For years, Londoners struggled to find decent Greek food but now it's having a moment, particularly at the street food level, in the form of souvlaki.
These grilled meat skewers are eaten everywhere in Greece, and we recently enjoyed scoffing some on the streets of Athens, where they’re consumed at all times of the day or night by anyone and everyone.
The name souvlaki comes from a medieval word meaning skewer. Soft pitta bread (completely different to the horrible hard flappy things we get here) is wrapped around the cooked meat (usually pork, chicken or lamb) with salads and sauces like the cooling, yoghurt-based tzatziki.
Here’s our map of where to find your fix in London.
Hungry Donkey: this east London restaurant has both takeaway and eat-in options. Lamb comes from farms in Cornwall and Devon, and they're proud of the free range meat which is cooked on a robata grill. If you're really hungry, there's also a 'pay by the kg' option, which allows the table to order big platters of meat, dressed with lemon, wild oregano and salt.
Hungry Donkey, 56 Wentworth Street, E1 7AL
I Should Be Souvlaki: we have to hand it to them — that’s a brilliant name. These guys started making wraps after countless holidays to Greece as students, and later souvlaki pilgrimage tours to Athens. Their souvlaki is modern in style, meaning that it comes with chips inside the wrap, along with pork that has been marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano. The wrap is finished with chopped tomato, red onion, parsley, paprika and lemon.
I Should Be Souvlaki, currently in residence at the Old Nun's Head (Wednesday 6pm-10pm), 15 Nunhead Green, SE15 3QQ
Souvlaki Street: these guys serve either grilled pork shoulder or chicken thigh inside their pitta wraps, topping with tzatziki, tomatoes, red onion and parsley. There’s also a halloumi version for veggies.
Souvlaki the Greek: chicken, lamb or pork souvlaki wraps are available at this stall, but they also like to mix things up a bit, so you’ll find a Great Greek Breakfast Souvlaki on the menu, which includes Greek beef sausage, baked gigantes beans, scrambled eggs and tzatziki. Brilliant. Owner Despina is not a fan of the modern souvlaki in Greece, which often contain chips, calling them "Macdonald's Generation Souvlaki". Growing up in the Australian Greek Diaspora, Despina was used to lamb souvlaki, but finds that most these days are made with pork.
Souvlaki the Greek, Arsenal Farmers' Market, 10 Warehouse Villas, SE18 6GD.
Suvlaki Soho: this central London souvlaki joint has just upped its game by hiring Michelin-starred Alfred Prasad as a consultant chef to partner with celeb chef Elias Mamalakis. We're not sure how Michelin stars and Greek street food are going to mix — only time will tell. There’s an option here to order three mini souvlaki wraps if you can’t decide between them, and the vegetarian version contains a Greek cheese called Mastelo (from Chios) rather than the usual halloumi, which is actually Cypriot.
Suvlaki, 21 Bateman Street, W1D 3AL
The Athenian: Efthymios and Neofytos use either chicken, pork or Talagani cheese (another Greek cheese — so good to see some variation here), wrapped in pitta with salad and a choice of sauces including tyrokafteri (a spicy feta and red pepper mixture), tzatziki or their secret recipe: Souvlaki Sauce.
The Athenian, various locations which can be found on the website (and our map).
The Grilling Greek: this was apparently the first Greek food truck in London, and there’s an attention to detail here which makes it one of our all time favourites. Owner Spryos reckons the souvlaki are so good because he tries to replicate the way they tasted when he was growing up. We feel the need to give a shout out to their triple cooked chips with oregano and feta, too.
The Grilling Greek, at King’s Cross and West India Quay KERB markets.
Olive Oil and Oregano: a simple approach to souvlaki at Oil and Oregano, where they make much of their purist approach to cooking the meat. It’s grilled over 'wood charcoal', seasoned with salt, rubbed with olive oil and finished with lemon juice and oregano.
Olive Oil and Oregano, Westfield Stratford City, E20 1EH
Gourmet Goat: these Borough Market goat pedlars are dishing up a different kind of souvlaki containing — you may have had an inkling — goat. Kid goat meat is fashioned into a kofta, grilled and served inside pitta with a green chilli salsa and tzatziki. Co-founder Nadia began eating goat as a child when her family were forced to make use of the land around them to survive. Having lost everything during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, they turned to goat meat as a sustainable source of protein. They've gone from strength to strength, winning a BBC Food and Farming Award in the street food category in 2016, and opened a new, fixed unit inside Rochester Walk.
Gourmet Goat, Rochester Walk, Borough Market, SE1
The Greek Larder: one of our favourite souvlaki comes from The Greek Larder, although it's not traditional in style. Containing sausage made specially by the nearby Quality Chop House in King's Cross, it has flavours of orange, sweet pepper and parsley and comes wrapped in a thin, crisp yet yielding bread. The souvlaki also varies with the seasons, containing a rich tomato sauce in autumn and winter, and fresh tomato in spring and summer. Souvlaki and salad complete this outstanding sandwich.
The Greek Larder, ArtHouse, 1 York Way, N1C 4AS
Bluez Suvlaki Fresh: this restaurant serves a range of souvlaki wraps from the usual pork to loukaniko — a ‘Greek village sausage’. They also come with chips, which are a popular souvlaki garnish. Yes that’s right, chips as a garnish.
Bluez Souvlaki Fresh, 18A Mansell Street, E1 8AA
The Real Greek: this popular chain sells souvlaki wraps with a range of fillings, from classic to pork belly and falafel. We can't say they're up to the standard of their smaller, street food level competitors, but include them here for your info.
The Real Greek, various locations.