Santorini’s BEST restaurant modernizes traditional dishes with the art of pouring the sauce.
Tip! Reservation needed! Make sure to book your table before the trip.
Perched on the hilltop of Pyrgos – a far more tranquil side of Santorini – Selene is a sheer foodie’s delight. In every way possible. Upon entering its wooden doors, one could fathom being in a stylish but relaxed version of a grandmother’s kitchen. That is, if your grandmother knows what truly defines Santorini cuisine by heart, not by the book. Orange chandeliers, wooden chairs, a glistening bar might sound like the makeup of a pretentious Michelin-esque restaurant. Selene, however, welcomes guests with wide open arms, kindly commands one simple request: Let’s enjoy this REALLY great meal.
Before we elaborate further on the story of Selene, one must understand the restaurant industry in Santorini decades prior. For many years, local restauranteurs were under the impression that fine dining solely consisted of French-style gastronomy. If filet mignon wasn’t on the menu, a restaurant couldn’t have been qualified as upscale thus worthy of a few more bucks. Restauranteur and owner of Selene, Giorgos Hatzigiannakis, decided to change that old-school mindset and it turned out to be a revolutionary decision. Also the founder of the Slow Food movement in Greece, Hatzigiannakis went back to basics with a twist by modernizing traditional Santorini dishes.
In order to speak of evolution, we must define Santorini cuisine. Yet, that’s quite a simple. By allowing local produce to speak for its authentic self. Fresh by the sea, untainted by mass production. The spotlight naturally shines on the little guys: small tomatoes, tiny but juicy capers, good old favas, round zucchinis, and white aubergines! They sing so well individually and together as a team that travelers have been raving about Selene’s one-of-a-kind menu. Once travelers spread word, locals have grown hungry as well. Since the start of Selene, the world has been looking at Santorini cuisine from a different but fascinated view – as a fine dining winner.
Like most restaurants of this caliber, the menu is seasonal. But, tomatoes are bright stars in dishes like: Santorinian Tomato “Can” which consists of a variety of mini tomatoes, yellow and red tomato sorbet, and strawberries in osmosis. Favas speak loud and clear on their own in Santorinian Fava “Seabed” that transforms into fava foam with Greek salad gel, marinated hornbeam ice cream, smelt, pickled onion, caper leaves, and botargo powder. Moving onto the “Black” Aegean Codfish partnering with cauliflower cream, pickled cauliflower, smoked eggplant powder and lime sorbet. Craving for red meat? Opt for the exotic Pigeon “Pastitsada” breast with leg confit, bergamot, pasta tube, parmesan foam, spaces, and biscuit stuffed with foie gras. Or the Lam “Ala Polita” which depicts a boneless lamb loin with fried sweetbreads, green peas, artichoke, and lemon verbena sauce. Need we say more?
When we sat down and spoke with Georgia Tsara, Restaurant Manager and Head Sommelier, she said,
“Our goal is to promote local wineries and farmers so that travelers can truly taste Santorini the way it’s intended to be shown.”
When we glanced through the wine list, Gaia Wines immediately caught our eye since earlier in the day, we had been engaged in an educational conversation regarding natural wine with owner, Yannis. Gaia is a prominent Santorini winery focused on producing beautiful notes straight from the island’s black sands caused by volcanic ashes. With Gaia on the list, we were certain of Selene’s mission to collaborate with local agricultural businesses. Such collaborative partnerships exude communal efforts to create new and intriguing tastes that draw folks back to Santorini. Food has always been the best way to understand a culture, and who says juicy tomatoes or gorgeous capers couldn’t deliver the Santorini tradition proud and wowed.
Modernizing traditional dishes also means presenting them in an art form that makes the diners gasp. Selene’s signature, as I secretly noted from the very start of the meal, was the art of pouring. While each incredibly vibrant dish arrived at the table, the wow factor truly began when the sauce was served either on top or in circular motion over the plate. As if a painter highlights her finishing touch, Selene masters the art of pouring. Those seconds of viewing extends beyond devouring a dish, they are final stages of a delectable art piece screaming to be eaten yet one would be disheartened to touch its colorful beauty. That’s graceful showmanship, at its culinary finest in the hills of a romantic Santorini.
Back in 1986, Selene began in Fira, Santorini as a way to promote localism. Today, even at its new Pyrgos location, the brand stands on its own as the leading revolutionary of its culinary kind. With cooking/tasting courses, a taverna called Selene Meze & Wine, and premium Greek products aptly named Selene’s Selection; its mission of presenting Santorini’s gastronomy world to locals and travelers has truly come alive. It’s safe to say that, if we had to pick one meal to go back to Santorini for, it would be right here. In the hands of local traditions and communities.