Athenians have fallen for the thriving but unpretentious food scene on this Cyclades island. We pick six of the best places to eat between trips to the beach
The word-of-mouth buzz about O Hamos, a family-run taverna on the Greek island of Milos, had been so loud that I’d heard it in Athens. So I decided to discover it, over a late lunch, for myself.
Now, it may be a surprise that there is no seafood on the menu – given the restaurant’s fantastic location near the sea – but if the Psatha family can’t grow it, breed it or produce it on their farm, it’s got no business being on their hand-thrown plates. Plus, as well as supplying all the taverna’s meat and vegetables, they also make their own cheeses.
No matter, I was under orders from foodie friends in Athens to look no further than the katsikaki (young goat) baked in parchment with molasses. We threw in a “half-kilo” of local white wine (that’s how we order it in Greece) with a few traditional dishes, such as bouyiourdi (tomatoes, feta cheese and spicy peppers baked in a clay pot) and mopped up every bite with homemade bread that hung from our chairs in string bags.
Tables filled up fast across the courtyard, a Greek version of an English pub garden with bright geraniums, terracotta pots and kitchen herbs that spilled out of driftwood planters. “Forget trying to land a table here after 7pm,” said Gina, my lunch date (who summered on Milos as a child before moving here five years ago).
When our bill came, it was barely more than €10 each, and we also received a visit from Athina, the Psatha family matriarch, who brought us a free round of tsipouro. She also arrived with a black marker and invited me to scrawl over her pale lemon walls: a house ritual – the buzzy courtyard is full of poetic inscriptions and odes to Athina’s cooking.
O Hamos is near the port town of Adamas and has been open for 27 years. Yet, all across Milos, are characterful, family-run restaurants just like it, which aren’t merely “working the season” but proudly practising slow cooking and inventive locavore menus. Not because it’s trending but because it’s how they’ve always done it.
Often, the culinary spotlight has been on Sifnos, Milos’s stylish Cycladic neighbour, but now word has got out that the cuisine here is just as good. And it’s also supplanting this modest volcanic island’s main claim to fame – as the birthplace of the Aphrodite of Milos (Venus de Milo). As local restaurants acquire more international dash, sophisticated Athenians make a point of going each year to relish food now on a par with the capital (and the island has some of Greece’s most dramatic beaches, too).
“Twenty, even ten, years ago Milos was a very ‘Greek’ island of fishermen and miners; it was never geared to tourism,” says Gina. “But over the past five years restaurants have become more gourmet, without losing their core charms.”
In the three days I spent speed-dating the island’s culinary scene, I found creative, assured and gimmick-free Mediterranean menus and, underpinning it all, was the pleasing democracy that defines Greek cuisine. Even at Milos’s priciest restaurants, you can eat to a budget and there will be no judgment for forsaking bottled wine and fish priced by the kilo in preference for meze, pitta dipped into creamy taramasalata, and house plonk by the jug.
Culinary kudos aside, horseshoe-shaped Milos is also a show-stopper because of its spectacular geological and rock formations. You might even take time to marvel at the lunar-like beauty of Sarakiniko beach, explore some of the 70-plus other sandy beaches, or swim amid the caves at Kleftiko in waters so blue you’d believe Photoshop has been used.
More Milos: six food experiences
Volcanic food at Sirocco
This family-run beach taverna in Paleochori does simple Greek food, slow-cooked for hours in a volcanic sand pit. Food is buried in clay pots 40cm beneath the surface, where it’s heated by geothermal springs.
“My father started experimenting 20 years ago,” says owner Stella Tseroni. “He began with an egg and a potato, then graduated to meat.”
Stella’s son invites diners onto the sand to watch him dig up their lunch, which can include lamb shank (€13 for a plate two can share), roast potatoes, and a whole aubergine (€5 each). Paleochori isn’t the prettiest beach on Milos but the food really satisfies.
Seafood to savour at Armira
The bijou port of Pollonia is great for seafood, with terrific fish restaurants dotted around it. Classy Armira – with its standout dishes of stonefish soup and shrimp ragout inside a Cypriot pie with yoghurt sauce – stole the show last summer by adding a roof garden to its chic whitewashed courtyard. All the fish on the menu comes from the family’s traditional kaiki fishing boat and you can eat and drink fantastically well here from around €15 a head – a favourite is the octopus with fava (yellow split peas cooked with onions and garlic).
• On Facebook
Meze at Medusa
With a cliffside setting above the brightly painted syrmata (fishermen’s huts) of Mandrakia village, Medusa ouzerie is a much-loved spot for a lingering lunch. Enjoy ouzo the Greek way: teamed with seafood meze, sunshine and a sea breeze. The grilled sardines, smoked eel with fava (both around €9), and the aubergine and courgette balls (€5) are all great choices. Wander down to the fishing village of Firopatamos below for a post-prandial nap on one of the beanbags that front the iridescent waters.
Beach picnic from Kivotos ton Gefseon, Firiplaka
In Pollonia, visit Kivotos ton Gefseon (Ark of Flavours) and grab a few slices of its must-try watermelon pie – watermelon, honey, cinnamon, flour, sesame, and oven baked – for €2.50 a portion, or try the galaktoboureko(€3.80). The latter is Greece’s answer to the custard slice. Batches come out of the oven every half hour, so wait with a coffee or a dish of its homemade yoghurt with fruit and honey (€3.80) in the rose garden or browse the honeys and oils made by this family of beekeepers. Take away your goodies and picnic on Firiplaka Bay: a volcanic beach set against pink-and-white cliffs. The adventurous may prefer Tsigrado, the smaller, more secluded beach next door, reached by a short climb down a steep rope ladder.
Sunset dining in Tripiti
Slip away from the tourists who flock to the historic hilltop town of Plaka to salute the sunset and go to the next village down, Tripiti, instead. It’s home to third-century catacombs, as well as gourmet hotspots, such as homey Ergína taverna, next to Agios Nikolaos church. Ergína probably won’t win awards for plating but the sunsets from its blue-picket-fenced deck are another matter. Mains are generous and, if you’re craving moussaka, this is the place to have it. However, it’s the vegetarian meze (from around €5) that really stands out. Feast on the famous Milos pitarakia – a cross between a samosa and a Greek cheese pie; the long-baked peppers filled with manouri, the local, soft goat’s milk cheese; or the flavour-packed aubergine rolls.
Brunch at Astakas in Klyma
White tables metres from the water; sea spray around your ankles; colourful fisherman’s cottages as a backdrop – this merely whets the appetite here. The famous lobster spaghetti at elegant Astakas is a pricey option (€90 a kilo, based on fishermen’s prices last summer) but it’s no reason to miss out on this dreamy locale that nails most people’s idea of the Greek-island fantasy. Go for brunch and order the baked eggs with homemade tomato marmalade. Add a coffee and you’ll pay around €10.
Where to stay
Captain Zeppos is a seafront bolthole with four gorgeously decked out self-catering suites from €120 a night. You’re right near the restaurant and cafes action of Pollonia, though you’ll probably spend most of the day lounging around the slinky pool deck or taking dips from the private dock.
Aegean Airlines flies from Heathrow to Athens three times a day (from £61 one way), and on to Milos four times a day during summer (from €53 one way). Ferry providers, such as Zante Ferries, travel daily to Milos from Athens’ Piraeus port for around €75 return (journey time about 41/2 hours each way).
• This article was amended on 29 March 2019. In an earlier version, young goat was described as gourounopoulo, meaning piglet; it should have been katsikaki. The Kivotos ton Gefseon shop is better translated as Ark (not Cave) of Flavours. And galaktoboureko was misspelt as galatsaboureko. This has been corrected.