While Greece has been contending with record temperatures and wildfires hounding holidaymakers out of their all-inclusive hotels, this summer has been a little different on the Kent coast.
Margate, like the rest of the country, has seen the last few weeks dogged by clouds, sub-average temperatures and, when we arrive to review a new addition to its culinary line-up for Eat My Words, persistent rain.
Oh, and the seaweed washed up on the shore of the harbour at low tide is giving off a pong which quite takes the breath away while simultaneously turning the stomach. Charming.
It’s a far cry from the baked streets of, say, Athens.
But just a few yards from the main promenade is where the two worlds collide.
The Souvlaki opened on The Parade – close to the ever-popular Peter’s Fish Factory and a few yards from the Turner – in June, promising an authentic experience of the classic Greek street food.
The big question is, does it, as the rain falls and I rue not bringing a coat, cut the proverbial mustard?
The restaurant – which offers eat-in or takeaway – is part of a rapidly growing chain which sparked into life as a street food stall in 2015. Earlier this year one of its London outlets scooped the Just Eat Award for the best takeaway in Greater London. Expectations go up a rung.
Stepping inside, the set-up is a little weird. It looks like a proper restaurant with tables sporting flowers in jars...but then you walk to the back and you place your order at what looks like another table, albeit with a tablecloth. If getting a takeaway, you loiter, or, if eating in, take a number and perch at a table. The lighting is...dim. Probably nice in the dark...but with grey clouds outside, it doesn’t lift the mood a great deal.
I say ‘weird’ because it looks a bit ‘temporary’. But let’s not ponder the aesthetics.
The menu is extensive – albeit on a theme. If you like gyros and souvlaki then you are very much in luck.
We plump for the souvlaki. It seems rude not to given its name and speciality.
There are a variety of meaty options – we go for the vegetarian with halloumi. Vegans are also catered for with a plant-based chicken alternative.
The meal deal we take up includes oregano chips and a soft drink. It’s £12.50. Reasonable. (If you just want a souvlaki on its own, it’s £8.50).
The woman taking our order is friendly – and even warns me the Diet Coke I wanted wasn’t very cold so did I want an alternative? Dear reader, I martyred myself for you, and went for a lukewarm one.
Taking a seat, as the stench of the seaweed and steady rain had scuppered our hopes of eating on the harbour wall, the food arrived in no more than around five minutes. And if your first mouthful is with your eyes, then we were already fans.
A souvlaki, by the way, is chunks of meat (or cheese in my case) plus a selection of salad, a sauce of your choice and all wrapped up in a flatbread for handling purposes. Somewhat inexplicably, chips are in there too. (Gyros are the same, but the meat is more doner kebab style).
Being a wimp when it comes to spices, I opted for the calming tzatziki sauce (yoghurt and cucumber) on mine.
The taste? Delicious. The sauce neatly calms the kick of the red onions, the grilled halloumi is generous and well-cooked and the bread which encases it thick enough to bring its subtle taste to the party but not so dense you’re wading through it.
The chips, I’d argue, are a pointless addition, but who am I to argue with the Greeks, eh?
Mind you, I say ‘encases’...it does at first, but this is a meal which woe betide you if you try and eat while walking along the seafront. We have here a case of ‘filling slippage’ each time you take a bite so it tumbles out of the end; fine if at a table and being careful, high risk to your clothes if on the move. You have been warned.
The side portion of chips has a delightful sprinkle of oregano which manages to give them a pleasant hint of herbs without drowning them in the stuff.
For lunch, this was bordering – for me at least – on probably slightly too much. Not ever a complaint, I might add, but you certainly get your money’s worth. The souvlaki is packed with filling – none of this ‘just at the top’ trick so beloved by supermarket sandwiches.
Would I return? Without a doubt. Did it bring a taste of Greece to a gloomy Margate? In my mouth, yes. When I looked out the window and saw the rain still falling, not so much.
Ratings out of five
Food: The souvlaki was full of flavour, fresh and looked great. There are a lot of flavours going on in there but that’s not a complaint ****
Drink: There was a range of soft drinks and beers – but as I only had a Diet Coke I’ll leave that for you to discover should you visit ***
Decor: This is a bit of an odd place. The tables make it look like a nice restaurant...the way you order a bit like buying a cake at a village fete. The lighting, during a gloomy day was, for fear of repetition, also a tad gloomy, but was pleasant enough ***
Staff: Fast and friendly service ****
Price: If you don’t fancy the stodge of fish and chips or want a taste of sunshine, a souvlaki delivers and at a similar price point. A good deal for the quantity of quality food, and a can of drink thrown in too *****