Lemonia is a classic old-school spot in Primrose Hill that makes lemony, herby, and homely Greek food. It’s a NW London stalwart, in fact, it’s such a go-to that, years ago, one of our team had their 16th birthday dinner here, back when plastic plants and whitewashed walls were aspirational. It was a different time.
Not much has changed since then though. Lemonia’s back conservatory still looks like the Rainforest Cafe after PETA came to save the animatronics. In the evening, every square centimetre of this big old restaurant is chocka with tables of friends, booths of families, young couples, old couples, those who have been eating the kalamari for generations, and those being introduced to the tasty (but unremarkable) mezze for the first time. Everything here errs on the ‘nice’ side of things. In that it’s cooked decently and it tastes decent, but it won’t be featured in your will.
Despite that, the food at Lemonia does still manage to be memorable. Mainly thanks to the memories that surround it. Just like that Billy Bear ham you ate for the entirety of Reading Festival ’08, you’ll fondly remember the charcoal grilled fish shashlik because you ate it celebrating your sister’s engagement (and it was also pretty nice). Or you’ll think about the spiced fagges (lentil) soup because you shared your birthday with that, an old waiter who insisted you call him dad, and way too much ouzo.
Lemonia is a popular restaurant. Even if it was midweek, raining, and London was being evacuated because the mad cows are back, Lemonia would still be heaving, tables of friends piling soft baked lamb and pourgouri onto their plates, the cows looking through the windows, mad with jealousy. It’s a restaurant you can rely on. Rely on to always have atmosphere. To fill you with food and wine without taking more than £60 quid off you. And to be there when you just want to pop in for some souvlaki, or to stay until the liqueur comes out. Lemonia isn’t going anywhere, and it will always be the same.
A traditional Greek rice soup that’s heavy on the lemon and light on the chicken broth. A good choice for a cold day.
This rich lentil soup isn’t too creamy and should feature in everyone’s rotation throughout soup season.
Of these three dips, the tyrokafteri is the one to get. It’s feta cheese mixed with tomato and red pepper and it’s perfectly salty and a little sweet. The tahini is smooth and also bitter with lemon, and you’ll want to keep it around later for richer stews. The hummus is hummus. You won’t be having any chickpea triggered epiphanies from it.
Kalamari is one of Britain’s top ‘ooh it feels like we’re on holiday dunnit’ plates of food. This one does just that. It’s crispy and soft, just make sure to add some salt as it needs seasoning.
These warm rice and vegetable filled dolmades are served in the same avgolemono broth as the soup. That lemon-heavy flavour aside, there isn’t much going on here.
If home economics was still taught and we were smarmy know-it-alls, then we would say these are more courgette cake than fritter. Regardless they taste nice and come with an okay tomato salsa. Could definitely be crispier, mind.
There’s something about minced chicken that just reads kind of weird, you know? Minced beef sure. Lamb, yeah. Pork, sure. But chicken? Well it shouldn’t, because these herb-filled keftedakia are great.
Meatballs in tomato sauce reads like a safe choice and that’s definitely the case here. Although the sauce could be thicker and punchier, the meatballs are lovely. Packed with fennel seeds and very juicy.
Nothing says ‘I’m going to disengage with this family argument and prepare for my nap in the cab home’ like a bowl of slow baked lamb in a rich brown sauce. This is a good choice.
Skewers of marinated fish with vegetables is another straightforward choice. This shashlik is just that. It’s simple. It’s tasty. It’s an easy decision.
Two bean sides, one clear winner. The louvia - black-eyed beans with spinach, courgette, lemon, and oil - will be a hypothetical surefire feature of your future picnics. The koukia - broad beans with oil, tomatos, and garlic - won’t.
Crushed wheat sounds like a ‘do you even lift bro?’ type meal. But don’t let that bother you. This pourgouri is excellent. Soft, spiced, and crunchy. Order this over rice.
More often than not baklava comes as a cute little cube. Not at Lemonia. Here the baklava is served as a big old slice and you’ll be glad there’s more of it.