Hungry Donkey, a new Greek restaurant just off Commercial Street in trendy Whitechapel, serves simple, traditional, food, but does it well. We were welcomed with a huge smile, and the service remained very friendly for the duration of our visit. Our waiter’s enthusiasm for the food was clear as he explained some of his favorites from the menu to us – an enthusiasm he clearly shares with the chefs.
The room feels a little student-hall-canteen; a bank of uncomfortable-looking communal tables, paper place mats, thin wooden chairs and industrial lighting, but the oddest touch was sheets of wire mesh on the insides of the windows.The open kitchen is a nice, welcoming touch though. The food was good enough to make us forget the unusual decor, but the vibe is very much of lunch rather than three course meals.
The food came out promptly, and was presented well. There was enough room on the table for a good few sharing plates (avoiding a growing pet hate of olive‘s). Cocktails took a little while, but were worth the wait. We started with some small plates including breadcrumbed, deep-fried zucchini, which were comfortingly soft, but too oily on the inside. As we sat down, we’d agreed you can judge a Greek place by the tzatziki, so this Hungry Donkey wins by that rationale: thick, creamy yogurt with salted cucumber generously drizzled with olive oil and dried oregano – it clung to the crisp pitta bread perfectly, unlike than watery versions we often see. The aubergine dip was a vibrant green, smoothly textured and subtly smoked, which worked well with pitta and Greek salad – a bowl packed with juicy tomato halves, sweet red onion, mixed olives, cucumber and hefty chunks of salty feta – you wouldn’t find better in Greece.
We ordered more sharing plates as mains, not that that is the only option; souvlaki skewers could be ‘plated up’ with skin-on oregano crusted chips, tomatoes and tzatziki. Looking at the table next to us, who’d chosen this option, they were generous portions, and we were relieved to have chosen the smaller plates to share after the starters.
We opted for one of each of the souvlaki – small skewers of meat or veg in a herby marinade, lightly charred and subtly smoky. There’s a clear passion for high-welfare and quality food and all the meat is sustainable and ethical, supplied by Aubrey Allen. They souvlaki were very reasonably priced at around £2.75, so worth getting a couple if you’re not plating up. The chicken was juicy but didn’t have that herby, flavour-packed hit we were expecting. Pork was ham-like, on the salty side, and had a soft texture, but in a good way – with a squeeze of lemon, you’ll be tempted to order another. We loved the vegetarian souvlaki, delicately charred onion, red pepper and courgette, cooked so they still have a crunch and not over cooked so they taste burnt, with a vegetable sauce spiked with oregano.
We also shared a souvlaki pita wrap with lamb; soft, chewy pitta bread, with salty, crumbly and delicately spiced lamb, and the perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes and crunchy red onion that we’d seen in Greek salad. This was the best meat main.
The cheese pie, tiropita, was a little underwhelming. The filo was quite dense, rather than being light and crisp, and felt quite heavy around the cheese, which also didn’t have a great amount of flavour. We’ll try the spinach one next time, which we eyed on the table next to us.
All the wines and spirits are Greek, and craft beers are from Greek microbreweries. We tried the Tsipourito, a mojito-style cocktail with mint, soda and tsipouro, a type of pomace brandy. We also tried The Mule, a definite aperitivo with the bitter-sweet complex of Aperol with mastiha (a strong liqueur flavoured with mastic tree resin, which also thickens the traditional kaimaki ice cream) with tonic and green lemon, both excellent.
Dessert was the highlight, thanks to our waiter – don’t miss it! Try the bougatsa, a warm semolina custard topped with crisp filo and a generous dusting of cinnamon, and the kaimaki ice-cream, a thick-textured, chewy ice cream with a strong, grassy taste. Split the mini bougatsa bites in half and spoon in some of the ice cream: my guest and I were both left speechless.
It’s great value: sharing starters are £3.50-£6; souvlaki skewers are around £2.75 each; pitta wraps (good on their own, for lunch, if you’re in a rush) £5.75-6.50. Plated mains are around £12, and desserts £2.50-£6. It’s not the sort of place you go and settle in for the night, but if you’ve got a meat or Greek food craving, it’s definitely worth a visit.
I’ll be going back for a Greek yogurt breakfast bowl, or a souvlaki pitta wrap to take away if I’m in the area. Check out the all-day breakfasts too.
By Anna Glover
Address: 56 Wentworth Street, London, E1 7AL
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