Hot as Hades

John Mangos reveals his top 10 dining hot spots in Athens, from an upscale restaurant in a five-star hotel to a local souvlaki joint where they fan the coals with hair dryers.

Whether it's through Sunrise or Sky News, his public speaking or any of the other roles he's held in radio or TV, John Mangos is one of the most familiar presences in Australian media. What's perhaps less well known, though, is that the man behind the news desk is a mad-keen food lover and, as a Greek-Australian, is one of the voices we trust most when it comes to restaurant recommendations for the old country. Here, Mangos shares his top 10 hard-won favourites in the city of Athens - not one of them in Plaka, tellingly - from the finest street souvlaki to the most impressive fine dining. "It's by no means an exhaustive list of Athens's finest," he cautions. "It's my favourite places, discovered over 30 years of annual travel to Athens, avoiding tourist traps and taking the advice of close friends who live there."
Thanasis This is by far the best souvlaki place in town. Situated near the flea markets of Monastiraki, it's a genuine haunt for locals. There are very few choices on the menu, but the lamb is cooked to perfection, the pita is always fresh and the chips are horrendously addictive. Plus, there's something uniquely Athenian about big hairy men in white T-shirts fanning the coals with hair dryers.
Mitropoleos 69, Monastiraki Square, Athens, +30 210 324 4705
Jimmy and the Fish Set on the bayside strip along Mikrolimano in Piraeus, this is an authentic psarotaverna, or fish tavern. Patrons are invited to inspect the kitchen and encouraged to select their fresh fish from the fridge. If you're lucky, the catch of the day will include barbounia, more commonly known as red mullet. Trust me, you must never resist the opportunity to eat this wonderful fish.
Akti Koumoundourou 46, Mikrolimano, Piraeus, +30 210 412 4417,
This magnificent private museum is a short walk from Syntagma Square and a must for any visitor. Fortuitously, there's a magnificent rooftop terrace overlooking the Presidential Palace and the National Gardens. The food is simple and inexpensive and somehow made more delicious by the unique and tranquil location. It's a haven of food, art, peace and quiet in a bustling city.
Koumbari 1, Athens, +30 210 367 1000,
Diporto Agoras
You've got to love something about a restaurant in Athens with no menu. It also has no signage. As its name implies, it's just two doors in the market district of Athens. This place is hardcore, no frills. The handful of dishes each day is dictated by the freshness of the produce at the nearby market. There's no wine list, just wine poured from the large barrels that line the walls. This place is an institution. Look for the chickpeas and the sardines in lemon juice.
Cnr Sokratous and Theatrou, Omonoia, Athens, +30 210 321 1463
The Byzantine Restaurant
I wouldn't normally recommend a dining room in a five-star hotel but this is a beautiful curved space in the iconic Hilton Athens, a favourite haunt of many local celebrities. If you're starting to tire of horiatiki salata (aka Greek salad), this restaurant offers probably the best buffet in Athens, a magnificently presented array of fresh produce. It proudly boasts one of the best Greek cellars too, an asset complemented by sommeliers who know what they're talking about. It's the perfect place for Sunday lunch.
Hilton Athens, Vasilissis Sofias 46, Athens, +30 210 728 1000
In the former downmarket industrial area of Gazi (also known as The Gasworks), between Athens and Piraeus, this taverna has single-handedly transformed the complexion of the area. Authentic Greek home cooking in a traditional island-style décor is the name of the game. The choices on the menu are many, and quality reigns. The lunch menu is dominated by baked home-style dishes; by dinner-time, the hot coals have been fired up. The best way to eat here is to order plenty of mezedes, especially the bean salads, and share.
Persefonis 41, Gazi, Athens, +30 210 346 4984,
This restaurant is one of several that have sprung up in Gazi in the wake of the success of Mamacas. Sardelles is Greek for sardines, and the small fish baked in rock salt is the house specialty. This is a kafeneio-style restaurant, and it would be rude not to stimulate your appetite with a sip of one of the many ouzos to start; my favourite is Barbayanni.
Persefonis 15, Gazi, Athens, +30 210 347 8050,
Greek House Attikos This is one of the delicious contradictions of Athens. Located in one of the most touristic places, near the bus terminal for the Acropolis, this rooftop restaurant is nonetheless tourist-free. It opens late (after dark) and you need to take the lift to get to it. Minimal signage ensures it's patronised only by people who know it's there - theatre types, politicians and the society crowd. The food is down-home Greek with an influence from Corfu, the owner's hometown, and the view of the Acropolis is magnificent.
Garivaldi 7, Athens, +30 210 921 5256
Balthazar This is more a nightclub/bar-style restaurant, worth visiting for the décor and ambience alone. Chief among its charms is the neoclassical courtyard of painted tiles, canopied by huge date palms and illuminated by coloured lanterns. Popular with arts and media types, it can be difficult to get into. It's also a favourite place for music industry after-parties.
Tsoha 27, Ambelokipi, Athens, +30 210 644 1215,
Ta Kioupia For an upmarket dining experience, this is a must. Ta Kioupia has recently relocated from Politeia (an affluent northern suburb) to central Kolonaki. Set in a stylish and elegant neoclassical building, it offers indoor and outdoor dining and specialises in a sumptuous 10-course dégustation menu that is truly spectacular. Some dishes, such as the melitzanosalata - eggplant salad - are made at your table. Vegetarians and seafood-lovers beware: the main courses are predominantly meaty affairs.
Cnr Deinokratous and Polemou 22, Kolonaki, +30 210 740 0150,