Neil Sowerby warns 'Beware Greeks bearing prawns'

THE word cryptic derives from a Greek wording meaning secret. I only mention this because at the bottom of my Dionisos dinner bill sat the cryptic message “Go Greek or Go Home”. On reflection, and still weary from my marathon attempts to dislodge bullet-like prawns from their flak-jacketed shells, I wish I’d gone home and kept the place a secret.

Perhaps it was my own fault for intruding on a restaurant so shiny new the framed shots of Acropolis-like ruined temples were still stacked in the basement. They took 10 percent off our bill, perhaps because a clandestine ‘soft launch’ was in operation or maybe out of shame at so many aspects of our meal being messy – and I don’t just mean that main, where I suspect the shell-on crustaceans and the tomato sauce had been strangers before their liaison on the pass. 

Issues, we had a few, which was surprising considering Dionisos is an offshoot of a thriving brand with multiple outlets across Madrid and Barcelona and the modern taverna-style fit-out in their first venture outside Spain and the Balearics looks a treat. Mind it had to look better than in its previous incarnations as MCR42 and Genghis Khan’s Mongolian Grill.

The Greek-Spanish connection threw me a little. There was, of course, El Greco unleashing his tortured canvasses on Toledo back in the 16th century. Ioannis Golias’s Iberian Odyssey, though, had fallen under my radar; he set up the first Dionisos in Barcelona in 1993 to promote his country’s cuisine.

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The new Greek restaurant occupies the former MCR42 and Genghis Khan’s Mongolian Grill site

So now Manchester, where Hellenic cuisine is synonymous with dear old Dimitri’s serving up a casual take on meze and wider Med dishes. There is also the tiny cafe, Maneas, in the Royal Exchange building and on Princess Street Rozafa (the mothership in Stockport) and party central Bouzouki by Night, for those with an urge to display their inner Zorba.

Newcomer Dionisos, of course, is named after another hell-raiser, the bibulous ancient Greek god of vineyards, which raised expectations about its Greece-dominated wine list. This was the first disappointment of our visit. Not that it doesn’t look impressive.

So much so, we ordered a favourite white, the organic Malagousia Matsa Boutaris. “Sorry, we haven’t got it,’’ said the waiter pointing us towards the “very drinkable” £13.75 Lantides house wines. We switched to potential reds – “how about the Xinomavro Reserve?” – and again there were serious doubts etched on his face.

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Spanakopita (£6,50): a ‘warm millefeuille with spinach and feta cheese filling’
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Kolokithokeftedes (£5,90): deep-fried croquettes of zucchini and herbs
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Xifías (£11.25): dry swordfish with spuds and pink, soapy taramsalata

“Well, what have you got and recommend?” He returned clutching a bottle of ‘Sweet Red Wine’ and a white, Alfega, Domaine Hatzimichalis, which we accepted as more suitable to accompany the eagerly anticipated prawns and my partner’s preference, crunchy gilt-head bream.

Turns out that wasn't available either, as our man came back a few minutes later to tell us “No bream”, so old stand-by Xifías (£11.25), swordfish brochette with olive oil and squeezed lemon, salad and spuds, it was. The fish was pretty dry, the dab of pink taramsalata soapy, but the wine was a refreshing, tropical blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Malagousia, Robola. On the website list at £25.55, we were billed just £18.50 for it. The grilled prawns cost £11.90, redeemed only by the presence of feta and ouzo in the sauce.

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Though the modern taverna-style fit-out looks a treat

The Dionisos website is as lovely as the fit-out and it is big on authentic sourcing: “The ingredients that we use in our restaurants are mostly of Greek origin. Here you can try cheeses such as feta, kefalotyri and manouri, the original black olives from Kalamata, the best hilopites and the best loukaniko from Hepiros.”

Well, the hilopites (octopus) we ordered hadn’t been sourced that day, but we did enjoy the spicy sausage loukaniko, accompanying kefalotyri in a Metsovítiko starter (£9.50). This cheese I’d thought of as a hard, salty goat/sheep cheese. Here it was grilled down to a crumbly curd. Odd.

As an alternative to the absent octopus, our server had suggested that we go for Tyropita, ‘a warm millefeuille filled with an assortment of greek cheeses’, but since we had already requested Spanakopita (£6,50), a ‘warm millefeuille with spinach and feta cheese filling’ it seemed a bit redundant. The pastry was soggy and the filling was niggardly and lacking in sharpness. Better were Kolokithokeftedes (£5,90), deep-fried croquettes of zucchini and herbs. 

We decided against the Greek roulette that might be the pudding choice and asked for the bill. “The card machine is not working. Would that inconvenience you?” It did.

Please note no plates were smashed in the assembling of this review.

  • Food 4.5/10

    Kolokithokeftedes 6, Metsovítiko 6, Spanakopita 4, Xifías 5, Prawns Mikrolímano 2

  • Atmosphere 3/5

    so shiny new the framed shots of Acropolis-like ruined temples were still stacked in the basement

  • Service 2/5

    “Sorry, we haven’t got it,’’