The best hotels always tell a good story, which explains why the new 43-room Xenodocheio Milos, in Athens, has become so popular.
Located on the edge of the city’s stylish and leafy Kolonaki district, this delicious new address is the result of an odyssey that began in 1966, when a penniless young Greek named Costas Spiliadis, from the port of Patras, moved to New York City to study criminology at New York University.
Spiliadis lived in a tiny room on 14th Street, where he subsisted on 15-cent-a-pound chicken necks and hot dogs hidden under a thatch of sauerkraut. The latter were sourced from a cart in Times Square that was manned by one of his Greek classmates.
Spiliadis liked to eat, but he was also a proud, poetry-loving man with a deep interest in the politics of his homeland. At the time, it was controlled by a military junta that he despised.
He continued his studies in Maryland without completing his degree, but was worried about getting his visa and passport renewed after participating in political demonstrations against the junta. So Spiliadis moved to Montreal, because he knew it had a vibrant Greek community.
There, he completed his B.A., dabbled in acting, ran a Greek radio station, and finally opened his first restaurant, Estiatorio Milos, in 1979. The name nods to an island in the Aegean Sea and also a Greek word meaning “one who is a lover of glory.” He was out, he explained to the New York Times, “to prove that Greek cuisine and culture were not as bad as everyone thought.”
A relentless perfectionist, Spiliadis focused on serving the freshest seafood he could find, cooked with the utmost simplicity. After his Montreal restaurant became a success, he set his sights on New York. He opened his Midtown flagship in 1997, wowing Manhattan with a magnificent selection of fish artfully displayed on crushed ice.
Reviewing the restaurant, editor, writer, and then New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl put her finger on the pith of Spiliadis’s culinary accomplishment. “In this age of sushi and simplicity, the owner, Costas Spiliadis, has had a wonderful inspiration: Why not market innocence to an upscale audience?” she wrote. “The result is one of the most appealing new restaurants in midtown—and the perfect place to bring a crowd.” Reichl awarded the restaurant two stars, and today there are branches of Estiatorio Milos in Athens, Montreal, New York (both the original, in Midtown, and a Hudson Yards location), Las Vegas, Los Cabos, Miami, and London, with new outposts coming soon in Dubai and Palm Beach.
Now with the new Athens hotel and its Milos restaurant, Spiliadis brings the Greek gastronomic grail he has refined for more than 43 years back to his homeland.
Spiliadis liked to eat, but he was also a proud, poetry-loving man with a deep interest in the politics of his homeland.
The exquisite seafood is served in a soaring all-white dining room with huge columns, a winding staircase, and a striking sculpture by Greek artist Dimitris Fortsas. The sculpture, which is suspended from the ceiling, is a delicate net-like piece in homage to the fishermen who supply the restaurant. The food is thrillingly fresh, because so much of it was swimming or crawling in the Aegean Sea only a few hours earlier.
In fact, all of the produce here, including the grassy, green olive oil from Costas’s sister’s farm, the juicy tomatoes, the tangy yogurt, and the amber honey still in its wax comb, communicate the beauty of simplicity in the same eternal way the Parthenon does. The cooking at Milos Athens might even be described as the apotheosis of the Mediterranean diet.
The hotel itself occupies two neoclassical buildings. Rooms at Xenodocheio Milos display décor of a certain alluring and eternal Cycladic minimalism, including Greek-style furnishings, pendant lights, and marble-faced baths, warmed by wooden floors, oatmeal-colored curtains, and Scandi-meets-the-Med accent pieces.
Fourth- and fifth-floor suites have terraces overlooking the historic Old Parliament House and Lycabettus Hill; one of them has a private hot tub. The hotel also has a wellness suite, offering treatments with Elemis products and a state-of-the-art gym that is open continuously.
Ultimately, perhaps the distinctive serenity of this hotel derives from what Costas Spiliadis has learned like countless other questing men and women before him. In the end, there’s no place like home—and especially the kitchen.
Rates at Xendocheio Milos begin at $250 per night; more information is available at xenodocheiomilos.com
Alexander Lobrano is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL. His latest book, the gastronomic coming-of-age story My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris, is out now