Food & Drink

Questions of Taste: Markos Tsimikalis

Cofounder Markos Tsimikalis reflects on a year of Holland Park’s Vori

Run by three brothers, Vori aims to bring the feel of a coastal Greek taverna (it’s named for a beach on the island of Andros) to leafy Holland Park. It’s a successor of sorts to their earlier offering, Spitalfields’ Hungry Donkey, and they’re commemorating its first year with a new menu, with new dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of those brothers, Markos Tsimikalis, talked to Port about his hopes for the spot, London’s Greek food scene, and his menu highlights.

Vori is named for a beach, but sits decidedly far away from the sea in Holland Park – how did you set about translating a local coastal culture to this environment?

What a great question. It all starts with our interior, and in particular the aspects that reflect moments of summer on a Greek island. For instance: our two golden pendants that hang from the ceiling represent the golden afternoon sun; our crimson red hues mirror those intense sunsets we experience at this time of year; our blues reflect both the Aegean sea and the clear sky, and our olive green is an ode to our sacred olive tree.

What do you feel London gets about Greek food culture already, and what do you feel needs introduction, through Vori or otherwise?

I think over the last decade or so that London has been introduced to a more creative interpretation of Greek cuisine, thanks to our country’s chefs bringing over the type of dishes they were creating back home. Nevertheless, the two scenes are markedly different and until recently, London has not enjoyed the simpler Greek restaurants and tavernas in the same way it has Italian trattorias and Spanish tapas places. I believe that in order to understand and really experience a cuisine it has to start from the bottom up, with creativity being just part of the journey. What is still missing in London is that middle ground, of classic Greek recipes that focus on championing great sustainable and seasonal ingredients. After all, Greek cuisine is built around seasonality by its very nature!

That is what we do at Vori, cooking authentic dishes with seasonal ingredients that also champion fundamental techniques such as cooking over real charcoal. Our menus embody the typical ritual of a Greek table, with dishes coming out in waves – guests trying different flavours as the meal progresses. All that, of course, has been married with a unique and indigenous Greek wine list, where each wine has a distinct purpose and profile which when paired with our food, creates a dining experience that lasts long after our guests have left the restaurant.

How has the reception been? Does anything about how it’s settled in surprise you?

We have been welcomed to the Holland Park neighbourhood with open arms. Our neighbours are an incredibly kind group of people that really love and appreciate the simplicity with which we cook our food, as well as our wines of course. There is a lot of love for Greece and its food that stems from our guests’ summer experiences and their connection to someone Greek. Then obviously there is nostos – nostalgia – that our Greek and Cypriot guests have for the flavours and techniques of Greece. Understatement, simplicity and refinement underpin everything we do, whether it’s food, wine or hospitality, and we have been delighted at how our guests have embraced this ethos. They value both our environment and style of hospitality; it gives them a nice break from the intensity and hustle and bustle of the city.

What drew you to work in restaurants?

I was a trader working in the City of London for many years. I was very successful but in retrospect I did burn out. I found my way into the restaurant business as I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and had a great affinity for the hospitality industry. I loved how spaces could transport you somewhere magical – or the opposite, if not executed properly. How all senses combined to create a memorable experience. At the time, and I think it still is the case, I found there was a huge opening in the market for good Greek food and wine coupled with empathetic hospitality. So, together with my two brothers, I decided to fill that gap. Being a restaurateur is a great vocation. It suits my personality, it keeps me on my toes and I am always learning something new.

There’s a heavy emphasis on seasonality at Vori – what’s your favourite for eating and why?

I love our Greek salad – horiatiki. It is fresh, filling and full of flavour thanks to the extra virgin olive oil and sea salt that really make the other ingredients stand out and shine. Our manitaria – grilled mushrooms, pine nuts and thyme dressed with petimezi grape molasses – is another stand out. Such a simple dish, yet the charcoal, salt and petimezi really elevate it to new heights! Finally, our Kalamari – grilled, salted, drizzled with olive oil and lemon and served with a delicious carrot and florina pepper dip – is exceptional. The perfect flavours to go with a glass of crisp white Economou Assyrtiko or Troupis Hoof & Lur orange wine.

How do you go about sourcing and selecting produce?

All the Greek ingredients are sourced by our trusted friends, Maltby & Greek. They are a great partner and we have been working with them for close to a decade. They share the same uncompromising approach to quality as us, working with small independent suppliers and constantly scouring the landscape to find great ingredients that they know will work with our approach to cooking. For meat we work closely with our neighbours, C Lidgate, who always source free-range top-quality produce for us. The same goes with our fish; we work with a select few fish suppliers that always get us fresh day boat catch. It is important to keep communicating your standards to suppliers in an honest and open way. Our guests really deserve the best ingredients and produce that we can get our hands on; that is something we will never compromise on and our suppliers are a great bunch of people who really get that.

Could you tell us about the thinking behind the wine list?               

Ever since we launched our previous restaurant, Hungry Donkey, I wanted to showcase lesser-known Greek wine grapes. I never understood the point of listing a Greek Chardonnay or Viognier (although Gerovassiliou does make a great one!), as there is no point of difference. I also believe the Greek terroir makes for phenomenal wines, full of character and body. Add this to the fact that we see ourselves as ambassadors of Greek culture through our food, wine and hospitality and it is just a no-brainer to present a list filled only with indigenous Greek wines from smaller producers. We want our guests to taste an ever-changing wine list with grapes from all parts of Greece with a big focus on natural and organic/bio-dynamic wineries that really push the envelope and promise to deliver memorable tasting experiences. As mentioned before, each wine has a purpose, and it is picked to match specific flavours from our food menu so that our guests can really be transported to the Greek terroir when they dine with us.

If you had to pick one item from any of the menus to sum up what you want Vori to be, which would you pick?         

The spalobrizola, our medium rare, free-range bone-in ribeye, cooked over coals, seasoned with sea salt and served with a side of patates tiganites (real hand-cut chips). It melts in your mouth. Three key ingredients, cooked on point, with great flavour and no sauces. Just exceptional meat that puts a smile on your face.