Melding the flavours of East and West - The Best from Greece

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Posted on: 25/Jul/2011 The Best From Greece Culinair From wine to spice

A CAFE, wine-bar and delicatessen just off busy Panormou Street is proving to be a gourmet hub popular with locals and workers in the city’s busy Ambelokipi district. Vanilia + Kanela, under the guidance of general manager and part-owner Giorgos Katsaris, boasts over 4,000 products that are elegantly displayed throughout the store, with distinct sections for wines, herbs, teas, spices, pastas, cheeses, distillates and more.

Despite the plethora of cafes and delis in Athens, their combination in the Panormou store is unique. Teased by family and friends for being a gourmand, Katsaris, 47, has created a new concept for Greece that is inviting due to the natural colours and textures of the decor that greets you, as well as the delicate aroma of vanilla and cinnamon that infuses the air.

Vanilia Cafe is an all-day space within the store that serves authentic Greek coffee, made in the time-honoured way on the hovoli (sand-based cook top) to create a rich kaimaki - the Greek coffee equivalent to the crema on espresso. Served with the briki (coffee pot) on traditional copper trays makes the daily coffee an experience. The bar display is full of gourmet sandwiches ready for a quick lunch and the dine-in menu is constantly changing with innovative salads and daily specials.

There are also light dishes on offer with distinct Mediterranean elements and the same high quality products stocked in the deli, such as the Alonissos tuna salad with mixed green leaves, Kalamata olives and ladolemono (lemon and olive oil dressing) or the rocket salad with bresaola (spiced, air-dried beef), parmesan chips and black truffle oil.

Separated by a wall of glass is the Kanela delicatessen, a space that invites you to leisurely browse the shelves and fill one of the wicker shopping baskets with products that make you eager to rush home to try. Along with the 400 labels of wine the store carries, both local and international wines, the store also carries organic food including sauces and pasta. The products are certified organic and come both from Greece and abroad - honey from Crete, wild artichokes from Tinos and pasta from Italy.

The store was not set up from the beginning to be a deli and wine store. The idea of creating it developed from the original store, a wine shop founded in the same spot in 1999 by the wine company Svolos Selections. The focus was to promote the Greek wine industry locally, an ambitious plan which Katsaris explains needed to be expanded to include other products of Greece.

From wine to spice

Thus Vanilia + Kanela came into being in 2006, putting into practice Katsaris’ personal gastronomic experiences and overseas travels, the highlight of which was two years spent working in the United Arab Emirates importing traditional Greek products such as olives and olive oil. With the store, he “recreated the colours and the mosaic of spices of the Middle East here”.

As a savvy businessman Katsaris harnesses the input from his clients to constantly improve and develop his products, which he calls his children. “We call our products our children. You need to look after them, nurture and develop them, just as you would a child,” says Katsaris. “We basically test new products with customers - those who know us and are more adventurous will try new items and determine for us if we will stock them.” Clients are invited to try new products ranging from psimena (roasted) loukoumia from Amorgos island to a new blend of herbal tea.

The store is still partly owned by the Svolos family, the major shareholder, and Katsaris, who claims “the store was born out of our love and meraki”, this being one of those untranslatable Greek words that can be described as expressing creativity, enthusiasm and one’s soul. Their efforts have been recognised by both food and wine professionals, evident by the 2011 Gourmet Award for Excellence in the category of bakaliko (delicatessen) and their devout client following.

Maria Anastasopoulou, employed at a nearby government agency, is one such client who has added Vanilia + Kanela to her weekly routine. “With my co-workers we often stop here for a light lunch, but I especially enjoy picking up new products to make cooking dinner more interesting for me and also so the family doesn’t get bored,” she says.

Katsaris can be found in his office, located within the store, and maintains constant contact with his customers and staff, who are at the ready to advise customers. The self-proclaimed gourmand notes: “Interestingly, with the crisis, people have become even more conscious of eating good things. Partly because of the influence of the media, but also because buying something special to eat is like taking your aspirin. In these difficult times food has become our daily medicine.”

Vanilia + Kanela
73 Louizis Riankour St, Athens
Phone: 210 69 25 940 -
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