The founder and owner, Philippos & Constantine, hails from the beautiful island of Chios. Just off the coast of the Anatolian peninsula in the Aegean sea, the atmosphere and the flavours of Vios are a portal to the owner’s beloved island home.
The Café is bright and airy, with the front and side a sea of glass; mirrors reflecting light back into the room. The warm, sandy tones of the wooden floor and tables are enlivened by an energetic cubist mural that adorns the walls with vibrant hues of bright Aegean blue. A panoply of green, leafy plants surround us as we take a seat by the window at the front of the café.
Looking back into the café is the bar, and there, alongside the impressive display of Greek spirits, is the spotless and gleaming ‘La Marzocco’ coffee machine, masterfully operated (and polished) by the Vios team. Outside in the square, the café offers outdoor seating in the lively thoroughfare. Popular with tourists, shoppers and locals alike, it’s an excellent place for a relaxed bite as you watch the world go by.
The Menu – ‘healthy at breakfast, easy at lunch and progressively naughty as the day rolls on!’
Vios (Greek for ‘Life’) flows with the changing hours of the day and the tide of passing trade. Mornings are for warm pancakes, or opulent bowls of granola, with lashings of greek yoghurt, berries, banana and chia seeds, all topped with delicious mountain-pine honey. As the morning passes noon, the menu switches to sourdough sandwiches and toasties, each with an enticing Hellenic twist. Then, from lunchtime onwards, the meze menu comes out to play, accompanied by the wonderful array of specialist Greek wines and spirits, and it is this menu that we are sampling.
The meze menu is all vegetarian, and a number of dishes are vegan and gluten-free, so it really caters to everyone. There are some welcome Greek classics like falafel and stuffed vine leaves, but there are also some more unusual plates, including ‘Island chickpeas’ which come in a lemony sauce, and ‘Giant Baked Beans’ to which I add an order of optional feta cheese on the recommendation of our host. We ordered most of the meze on the menu, and a bowl of very good olives, Kalamata of course.
I should mention that the café closes in the early evening, and food is served till 6pm, so this is really a breakfast, lunchtime, or teatime venue. Though I think this would be the perfect place to visit on an early evening stroll, for a drink and some nibbles, to whet the appetite. In summary, healthy at breakfast, easy at lunch and progressively naughty as the day rolls on!
Greek Wine Epiphany
Whilst we waited, we looked through the wine list, which is proudly all Greek. My experience of Greek wine is very limited. Agnese (my now wife and dining partner) and I travelled around Greece in an old citroen when we were fresh-faced students. We were on a very tight budget, living on little more than love and salads. Wine wasn’t really an option at the time and I think the closest we got was some cheap retsina. Fast forward a couple of (ahem) decades and the wine at Vios is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Philippos recommends a white – the ‘Kleoni’. It’s delightful, fresh, flinty with notes of gooseberry and apple and a far cry from that bottle we drank twenty-something years ago – on a campsite – somewhere in the Peloponnese…
Broad beans, with ‘optional’ feta, in a tomato sauce with onion and oregano were deliciously soft. The feta melting into the tomato sauce was pure manna, ending with unashamed dipping of bread into the gooey remnants in the bottom of the dish. The Island chickpeas were also a real surprise. The lemony sauce was actually more like a light broth, cooked in carrot and onion like a sofrito of chickpeas. I can only describe the taste as deeply wholesome and savoury.
The stuffed grape vine leaves, or Dolma, were a real treat. The stuffing of rice with onion, lemon and herbs was moist and flavoursome, but the magic was the pomegranate glaze, which was sweet and tangy. They came with a generous dollop of greek yoghurt for dipping and that worked just perfectly. The other big hitters were the falafel, which were satisfyingly large, and firm to the bite. Again, that pomegranate sauce lifted the whole dish to another level, and the accompanying hummus was perfect. We were sharing the dishes and the portions were the ideal size for this kind of eating.
The Spirit of Mastiha
You can buy a lot of the Greek products from Vios including the mountain-pine honey and the wine and the spirits I mentioned earlier. One of these is from the Island of Chios itself and is made of the resin of the native Mastiha trees, lauded for its health benefits as a digestive. At 28%ABV it also has other benefits. Everything that Philippos has recommended so far has been delicious, and this is no different; it’s strong but smooth and with pine sap and aniseed notes and a surprisingly sweet, lingering finish. I definitely envisage myself coming back for a further exploration of this menu of both meze and Mastiha.
Last but not least…
They do the best iced coffee I’ve had so far in Brighton, Greek style, no nonsense. This is good, strong coffee out of the ‘La Marzocco’ over ice, and done. No milk, or syrups, or any such silliness. Efkaristo poli.