FOOD MONSTER: Gabby's Greek Restaurant in Lincoln
One thing I now know is that I'd like Gabby, owner of Lincoln's only Greek restaurant, not to retire. Just yet.
Gabby's is not much to look at, outside or in, but the woman who makes it happen came bustling straight through the place as soon as we walked in.
"You got a reservation?"
Us: "Yes, it's for 8pm.
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Gabby: "Are you joking with me? Are you sure you made a booking? Don't lie to me!" All with the cheekiest of glints in her eye, totally betraying her years... I obviously didn't ask but she's been running a restaurant in one form or another in the city for well over 30 years.
Contact details and location map for Gabby's Greek Restaurant in Lincoln...
Luckily, she believed us and after sitting down we were besieged by the giggles when, as groups of young student boys sauntered in, they were met with sharper banter than they're used to, followed by a quick flick with a tea towel if they chatted back.
They were told they needed beer and as they were served, Gabby reminded them to keep asking for more food. They must have felt like they were in the kitchen of a really good mum. We did.
By this time I had already decided we would have a good night.
It is rare to walk into a restaurant – more of a cafe in style, really – and not even notice until you're half a bottle of table wine and a fistful of meatballs in, that you're supposed to take note of the surroundings if you're reviewing the place.
It's plain, there's nothing to look at really and that's how it weaves its magic. Atmosphere. Gabby doesn't need bells and whistles, she makes great food and has charisma by the truckload.
The menu, mercifully, is not list after list of options, it takes care of the items you want – houmous, meatballs, kalamari, feta salad, moussaka, stifado – you get the picture.
Naturallly, there's a mezze option which we have resolved to go back for. But on this night, herby meatballs, warm pitta bread and houmous slick with olive oil were full of flavour. The kalamari was soft and sweet with just a veil of batter.
I've never known Greece to be renowned for its red wine – I'm prepared to stand corrected – but a bottle at £14 was fine by me and made easy, light drinking.
The moussaka was dense, full of creamy bechamel, soft potatoes and meat, layered with courgettes. I had been anticipating a layer of earthy aubergine that is so integral to Greek cooking and assumed the courgette was a substitute.
Kleftiko Spiticio was beautifully slow-cooked lamb on the bone, marinated in herbs. Side dishes of potatoes, mushrooms and salad followed.
We ended the feast with Gabby's famous baklava. Sticky, sweet and nutty wrapped in paper-thin filo pastry, this alone was a triumph.
At the end of the night, a family, which turned out to be Gabby's, replete with grandkids, left the restaurant. As they gathered their things together, I asked Gabby if she enjoyed running the restaurant still. A resounding yes, before a wish from her kids that she would retire – something we all want for our parents. But she thinks she should continue as long as she enjoys it, a sentiment I whole heartedly support.
So I must say sorry to Gabby's daughter.
THE FOOD: Houmous £4.05, Keftedes £4.75, kalamari £4.75; Kleftico Spiticio £11.40, moussaka £9.30; baklava £3.75 each; bottle of house wine £15.
FINAL VERDICT: Wonderful service and delicious food.
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