Magemenos Avlos (Magic Flute)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Magic Flute
It was quite by accident that I ended up dining at the “Magemenos Avlos” (Magic Flute), one of Athens’ oldest, and most history-filled, tavernas. To eat here is to step back in time.
The place, located just off Plateia Proskopon (“Scout Square”) in Pangrati, not far from the Hilton and the National Gallery, is as it was in its 1960s heyday, when it was the hangout for Greece’s most famous artists and musicians, including the internationally known composer Manos Hatzidakis, for whom the Magemenos Avlos was something of a second home.
The menu has the decided flavor of nostalgia, too, harking back to a time when dining out in Athens meant either an indulgence in Greek Sunday classics like braised rooster with noodles, or a foray into the continental (i.e. French) cuisine of the time: fondue, Tournedos Rossini, Viennese schnitzel, crepes, paillard, and duck a l’orange. Here and there are a few nods to “contemporary” Greek cuisine, in the form of chicken breast cooked with Chios Mastiha, which was actually pretty good.
The classics are competent: the rooster was a little dry but flavorful. The duck a l’orange was retro even in its plating, with rice and steamed vegetables. A green salad livened up with avocado, grapes, and sesame seeds was good. A plate of German-style sausages may not have a place much longer in the hostile-takeover atmosphere of Athens circa 2011!
The atmosphere is worth indulging in more than any plate we had. Dinner is still served with a serenade or two, performed with dramatic flair by the singer of the house and her two-man band. The walls are filled with pictures of a Greece in more innocent times, when people still danced in the aisles and on the tables and when the boundaries between common folk and the country’s rich and famous were not separated by barbed-wire and infra-red cameras. Around 1 a.m. the owner, with a group of friends, started crooning along with the singer. The repertoire seems to be religiously devoted to the music of Hatzidakis.
Despite the less-than-stellar food, we spent a most pleasant evening here basking in the retro glow of happier times for this beleaguered country.
Magemenos Avlos, Amynta 4, Pangrati
Tel. 210 72 23 195
Prices: 35 – 40 euro a person