Seafood show-offs in St James
Estiatorio Milos (henceforth referred to as Milos) is an international mini chain of Greek seafood restaurants with branches in Athens, Montreal and the US. Its arrival in the moneyed mini Mayfair extension that is St James has been highly anticipated by some, but it’s hard to see the appeal at first glance.
Milos breaks all the current London restaurant trends. Seasonal, local produce is overshadowed by seafood flown in from Greece and waters even farther afield. There’s no informal stripped back décor and service here either – a massive bank of seafood on ice is displayed in the middle of the restaurant and catches your eye as soon as you walk in.
Although Milos isn’t ostentatiously decorated, you might still be put off if you have a proletarian chip on your shoulder – the crowd tends to be of the neckerchief and vajazzled heels crowd. Plus, the prices are high, even for seafood – the set menu alone costs £70.
There is much to like at Milos though and even Templeton Peck, who usually breaks out into hives when confronted with rich people, grew to enjoy his time there.
Milos set menu
Although there is a red meat option on Milos’ set menu, having lamb chops at a seafood restaurant is a bit like going to a curry house and ordering the omelette – a childish retreat to the comfortably familiar that’s ultimately pointless.
Things didn’t start well. The salmon tartar was light and refreshing with a vague hint of the promised chilli at the end, but ultimately quite bland with none of the buttery creaminess I’ve come to expect from raw salmon.
The grilled octopus was much better. The tentacle segments had a firm bite and a tender interior, proving to be a good delivery mechanism for the creamy, nutty fava bean puree. Punchy sweet capers were a classy finishing touch.
The punchy capers turned up again in the oddly presented Greek salad. The triangular shape of the feta slice was almost as unexpected as its light, muted taste. This stood in particular contrast with the sharp raw onions, sweet peppers, the occasional olive, reasonably umami chunks of tomato and smaller, sharper plum tomato halves. It’s perfectly decent, but for me the heart of a Greek salad is always the feta and the cheese here just left me cold.
One of the very few but most annoyingly pretentious things about Milos, and I use the trite ‘p’ word carefully, is the exclusive use of Greek terms for the various fish and other dead sea creatures on offer. It smells like a vain attempt to make the mundane sound more exciting.
‘Lavraki’, for example, sounds wonderfully sun-kissed and exotic, but it’s just sea bass as far as I could make out. It wasn’t available though, so I had to settle for ‘dorada’ which I’m pretty sure was a gilt-headed bream. In any case, the bream managed to be delicate and flaky yet dense and meaty at the same time. Lightly salted and gently grilled, it would’ve been perfect except for an unwanted repeated appearance of the capers. Their sweet punchiness stood out like sore thumbs here and detracted from the fish.
Another needless gloss is the ‘yoghurt martini’ which is just Greek yoghurt with fruit served in a martini glass for no apparent reason. The light and mildly creamy yoghurt was, on my visit, topped with an uninspiring selection of cherries.
Milos a la carte
I left my first meal at Milos quite conflicted. While some of the food was very good, the high prices and the wobbly service counted against it. At least the latter had improved by the time of my second and final visit with Vicious Alabaster and Templeton Peck. The ever-changing cast of waiters who tended to hover annoyingly in the background on my first visit had morphed into a far more polished operation by the time of the second. In both instances, they were friendly and knowledgeable.
The Greek rock oysters were unlike any oysters I’ve had before. Resembling the base nub of a scallop, they were chewy and dense like a winkle or cockle. While Vicious Alabaster liked them, I’d rather have a fleshy native or rock oyster any day of the week.
Vicious Alabaster and I also disagreed over the cured grey mullet roe. Smooth, lightly salty and served on bruschetta with a zesty dressing, the roe was just a tad too muted for my liking.
The Greek ceviche was garnished with creamy crumbs of cheese. The cheese may have been feta, but regardless it didn’t add much to the dish. The dense, meaty and chewy little slices of zingy sea bass wasn’t in need in of much embellishment anyway.
Yellowfin tuna cooked blue was lightly seared and salty on the outside, delicately meaty and tender on the inside. It was a beautiful cut of fish ably prepared, although Templeton Peck and I were divided over the merits of the thick, creamy, punchy garlic sauce served on the side. He found it a needless distraction, while I appreciated the occasional daub as a flavoursome little herby hit.
We were all fans of the Madagascan prawns. Big and buttery, the flesh was tender, zingy and zesty. Served with the shells off, but with the heads still attached so you can suck the salty goodness out of them like any right-thinking person.
Opinion was divided once again over the fried anchovies. While light, crispy, meaty and free of excess oil, I found myself longing for the punchy salty tang of the best cured Cantalabrian anchovies. I’m not sure whether that distinctive flavour would’ve survived deep-frying, but I’d love to find out. Regardless, my two dining companions wolfed down these little fishies quite happily.
You’d be forgiving for thinking that the photo below depicts a chicory salad, but it’s a heap of tender cuttlefish with a just-firm bite and a rather splendid zesty dressing. It’s therefore a shame that the squid ink risotto accompanying it was such a damp squib. The drab lack of flavour and the somewhat mushy small grained rice was utterly forgettable.
I expected much from the baklava given that Greece is just as famed for it as Turkey, but the version here was intensely disappointing. The big sliced round looked like a cut of apple strudel and tasted just as autumnal. The soggy honey-drenched pastry and dense cinnamon, mince pie-like filling was just too stodgy for my liking.
The accompanying ice cream was a mixed bag. It could’ve done with more resting time given its uncomfortable frostiness, but the crisp bits of filo pastry dotting the ball of ice meant it had more charm than the baklava itself.
A far better filo-based dessert was the lightly eggy custard sandwiched in between crisp layers of said pastry. Light and elegantly flavoursome, it was everything the baklava was not.
Desserts took a turn for the worse once again with the walnut cake which was more like a wall of small, compacted walnut pieces with only occasional cameo appearances by actual cake. We only finished it out of politeness.
It’s a shame the Flame Haired Squelchie wasn’t around to sample the loukamades, one of her all-time favourite desserts. The deep-fried pastry balls here were a little too oily for my liking, but there was still plenty to like from the crisp exterior to the fluffy, lightly bready interior and the thin yet multi-layered dressing of honey which had hints of aniseed and orange.
There’s some fine, well-cooked seafood on offer at Milos, assuming you can tease it out of the expansive menu. Even then, it’s not quite good enough to justify the high prices – you are instead paying for the slick, shiny surroundings and the phalanx of servers. These two things may be enough to sway the overly coiffured and tanned, but for everyone else the imbalance of artistry and value on the plate leaves Milos feeling like an incomplete experience.
What to order: Cuttlefish; Ceviche; Prawns; Octopus
What to skip: Greek rock oysters; Fried anchovies; Baklava; Walnut cake
Name: Estiatorio Milos
Phone: 020 7839 2080
Opening Hours: Monday–Saturday noon-15:00 and 18.00-23.00. Closed Sunday.
Reservations: probably a good idea
Average cost for one person including soft drinks and service charge: £80 approx.