David Harfield brings his cloak and wand to the Aldgate East Greek street food restaurant, Hungry Donkey.
I’ve smashed a few plates in my time, but it’s usually been due to a drunken accident and followed by the hasty dropping of banknotes into a waitress’s hands and a solemn promise never to try and perform my pull-off-the-tablecloth magic trick in a busy restaurant ever again. (One day, one day.) So, imagine my delight at visiting a restaurant at which I assume, based on a hazy knowledge of Greek table manner etiquette, crockery destruction is de rigueur. Abracadabra, it’s Hungry Donkey!
Greek Street Food Restaurant – Hungry Donkey
Sheltering from the intermittent rainshowers that are plaguing East London, we hop out of an Uber on Commercial Street and hottail it into the venue, which is decked out in colourful, IKEA-ish furniture, some of which is hanging from the roof (see the chairs to your top right as you walk out). Quickly gauging that throwing plates behind us would not be a sage move – for one thing, I might brain one of the chefs in the open kitchen behind our booth – we settle down and check out the menu. The friendly manager has recommended a selection of small dishes and a salad to start, so I pick out some of his favourites and praise the waitress for almost keeping a straight face as I brave the pronunciation of each natively titled dish (seriously, I dare any non-Greeks to order a “Galaktoboureko” without also pointing to the menu).
Keeping it as real as can be, Hungry Donkey stock a range of Greek wines, spirits and beers and we sample a couple of brewskis from the award-winning Septem Brewery; the 8th Day IPA is sweet and golden with a slight marmalade tang, while the Monday’s Pilsner has a bitter, citric finish and pairs well with the more aromatic food.
Speaking of which, our table is soon festooned with strong-smelling delicacies, many of which I’ve never tried before. The Gigantes is the Greek equivalent to baked beans, although they’ve super-sized it with gigantic (ah, I see) white beans that are slathered in herbaceous tomato sauce and pack a decent protein punch. The Spetzofai also makes use of thick tomato sauce, sprinkling paprika and boukovo chilli in with the strips of red pepper and chunky wedges of Greek sausage; a nourishing dish that comforts us as the miserable weather rages outside.
A plate of grilled halloumi does what it says on the tin, the squeaky cheese enlivened by a simple squeeze of lemon, while the Dakos are three barley rusks topped with a basic but pleasing medley of diced tomato, onion and feta. This dish is the most curious of all, given the unusual crunch of the rusk, and probably my favourite – however, quick tip: eat this dish first as the dakos will get soggy if you leave it until the end. We can’t leave without sampling a Greek salad, which arrives with three generous chunks of herbed feta covering the bowl of leaves, olives, tomatoes and onion strips; the garlic-tinged Tzatziki is perfect for dipping into with the soft, warm triangles of pitta bread that are surprisingly doughy considering their thin consistency.
Hankering for something sweet and with just enough room left to split a dessert, I order the aforementioned Galaktoboureko (yes, yes, complete with finger-pointing) and we’re very satisfied after wolfing down the syrup-soaked custard cream and its crispy chocolate-dusted filo wafer topping. After seeing off a delicious, warm shot of Rakomelo – a cinnamon, honey and clove liqueur that serves as a digestif – we bid adieu to this charming, slightly kooky little East London treasure. The only disappointment was that I didn’t get to execute my magical finale; yeah, well next time I come back, I’m bringing my rabbit (which will probably disappear into my hat and end up in a stew)…abracadabra!!