Milos Athens Hilton

If one world record is going to be set in Athens this summer, it'll be for best Greek restaurant ever. Come down from the mountain, Zeus, dinner is served
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It's hard to know what is going to have more impact on Athens - the return of the Olympic Games, or the return of Costas Spiliadis.

It's hard to know what is going to have more impact on Athens - the return of the Olympic Games, or the return of Costas Spiliadis.

After spending much of his life in North America and establishing New York's most lauded Greek restaurant (Estiatorio Milos), the inspired Greek-born chef and restaurateur has finally gone back to the country of his birth. One suspects that it is so he can be closer to the quality Greek produce that he has spent the past 22 years championing abroad.

Doubtless, another consideration was the opportunity to be part of the glamorous born-again Athens Hilton, which has emerged after a massive £62m overhaul with cutting-edge style, rooftop bars, Acropolis views and the sort of Olympian-sized conference rooms required of a hotel that will be headquarters of the International Olympic Committee for the month of August.

Carved into the lower level of the hotel with a terrace overlooking Athens's largest pool, Milos is a vast, contemporary space with soaring ceilings, towering banquettes, tall share tables and an island oyster bar. I don't know how many shipping tycoons are left in Greece, but they are all here, wielding cigars and immaculately jewelled women, settling into the over-sized tables as if at the helms of luxury yachts.

In such a setting, you'd expect the food to be high-blown, but Spiliadis has the courage - or the insanity - of those unfamiliar with compromise. His mantra is "perfect simplicity", and it all starts and ends with the produce.

So just as you'd be taken into the kitchen of a humble taverna to peer into the pans, your waiter leads you to the gleaming open-plan kitchen to see grouped bunches of wild greens and samphire, tubs of glorious wild thyme honey from the Aegean island of Kythera, and wheels of hand-made Greek cheeses.

Then you are taken to a stainless-steel fishmongers' table covered with fish and shellfish, with more arriving almost by the minute. Mostly sourced around Greece, there are long razor clams, tiny pebble-shaped clams, langoustines, huge fat prawns from Thessalonika, shiny squid and inky cuttlefish. There are fish you recognise (sea bream, sole and sea bass) and fish you don't (skorpios, sfirida, pakana, kokonios).

This is the real, unspoken menu, and with the waiter as guide, dinner is planned. Hanos (comber) and drakaina (weever fish) for my kakavia (Greek fishermen's soup), and some tiny kokonios (black goby) as a starter. Then it's back to the table for an appetiser of Greek dips (£12 for two), with grilled crusty village bread. Suddenly the hundreds of Greek dips I have eaten until now cease to exist. The pale (thankfully not pink) taramosalata is smoky and subtle; skordalia, a mixture of garlic, potatoes and almonds is smoothly thrilling; and tirokafteri, pink with red pepper, is the world's greatest cheese whip.

The kokonios (£4.50) arrive without adornment. Just four perfectly fried, golden, crisp and completely unoily fish, so impeccably fresh and sweet that you are left with just the faint taste of the ocean in your mouth.

Every mouthful of a wild and wonderful vrahosalata (£9.40) is a treat, combining young cos leaves, cucumber, dill, cherry tomatoes, fresh rock samphire and an amazing wild green known as stamnagathi that sneaks up on you with an electric shock of bitterness.

Great Greek food deserves good Greek wine, and the list seems as carefully sourced as the food. A wise young sommelier leads me to a Medan Agan (£18.80), a velvety red made from agiorgiyko grapes, and Moschofilero (£4.35 a glass) a vaguely floral white made by the renowned Peloponnese wine maker Yiannis Tselepos.

The main event is the kakavia, cooked to the recipe of Diakofti, a family tavern at Kythera. An incredibly rich, golden, lemony broth is ladled from a tureen at the table. The fish (hanos and drakaina, remember?), potatoes and onions cooked within it are served separately.

There are no accessories à la bouillabaisse to dilute the magnificence of the flavour, truly the Greek islands' answer to Jewish chicken stock. Charged according to the market price for the fish (£36.50 for two), it is not cheap, but it is wonderful.

Desserts range from syrupy cakes to wedges of melon, retaining the restaurant's "simplicity". Best is a dish of yoghurt, seemingly made by sacrificial virgins, drizzled with thyme honey and huge, toasty walnuts.

Soon after, I am back again, for a simple fisherman's feast of grilled cuttlefish, prawns and langoustines, a towering platter of crisp, wafer-thin courgette and aubergine, fragrant oven-roasted vegetables stuffed with rice and vine leaves, and as digestifs, infusions of wild, bitter herbs. Sensational.

Four visits in two months, and Milos is just getting better and better, the service team under New York-trained Jimmy Mitropoulos shaping up, and the initially high prices edging down. Elsewhere in Athens, Greek chefs are busy pushing Greek cuisine forward with unprecedented creativity. But having spent so much time outside his homeland, Spiliadis is quietly rebuilding Greek cuisine from the ground and the sea up, restoring it, rather than renovating it. This alone makes Milos not only the finest Greek restaurant in Athens but the finest restaurant in Athens. *

18 Milos Athens Hilton, Vassilisis Sofias 46, Athens, tel: 00 30 210 724 4416. Open for lunch daily and dinner Monday to Saturday. Around £95 for two including wine and service

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Second helpings: Going Greek in Britain

The Real Greek 15 Hoxton Market, London N1, tel: 020 7739 8212 In this, their main restaurant, as well as at their more relaxed mezedopolio next door and the buzzy Souvlaki bar in Clerkenwell, Theodore Kyriakou and Paloma Campbell have given Greek food back its dignity and its character. Start with brilliant mezedes (try cured mullet roe from Messolongi), then move on to small plates such as nettle pie and sheep's milk yoghurt, and main dishes including lamb with trahana and purslane.

Entelia 34 Princess Victoria Street, Bristol, tel: 0117 946 6793 No kitschy Greek taverna trappings here, just a modern, sparely decorated room with wooden floors, wooden chairs and plate-glass windows. Try fish keftedes with sundried tomato salsa, loukanika Greek sausages, kleftiko (lamb shank) or spanikopita (cheese and spinach pie), with Mythos beer and good Greek wine.

Dimitri's Tapas Bar Taverna Campfield Arcade, Castlefield, Manchester, tel: 0161 839 3319 The name says it all. Set in the an airy glass-and-iron arcade, this indoor/outdoor Deansgate hotspot serves an intriguing mix of Greek, Spanish and other Mediterranean cooking. So you can start with tapas or mezedes, order pan Catalan or pitta bread, choose between loukanika or chorizo sausages and move on to lamb moussaka or arroz de mariscos.

E-mail Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at t.durack@independent.co.uk

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