Stelios Platonos, restaurateur: born Nicosia, Cyprus 3 January 1923; married first Joan Wilson (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1968), second Peggy Busse; died Lefkes, Greece 5 April 2006.
Stelios Platonos was one of the first restaurateurs to bring quality Greek food to London. His Kalamaras restaurants attracted such stars of the Sixties as the Beatles when they were recording at Abbey Road, Peter Sellers and Dusty Springfield. Some, like Sir Norman Foster and the Earl of Lichfield (who included Kalamaras in his list of the best restaurants in the world), became long-standing friends. Even Aristotle Onassis ate there when in London. Noël Coward was an early customer.
The film star Faye Dunaway famously stormed out of the restaurant when Platonos refused to serve her a gin and tonic. She returned repentant 15 minutes later to say: "No restaurateur has ever spoken to me like that - but let me try some of that Greek wine you offered after all." A delighted Platonos poured her a glass of retsina and explained that he did not stock either gin or tonic.
He was an ambassador for a very Greek form of hospitality and brought over probably the first authentic psistaria to England, a spit on which he could cook lambs whole. Late in the evening "Mr Kalamaras" could be persuaded to take down one of his collection of musical instruments and sing quietly to the bouzouki, perhaps, or the baglama.
The restaurants were as colourful and as gregarious as his own life. He had raised the money to open his first Micro Kalamaras in 1967 from gambling and never made another serious bet again in his life. He had played football for Tottenham Hotspur and three times survived being torpedoed in the Second World War. As he said just before his death: "I have lived three lives, I like to go in peace and silence."
His family were Athenians, although he was born while his mother was visiting Nicosia for a funeral, and he grew up in Athens, passing up a promising academic career to join the RAF when he was 16, just as the Nazis were invading. He escaped to Crete and then by a small fishing boat found his way to Egypt where he enlisted again this time in the Merchant Navy. The day before Tobruk fell, his ship was sunk and he was rescued by a British destroyer and posted off to the Atlantic to run the gauntlet of German U-boats. He was torpedoed and sunk three times in all, once spending six days marooned in a battered lifeboat in the Indian Ocean.
As a teenager, he had had trials for Panathinaikos FC, although volleyball was his first love. When he returned to England after the war he played football for Brighton and Hove Albion in the old First Division and made two appearances for Tottenham Hotspur in the 1948/49 season as an amateur. He ended as player-manager for Falmouth FC, in the old Third Division South.
By this time he had married his first wife, Joan, in London and supported his young family working nights as a waiter in Soho and eventually at the Dorchester. It was his second wife, Peggy, who introduced him to the arts and he became passionate about the theatre, opera, ballet and art.
He had often been called "Kalamaras", an archaic Greek Cypriot nickname for Greeks (coined when Cyprus was under Turkish rule, from the same root as kalamares, squid, and meaning "scholar", one who uses ink, because of the higher standards of education in Greece) and decided to use the name for his restaurant.
After the first Micro Kalamaras, he opened at No 1 Queensway in Bayswater two years later and finally Mega Kalamaras in 1976, in which he kept an interest for the next 19 years before retiring to Paros in the Cyclades 11 years ago to tend his garden, write and help set up the Apothiki modern art gallery on the island.
In restaurants he had found a vocation to match his exuberance and Kalamaras became as much a part of the Swinging Sixties as it was a seminal restaurant in parallel to the more talked-about Italian trattorias across Hyde Park in King's Road, Chelsea. Eventually Platonos closed the more up-market restaurant on Queensway because he wanted to keep the smaller nearby operations in the parallel Inverness Mews for locals and friends.
The sign outside Platonos's well-tended garden on Paros announced simply, "Welcome, please come in" - which is perhaps a fitting memory of a man who loved the company of others and their enjoyment in good food, wine, the arts and conversation.Reuse content