On a cold January evening in London, Elite Traveler was invited for dinner at INO, a petite Greek gastrobar tucked behind buzzing Carnaby Street.
Having opened last May, INO takes its inspiration from the Greek culinary tradition of cooking over sizzling charcoal. And as soon as you enter, the sweet barbeque smells of marinaded wood-fired chicken and steak meet you at the door, as does the restaurant’s eclectic playlist of everything from Daft Punk to Beyonce. For a moment, it feels like summer has arrived early.
Though celebrating the food of Greece is all-important at INO, while the chefs have the attention of its hip city diners, they take the opportunity to showcase the country’s rich history of viticulture. In fact, the name INO is derived from the ancient Greek word for wine (ΟΙΝΟΣ) and the restaurant takes great pride in serving up the best of the country’s vintages. These are offered alongside draft beers and classic cocktails, which are given a Hellenic twist with heady Grecian spirits.
At the helm of INO you’ll find acclaimed chefs, Georgianna Hiliadaki and Nikos Roussos. The pair met while studying at culinary school in Manhattan before opening Funky Gourmet in Athens in 2009.
It is here that the duo garnered international attention with their own unique brand of avant-garde Greek cookery. Within two years their inventive takes on Greek classics had earned the restaurant a Michelin star, with a second soon following two years later.
The chefs didn’t stand still and in 2014 they opened Ospo, a modern Greek restaurant in London. They also cater for street food lovers with gyros and souvlaki stuffed pittas at their PitaBun eatery in London’s vibrant canal-side Camden Market.
At both London outposts, the chefs focus on sourcing the best ingredients from British and Greek artisan producers, with sustainability playing a key role and they have carried this ethos to INO. “We choose sustainable producers and create our dishes keeping food waste in mind,” explains chef Roussos. “We like to challenge ourselves and use every trimming [and] practice nose-to-tail eating.”
Snugly lit with industrial-chic exposed brickwork and steel girders, the best place to be seated to make the most of the sights and aromas is at the long narrow bar with raised stools overlooking the open kitchen. “With INO we wanted to create a restaurant that is both intimate and dynamic,” explains chef Roussos. If you’re looking for less sensory stimulation, just past the counter offers a contemporary wood-paneled space hosting a handful of intimate tables.
INO’s unpretentious menu focuses on small plates and changes with the seasons. As you gaze over the counter into the kitchen, the chefs’ passion is apparent as they intently create well-honed dishes to present to anticipating guests. Dining at INO is all about generous food and wine that delights the taste buds.
“A long time ago at Funky Gourmet, a Michelin Guide inspector revealed himself after his dinner and gave us a valuable piece of advice: ‘The guide does not judge, only suggests! Don’t cook for the stars, but for your guests.’ We have always been cooking for our guests and it’s the most important thing for us,” says chef Roussos.
The evening starts with a Mastiha G&T cocktail, INO’s take on a classic gin and tonic which uses Mastiha liqueur — an excellent substitute for a botanical gin thanks to its hints of pine.
The first dish to be presented by the chef is ‘Taramas’, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, This arrives as lavish swirls of taramasalata topped with bottarga and slow-cooked egg yolk. This is scooped up using a fresh-from-the-oven hand-stretched pitta bread sprinkled with mountain-grown Greek oregano.
The next plate to arrive over the counter is Feta ‘bouyiourdi’, a delightful abundance of the finest feta draped in chili and charred Padron peppers. This is swiftly joined by ‘Tsouchti’ mac n cheese featuring charcoaled macaroni, black truffles, graviera and brown butter.
The chefs go on to prepare a steady stream of plates ranging from soft-as-butter tuna tartar to wagyu beef short rib chops with citrus bitters and oregano. The impossibly tender spiced marinated chicken is a must-order. Presented on a bed of smoked Greek yogurt and garnished with fresh tomato coriander salsa, it is the star of the meal.
You get the impression most diners don’t have room for dessert as there is only one option. But it’s a good one: Kaimaki ice cream with sour cherry and a crisp baklava cracker.
INO Gastrobar, 4 Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RF, inogastrobar.com