu of Greek/Mediterranean dishes at very reasonable prices. They currently have 7 restaurants all within zones 1-2 of central London (Hoxton, Bankside, Putney, Marylebone, Covent Garden, Westfield and Spitalfields).
The first restaurant was opened in Hoxton in 1999 and the 2 most recent, Westfield and Spitalfields opened in 2008. It says a lot for a restaurant business in this day and age to be able to expand over 10 years in such a competitive industry, especially in a city like London which is littered with the carcases of other failed eateries.
The location I am reviewing is the Bankside restaurant because it is my favourite. A short 10 minute walk from London Bridge Station (Jubilee, Northern and Mainline terminal) and right on the river Thames, the Bankside restaurant is in a prime location. Perfect for summer evenings sipping a cold Mythos on the terrace, or a cosy shelter in the colder months from the wind and rain that course the river outside. This place really is a venue for all seasons. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is next door and the Tate Modern is about a 5 minute walk. The fact that it has held its own in such a prime location speaks volumes for the quality and value of the restaurant. Within 100 yards you will find a Nandos, Wagamamas and a Pizza Express, not to mention 2/3 pubs that also serve food - alternatives are not in short supply.
Inside the Bankside restaurant you will find soothing lighting and plenty of tables although they do recommend booking in advance. There is a well stocked bar which is perfect if you arrive early and are waiting for your dining partner(s). There is a really laid back feel to the place, the staff are not too eager and I have never felt rushed which is something that other establishments could really learn from.
So why choose the Real Greek over the various other chains nearby? Well I think the answer to that question is the key that has kept the chain successful and growing over the past decade. Firstly, their product is unique. Perhaps not on a micro level (after all, you can get pitta bread and humus in a lot of places) but as an overall package. Secondly, the price is very competitive, which is vital in this city for a lot of reasons. For the indigenous population in the grip of the worst recession in decades, value for money is a key factor. Also for the hoards of tourists swarming the city, ensuring their Euros, Yens and Dollars stretch as far as possible.
What is a Real Greek experience like? For those that are expecting to finish their meal by getting up, dancing around and smashing their plates to a soundtrack of Zorba the Greek, I'm afraid you will be disappointed. The chain has pitched itself a little higher than that. Also if you are hoping for authentic Greek waiters named Stelios or Stavros, then again you will leave unsatisfied. The Real Greek is essentially a chain after all and so the operation is slick and proficient, if a little impersonal at times as opposed to the family-run taverna experience you may have had on holiday.
I don't visit this restaurant expecting to be blown away by a service which goes above and beyond. The atmosphere, whilst never vibrant, is at least on a par with its local peers, if a little more relaxed. It's not somewhere I would consider for a night to celebrate something special, probably not even for a romantic meal either. No, I visit because I know exactly what I am getting, which is reasonably priced, honest food of a predictably above-average quality. My opinion is obviously shared as there are usually plenty of fellow diners when I have visited (this could be because of those often generous discount vouchers available online which I will refer to later).
So lets talk about the food on offer. It is possible to split the menu into 3 sections; cold meze, hot meze and souvlaki.
Cold Meze is very much your classic Mediterranean bread and dips combination. The usual suspects are all present, hummus, tzatziki, taramasalata etc. These are great as a starter and will not break the bank at £3.85 each. The only slight deception is that these do not come with bread and so you will have to order this for an extra £2.25. This may seem a bit of a liberty, but the portion size is easily enough for 2 to share.
I am a big fan of flatbread and hummus and the dishes at the Real Greek are easily some of the best I have had in London. The hummus is not soggy and has a really good chickpea flavour, whilst the bread is easily flavoursome enough to eat on its own.
Hot Meze is very much the classic tapas-style food. Fairly small portions meaning that you generally order around 2/3 dishes and a rich and varied assortment of choices. The hot Meze dishes range in price from around £4-6 which is slightly on the expensive side given the size of the portions. I have not tried every dish but I can certainly recommend the following 3 which covers the price spectrum;
Tiropitakia - lovely samosa-like filo pastry parcels with a spinach and feta filling. The portion consists of 3 I believe. The feta is fresh, rich and strong, offset nicely by the spinach and leek (£3.95)
Lamb Kefte - essentially a "meat lolly", with a really nice blend of herbs and spices (£4.95)
Salt Cod - Really soft, beer battered fish. This dish can be very salty so make sure you ask for tartar dip, otherwise your drink will be gone in no time! (£5.95)
Souvlaki is the signature dish of the restaurant and a real authentic Greek favourite. The best way to describe a souvlaki would be to liken it to a kebab - although a lot nicer than the greasy mess you chomp down on after a night on the sauce! With a choice of lamb, pork, chicken, lamb or halloumi, wrapped in a lovely soft flatbread, and topped with a really tasty tzatziki and tomato relish. I have very rarely been disappointed when I have had a souvlaki and a meal at the Real Greek is incomplete for me without one. They use British meat which is always succulent and perfectly cooked over their charcoal grill.
Sides and salads are available for around £3 but to be honest, you can get chips anywhere and being an extremely keen carnivore, it is very rarely you will hear me ordering a salad!
There is also a good selection of desserts, however I am usually so full from my meaty main courses that I don't think I have ever even asked for the menu. I do know that there are a mixture of traditional Greek favourites such as Greek yoghurt and Baklava alongside the more generic ice cream and sorbet options. Desserts are around £4-5 which is a little on the expensive side in my opinion.
The Real Greek has a good wine selection with plenty or reds and whites to choose from and prices in the £4-6 bracket for a small-large glass. I usually go for a bottle of Mythos beer which I first discovered a few years ago on a boys holiday in Cyprus. Peroni is also usually on tap which makes a fine substitute.
So who would enjoy the Real Greek and why? This chain has something to offer most people. Although I personally really enjoy the meat selection, there are more than adequate vegetarian alternatives. The restaurants themselves are usually filled with a real spectrum of people indicating the universal appeal. Not overly posh, and definitely not fine dining whilst at the same time a slight step up from say Nandos.
Going here is a safe option because I know what I am getting, I know there are a few dishes from which I can choose and I roughly know the price and the experience that I will get.
I have noticed that the restaurants are busier recently and that could well be because they nearly always feature on the voucher codes websites. Indeed if you visit the website itself there is currently a deal for 2 people which includes 7 dishes and 2 drinks for £25 which is very reasonable. Simply sign up and print the voucher which is valid until 31st March, so be quick.
Being able to eat as much or as little as you like is a big advantage as it makes the restaurant a good choice for the lunchtime crowd as well as evening diners. The food is usually ready fairly quickly as well which makes it ideal for a pre-theatre meal - especially if you are only heading next door to the Globe.
In summary, if you are in the big smoke and fancy a decent meal for a reasonable price in a great location, then head down to Bankside - and don't forget your voucher!