Greece: Grace, Santorini & Dining at Matsuhisa
“OH MY GOD! I LOVE SANTORINI!”
“Santorini is one of my favourite places in the world!”
“I am so jealous, you are in my happy place.”
Santorini was promising. Once I mentioned that I was going there, I was showered with envious messages and declarations of love (for Santorini, not me, I live in hope).
When I dug deeper, and it became clear on arrival, Santorini has a place of affection deep in many hearts, not just because it is beautiful, but because many people get married there, get engaged, have wonderful long walks with their significant other down bumpy narrow alleys, scaling cliffs and all punctuated with with beautiful blue domed tiny churches. I don’t think I have ever seen so many weddings in one small place.
So, what on earth is the attraction for a single girl from London?
That beauty. The calm crisp blue sea, sharp sky, sheer cliffs and gorgeousness. The food. And wine, of course. And all of it from within the sanctuary of the beautiful boutique hotel, Grace.
Santorini has some quirky ingredients and lovely dishes which required investigation. An ingredient found only in one small place is the ultimate food geekery and a great pleasure. Santorini has its own fava (fava being a Greek dish of mashed broad beans usually, but here they are chickpeas and demand always outstrips supply). It is cooked until yielding and laid back and then served with a polite drizzle of local extra virgin olive oil and capers from Santorini too. The local tomatoes are tiny and intense, grown in very arid conditions in that rich soil too. They are coaxed into fritters which are fabulous crisp savoury cakes spiked with juicy rich tomato. Local wine is made from the grapes that grow in that same volcanic soil, with celestial names like assyrtiko.
I was there for another reason too. Matsuhisa was doing a pop up at my hotel, Grace, a small boutique property with just 21 rooms, seemingly carved into the hillside and overlooking the caldera, a deep harbour overlooking an island resulting from an intense volcanic eruption 3000 years ago. A pitter patter road way creeps up the mountain side opposite and the whole thing feels so relaxed and sleepy, especially with a little heated plunge pool outside your bedroom door.
Matsuhisa is a Nobu restaurant – Matsuhisa being his surname and Nobu being his first. The restaurant is normally in their sister hotel in Mykonos but it pops over to Santorini for a small stretch on its way to St Moritz for a few months in the winter. They offer the set menu from Matsuhisa at Grace’s small restaurant overlooking that stunning view. There were also cocktails and sake.
I love Nikkei cuisine, gentle Japanese style food spiked with Peruvian chillies & other Peruvian influences. Its origins are in Lima having developed from the influx of Japanese immigrants over the last 100 years. The same Japanese immigrants are responsible for the lighter marinaded ceviches in Peru now. Before their arrival it was common for the fish to sit in lime juice for up to 8 hours (as opposed to a couple of minutes now). Nobu moved to Peru in the 70s and brought Nikkei cuisine to an international audience via his first restaurants in the US.
My first experience of the Matsuhisa menu was very polite, but very good. I am guessing that this is because chilli is not a regular feature in the Greek diet. Highlights were the black cod (aped everywhere now) and the new style sashimi white fish (with local sea bass), but I felt like I could have done with a few more flavour punches and chilli hits. There were some interesting side dishes on the menu (rib eye steak with anticuchos sauce was flirting with me from first sight) so I asked them if they could put together a menu for me from that for the next night. Which they did, and it was wonderful.
Sake is best with Japanese food for me, however, on the second night I did want to explore the local wines, several of which were available by the glass. I found them a great fit and particularly enjoyed the Assyrtiko by Gaia Wines, which was a wild ferment wine. Rich and full bodied it could stand up well to the chillies in the food and also not over power the more tender aspects.
The next morning I opted for breakfast in my room and had a very quiet morning in with just my book. Breakfast comes with champagne, a smoothie, daily pie and a choice of eggs or sweet. I couldn’t resist chocolate pancakes with dulce de leche and pears. It was a good decision. Homemade energy bars also come in the bread basket. They were great and I am inspired to come up with my own recipes for some.
The experience was brief (just 2 nights) but wonderful. It would make a great weekend retreat. Rooms start from £380 for 2 including the champagne breakfast, so it isn’t cheap but it is worth every penny. I will be back for sure.
I stayed as a guest of Grace Santorini.