Gyros to go at El Grecos
By Agnes Yu
Austerity measures might be inundating the media covering the Southern European country of myths, ancient civilizations, and architecture, but as Greece reels from a formidable fiscal crisis, here in Seoul its culinary delights are now available at El Grecos.
Opened in mid-February, El Grecos is a small fast food-type joint featuring generous portions of authentic gyros, salads with feta cheese and olives, and a bottle of Mythos beer for 7,000 won to wash it all down.
Almost hidden just off the main street of Kyounglidan, the narrow restaurant seats 14 and there is one patio table. It might be a bit squishy because the tables are close together but there was plenty of room during this writer’s visit. Many neighborhood residents come for handheld gyros to go (7,000 won) or simply meals to take-away.
The owner Dan Wilson has an honest love for cooking and is from Melbourne where he worked for the JW Marriot hotel. Many years ago his postings abroad led him here to Seoul and then to Singapore and back again. In between Wilson took some time to travel and one month was spent in Greece. He claims his flatmate in Sydney was a first-generation Greek immigrant and it’s how he initially learned his appreciation for the nation’s food. The menu is small but it’s a small place and Wilson said since it’s his first business, he didn’t want to take on anything too complicated.
Nearly everything on the menu was sampled. The gyros plate for 12,000 won comes with french fries, a green salad, tzatziki sauce and flatbread on the side. The falafels are shaped nicely, have a nice crunchy exterior and are dense on the inside. The fresh made flatbread is from the nearby Baker’s Table while everything else is prepared on the premises, including the hummus and marinating the meat.
While dining out in Seoul one of the rarest dishes available is the Greek salad and at El Grecos for me, it’s the star. For only 11,000 won it’s the real deal, especially with the many kalamata olives and the crumbly white feta to balance the saltiness with lots of crunchy fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and red onions.
Greece has the 11th longest coastline in the world so it’s fish instead of the expected lamb on the sparse but sincere menu. The fish fried with a light crisp batter is a meaty tilapia fillet and comes with aioli sauce and french fries for 11,000 won. It was very filling.
There are also awesome mixed drinks and San Miguel on tap. The caipirinha and caiprioska cocktails are actually from Brazil but for only 9,000 won you get real limes that provide a nice tang to the creamy texture of the meal. A bottle of Heineken is a great deal because you get a 650 milliliter bottle for only 7,500 won whereas elsewhere a bottle half the size is nearly the same price.
As an entrepreneur in a foreign country Wilson’s biggest challenge has been working in a foreign language and having to rely on others for translations. Meanwhile he said, ‘The biggest satisfaction so far would be receiving compliments from our customers regarding our food. It makes us feel like we are on the right path.”
The investment is entirely his own but he has one Korean partner. Wilson has the usual ambitions of expansion and perhaps even franchising.
As for advice to any foreigners wanting to do something similar, Wilson said, ``I would advise that Korea is a great place to do business and there are several agencies from both the Korean government and volunteers that offer help to navigate your way. Like opening a business anywhere a lot of time and research beforehand is essential.’’
Also notable for a restaurant in the less developed area, as was pointed out to me by my dining partner, another restaurant owner in the neighborhood, ‘They have their own bathroom and it’s clean.’
Adding to the ambience the dining partner mentioned the background music and Wilson takes care to play obscure but worthwhile bands. Best Coast, an American surf pop band from Los Angeles, formed in 2009, played while we ate.
Lastly, in the words of acclaimed local food blogger Joe McPherson, El Grecos “doesn’t do anything fancy, but they do what they do well.’’
Call 070-8263-8678 for more information.