Feeling something a bit more French? Migrate westwards to Maison Francois.
Or, if it's just the classics you want, check out our guide to the best restaurants in London.
What's the deal?
London’s restaurant scene might be stronger than ever, but it’s still pretty rare to hit on a place that checks every box: outstanding food, nice atmosphere, great service, a thoughtful drinks menu and a sort of ineffable “vibe”. Well, esti – currently taking up residency in the kitchen at cocktail emporium TT Liquor – passes the “all-rounder restaurant” test with flying colours. Just a shame it’s only temporary.
The first proper restaurant-ish from Greek-Australian entrepreneur Kostas Vais, esti (lower case, named after the Greek word for “restaurant”) mines from Vais’ blended background, fusing Mediterranean dishes with a sort of Antipodean playfulness. Sounds odd, but it works undeniably, yielding deeply delicious, heartfelt dishes with a dash of the unexpected. Greek classics are lovingly deconstructed – souvlakis are served as miniatures, so that they can be eaten as an appetiser; Greek salad becomes “garden salad”, tossed with British greens and kohlrabi; lamb – always present on a Greek table – is served on the rack with psychedelic-sounding “desert dust” (an obscure potion made up of – count ‘em – eleven ground-up herbs, including mountain pepper, lemon myrtle, and pepperberries) and a squeeze of lemon.
Drinks-wise, you can order cocktails from the TT Liquour’s bar downstairs – a nice advantage of esti’s current location, given that their drinks are excellent. The wine list is short but thoughtfully curated – with a good showing from Greek producers, natch. The space, too, deserves a mention – it’s in the building’s airy attic space, with all the creaky charm you’d expect from a converted Victorian police station. Large windows, white walls, and a layout that opens out onto the roof terrace all give it the feeling of a private dinner party in a hidden-away loft.
You’ll find chirpy, bubbly Vais bouncing around the place during service, excitedly recommending dishes and pouring generous glasses of wine. Though he isn’t the chef – that’s Sal Galasso – esti feels very much like his vision. Previously, Vais ran popular food truck Three Little Pigs and spent the majority of his career bouncing between hospitality gigs in Australia. It feels like esti is an inflection point for him, a launchpad for the next phase in his career – proper restauranteering. We wouldn’t be surprised at all if he lands himself something permanent soon.
What should I eat?
The saganaki toastie is a stroke of genius. Here, Greece’s second-favourite cheese is grilled between two crusty slices of sourdough, sprinkled with thyme, and topped with a few pieces of candied rainforest lime, then drenched in a pool of British blossom honey you can mop up with your slice. An instant good-mood tonic.
The souvlaki, too, is a real coup of ingenuity. Each version – one vegetarian and stuffed with golden cubes of fried halloumi; one filled with chicken, tomato salsa, and zhoug; and one a more traditional pork, grilled just long enough so that the meat is still pink in the middle – comes in a snackable, miniature size so that it can be eaten as an appetiser.
Though the emphasis at esti may be on the grill, desserts certainly don’t slump – in fact, all three after-dinner offerings are impressive. But the galaktoboureko – a traditional Greek pie made with Vais’ mom’s proprietary recipe – is top: sheets of filo pastry layered between meltingly-hot layers of semolina custard and cheese, then doused in syrup and butter. Here, Vais really pushes the boat out by topping the whole thing with pashmak (Iranian candy floss). Make it a la mode with an order of olive oil ice cream on the side.
Why should I go?
To catch something great while it lasts.
TT Liquor, London E2 8AA