The lights are low in Parthenonas on London Road, Sheffield, but not as dim as some Greek restaurants we know.
Last year in Athens at the rooftop restaurant of the Herodian Hotel they were either trying to save on electricity bills in bankrupt Greece or not wanting to spoil the effect of the floodlit Parthenon towering above us.
I knew it was not my eyes at fault when the waiter brought a torch with the menu. Unfortunately he took it away when we’d ordered and left us in the dark.
Quite overwhelmed by the atmosphere, the sense of history and the ouzo I’d completely forgotten what my starter was when it arrived.
I couldn’t even see it properly so took out my camera, snapped a picture and played it back to find out: crispy chicken thighs.
There’s no view of the Parthenon tonight unless you count that photo of the ancient monument in the far right hand corner of the restaurant.
We have to make do with glimpses of Highfield Library and the number 98 bus through the restaurant’s tinted glass.
Those who know about the geo-political and culinary rivalries of the Eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey might smile for next door to Parthenonas is a Turkish barber’s shop.
We may not have had the glory that was Greece about us for our meal as we did in Athens but this is a very atmospheric restaurant, on two levels, decorated in the national colours of blue and white.
Now some people sniff at Greek food as all broken plates, feta cheese and Anthony Quinn and it’s true that on our voyage from Athens around the Cyclades there was an awful lot of feta.
There is at Parthenonas but we found the food here on London Road was often every bit as good as over there.
The zithery strains of Zorba the Greek didn’t come over the speakers until 50 minutes into our meal and in place of the mighty Quinn we had Andreas the beetle-browed waiter. He was so laid-back and laconic you felt he wouldn’t have turned a hair if Jason had turned up with the Golden Fleece.
When the couple at the table next door ordered the Full Greek Meze and sent back the first dish because they didn’t like olives he looked at us with one eyebrow twitching expressively. He’d said it all without saying a word.
We were last in Parthenonas not long after Maria Marmaridou and Nicos Brezay opened it in 2006.
Maria had taken the night off on our visit but when I called the next day she asked: “Did you dance?” Goodness, we’d not thought of it and never on a Wednesday. Did people do that?
“Yes at weekends,” she said.
Back in 2006 the specials board was filled up with a helpful glossary of how to say please and thank you in Greek with not that many dishes listed.
The blackboard dictionary has gone and the plentiful specials are chalked up. Rather than go down the conventional meze route, we chose a couple of starters from it.
My Greek sausage with grilled halloumi (£5.50) featured splendidly rugged bangers contrasting with springy cheese while the fried squid with tzatziki (£5.70) tasted fresh with a good, crispy batter.
Parthenonas is Greek all the way through – owners, waiter, chef, food, beer (Mythos) and wine list. This last is pretty short although it features Alexander the Great house wine for a tenner and Macedonica, red or white, for £14.50, a rise of just £1 in eight years.
Wine buffs may think this is still a little steep for what it is but since we had been drinking local wines on holiday in Greece, some of which had not had time to see the inside of the bottle, it suited us.
The second bottle opened did: the first was starting to fizz.
Up went an eyebrow again but Andreas changed it.
Main courses were smashing. I won’t recite the menu because it’s all the stuff you’ve seen before.
I had the stifado (£10), an excellent beef stew with big, tender pieces of juicy meat in a wine and tomato sauce. It would take some beating anywhere.
This came with good roast potatoes with carrots and broccoli, which we failed to encounter anywhere in restaurants in Greece.
My wife, meanwhile, was enjoying the soutzoukaki (£9.50), big, firm, meaty, close-textured meatballs flavoured with cumin in more of that excellent tomato sauce, this time without the wine.
We noticed prices seemed to be almost static since our first visit eight years previously, which takes some doing.
My only disappointment was that a dessert, galaktoburito, semolina in filo, is no longer served because, said Maria, people didn’t like it. I did.
So we shared a baklava (£3.50) and finished up with a couple of those muddy Greek coffees (£1.50 each).
Well, not quite finished. Andreas gave us a couple of glasses of Metaxa, a Greek brandy, on the house, and shots of ouzo when we’d paid the bill.
It came to £52 and he’s a, hic, splendid fellow!
Parthenonas, 290/292 London Road, Sheffield S2 4NJ. Tel: 0114 258 50500114 258 5050. Open all week from 6pm. Lunches by appointment. Licensed.Music. Credit cards. Vegetarian dishes. Disabled access (ramp) and toilets. Gluten free available but inform when booking. Street parking. Web: www.parthenonas.co.uk