The Real Greek, Strand WC2

I was going to the theatre for the first time in ages, to see The Pillowman at the Duke of York’s Theatre in St Martin’s Lane. Having not long been back from Wales, I was a bit late suggesting to my friend that we met to eat first, and thus my usual haunt for that area, Bancone, was full, as was Côte Brasserie and The Real Greek in St Martin’s Lane. However, the Strand branch of The Real Greek was only 7 minutes walk away from the theatre and they had a table for two at 6pm.

It’s nine years since I wrote about The Real Greek in Covent Garden, which I loved, but am not sure I’ve been to one since. I don’t know why. Such is the way of the eating-out world and of course Covent Garden is an area full of good restaurants and firm favourites. There are however a number of branches elsewhere now, even as far away as Glasgow and Manchester. They ought to open one in Richmond or Twickenham and then I’d be there regularly. I was slightly disappointed that we couldn’t get into the St Martin’s Lane branch. It’s housed in what used to be a pub – The Green Man & French Horn – and for many years, throughout my childhood and later, it was run by my favourite uncle, Uncle Joe, one of my dad’s older brothers (my dad was youngest of six children). I stayed in the pub quite often, I can still picture the inside – as it was – and once into my teens, my uncle would often get me complimentary tickets to theatres and I went to see many plays with friends.

The inside of the Strand branch is very long and thin. I arrived first and was shown to a table towards the back. It wasn’t very busy as I went in but soon filled up and, of course, in the heart of Theatreland, there were lots of people looking to eat quite quickly and not be late for the show they were going to.

The menu is basically cold meze and hot meze with a few ‘nibbles’, flatbread etc., some wraps and sides and salads. There are a couple of set menus but otherwise it’s recommended that you choose 3 to 4 meze per person. Elsa and I chose a cold meze each to share, with flatbread, and a hot meze as a kind of main that we each wanted.

We had Melitzanosalata (£6.25) – smoked aubergine, garlic, red onion, roasted red pepper and onion. Also, Yellow Fava (£6.00) – yellow lentils, cooked and blended with herbs and spices, topped with salsa of tomatoes, onions, capers, ‘made the Santorini way’.

The Greek flatbread was topped with olive oil and Dukkah (£3.80) and we had a side to go with our mains of Pourgouri – Bulgur Wheat (£4.75) – ‘a classic Cyriot dish of cracked wheat with tomatoes and onion’.



It was all delicious. I loved the topping on the bread and the cold meze had a great freshness to them.

I chose Lamb Meatballs (£8.70) – ‘handmade lamb patties and topped with Greek yoghurt, tomato and onions’, as my main. Although warned these were ‘small plates’, this really was a perfect-sized main for me. Four good-sized meatballs, nicely charred at the edges but soft and tender, with a tasty rich sauce.

Elsa chose Halloumi & Vegetable Skewer (£8.15), which is served with Aegean Slaw.

Getting into the Greek spirit, I decided to have Greek wine – Makedonikos Rose at £6.75 a glass – and Elsa had some Merlot.

We had to keep an eye on the time because of getting to the theatre by 7.30 but it wasn’t too rushed and a great meal for early evening, pre theatre. You don’t want a heavy meal before the theatre and this was nicely light, delicious and felt a little special with its Mediterranean touch. It’s also great value as the bill, with tip, came to £55 for the two of us, including our wine. I definitely need to go back to The Real Greek sooner than nine years!!

As for the play. Well that for me was a huge disappointment. I didn’t like it at all. When Elsa asked if I’d like to join her, I was attracted by the theatre’s blurb describing The Pillowman as ‘one of the greatest plays of the past 25 years’, which ‘examines the role of the artist in society and asks what price do we pay for freedom of expression’. Written 20 years ago in 2003, we might say the subject has some relevance now. The play centres on writer Katurian (a man originally but now a woman and played by Lily Allen) who is arrested and brutally interrogated by two policeman about the link between their stories and some child murders. Set in the time of a totalitarian state, Katurian’s stories are about child abuse and mutilation, and child murders – did the writing encourage someone to use the stories to commit real murders? Did Katurian herself commit the murders? Some of the stories are read out loud; some are played out on stage. It’s a pretty gruesome staging. While it brings up important and interesting issues about freedom of speech, it also suggests, somewhat dangerously, that Katurian’s brutal childhood may have been a necessary experience for her creativity; it questions whether what we read and hear are true – we may be told something, we may hear or read something, but how do we know it’s true. Even the characters are uncertain of each other’s honesty. And what is ‘truth’ when one person’s version of what is seen or done can be different to another’s? The end also considers the importance of preserving the written word – Katurian thinks her work, her stories, are more important than her own life – but I think this question would be better considered of some brilliant writing rather than the 400 unpublished short stories of an unsuccessful writer. Of course, any writing we do, which is part of our expression and experience is important. I don’t mean to diminish the value of unpublished work, but to carry such a big question, don’t we need the equivalent of Shakespeare, Dickens or a big name author of today? The play is notoriously controversial, but for me it wasn’t a very coherent play, some ideas were overplayed and loaded while others were not followed through enough. It was billed as a ‘dark comedy’ and the audience did laugh a lot, but I found the humour weak. And Lily Allen, former pop star, didn’t really meet the challenge of carrying such a bold play, lacking a strong stage presence and voice.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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