Anna Dack discovered glorious Greek food at Hungry Donkey in East London
Hungry Donkey opened on Wentworth Street in May in what seemed an auspicious location in Aldgate – a corner spot looking out on the scattered remains of the daily market stalls through tall glass windows that cover its exterior.
Now a month into its residence, Markos Tsimikalis, the owner, assures us that ‘the area is going through great re-development’ – and this is evidently clear, with new restaurants, bars and shops popping up in quick succession. Nearly all of the 42 seats that scatter the cozy diner-style restaurant were taken when we visited, with large parties gathering for post-work drinks and light plates, having crawled over-worked and under-fed from their desks in the nearby City.
There is immediately a lot to like at Hungry Donkey, with its bright yellow walls, Mediterranean furnishings and quirky illustrated branding hanging happily overhead. Far removed from the white walled, candlelit decor that typically springs to mind when day-dreaming about holidaying on romantic Greek Islands, this restaurant is refreshingly bold in its approach.
The kitchen is open plan with meaty scents from the grill wafting over diners as they contemplate their choices, while warm wedges of pita, complete with grill marks, sit in baskets on the kitchen counter, ready to be plucked by diners and dunked into an assortment of tempting spreads and dips. Favourites here include a rich, thick tsatziki (£4), a smoky aubergine spread (£4) and a deliciously indulgent htipitifeta dip (£4) which includes five cheeses and a scattering of chilli for extra twang.
Other appetizers include Dakos Barley Rusks (£5.50) which come as bite size treats scattered with chopped tomato and feta, Fava Yellow Split Pea Puree (£5.50) and our favourite, Pan-Fried Sagnaki Cheese (£6), which comes oozing with flavour – all of these plates are extremely moreish and perfectly complemented when washed down by a glass of house white from Papagiannakos Winery.
Mains come in four sections: ‘Slouvaki Skewers’, ‘Souvlaki Pita Wraps’, ‘Plate Me Up’, and ‘Smashing Plates’. We were advised quickly that the latter categories are for the hungry diner looking for a leisurely meal, while skewers and wraps are the perfect lunch-time treat. Taking this advice, we dove in to a ginormous portion of Greek Sausage (£13) from the ‘Plate Me Up’s section, which came accompanied with a creamy portion of tsatziki, freshly chopped tomatoes, diced red onion and huge helpings of pita. The dish, although large, was a real treat, with the sausage coming beautifully charred and full of flavour.
However, no visit to a Greek restaurant is complete without moussaka (£12), the classic casserole of aubergine and minced lamb under a cheesy bechamel sauce. The rendition here is heartier than most, served alongside diced lettuce and coming seductively crispy on top and redolent of cinnamon. Other dishes include a highly stacked mushroom and halloumi burger (£10), as well as a vegetarian Fasolakia (£8).
As if you have room after such a feast, there’s also dessert. While the Greek standards of yoghurt (£4.50) and bougatsa (£5.50) are well executed, the Manouri Cheesecake (£6) is exceptional: dense and complex with a deliciously crumbly base. With a large cup of irresistible Greek coffee to finish, the strength of these dishes will happily transport you to your own little Greek paradise, leaving the daily grind of City life in the shadows.
Hungry Donkey, 56 Wentworth Street London E1 7AL