Last Sunday I was invited to eat at Reading’s latest restaurant opening, Lemoni, and took along my boyfriend Steve and step-daughter Lucy. It was a bank holiday weekend, so we were all in a very good mood and the thought of eating Greek tapas would hopefully cheer up what had turned into a bit of a grey windy day. Refusing to accept that this time last year it was lovely and hot, I’d even put a dress on hoping that I might just be able to encourage the sun to make an appearance. Positive thinking, and all that.
Lemoni only opened on 25th April so usually, I wouldn’t be reviewing somewhere that had only been serving food for just over a week. There’s always going to be teething problems, and not being a fan of any of the previous restaurants that have taken this strange looking ‘greenhouse’ spot by the Riverside is probably the reason why I wasn’t really expecting anything ground-breaking.
Plus, I love the Spanakopita from CUP (read about it in my blog post here) and I’m also a frequent customer at The Real Greek (just across from Lemoni). I was intrigued though, and I’m a big fan of tapas style food and love a good simple freshly made Hummus or Tzatziki.
There are six (!!) different menus on the website and before we left I had a nosy which gave me a bit of an idea of what I might order. Despite thinking a few courses looked pretty pricey I assumed that the rent on this place must be fricken crazy for an ‘independent’ restaurant and hopefully, the food would be worth it.
I did learn that the owner Ulysses Vafiadis apparently really knows his stuff and is incredibly passionate about sharing his knowledge of his home food, uses fresh ingredients and wants to re-create a genuine Mediterranean experience. He owns a few restaurants outside of the UK and plans to launch several Greek restaurants across the South East with the Reading spot being his flagship restaurant.
As soon as I walked through the door I immediately remember thinking how light and modern it looked. Greek, no, but the tables were spaced out so there’d be no sitting too close to the strangers next to you, and the windows were kept clear of clutter letting in lots of natural daylight. It was clean-looking, simple and the chairs were comfortable too.
It wasn’t too busy either, probably about a quarter full and the bar on the left had people drinking and chatting meaning the atmosphere and feel was lively, but not over-bearing or intimidating.
We were seated by the window on the ground floor (upstairs was shut) and we had a view out over to Cafe Rouge and could easily people-watch with the bridge just to the front left. Our waiter was Greek and very friendly, and he quickly informed us about what dishes were missing and unavailable from the menu.
It did take us a while to decide what to have as the A la Carte menu we were given was the only one available that day. I was a bit curious as to where the lunch or Mezzadakia menu was, but I’d ordered a Greek Fix Hellas (£4.50) and was in no rush either.
Lucy is fussy at the moment and she’s going through this frustrating stage of not liking the same foods she did six months ago so I was intrigued by what she’d go for. I do know she loves Hummus and both my son Coby and she will demolish it when we have it in the fridge at home. She did struggle to choose her main dish, but we got there in the end and we were all happy with our choices.
To be honest, looking back now, I think she found the fighting pigeons outside the window far more entertaining than choosing her food!
I love a good selection of starters that can be shared so we did order a fair few to get us in the mood. All the predictable items such as Hummus (£5.00), Tzatziki (£5.00), Pita (£1.50), Courgette Fries (£5.50), and Baked Feta Cheese in Filo Pastry with Honey and Sesame Seeds (£6.90) were ordered, which you might think sound costly (because they are) but the important question is: were they worth it?
All starters arrived within 15 minutes of ordering and we demolished the lot quickly and enjoyed every single bite. The courgette fries were cooked just so they had a little bite to them and the batter was light and crispy. I always compare these to the ones at Papa Gee’s (£3.50) but they were equally as delicious.
The hummus and tzatziki, spread on slices of pita, were both freshly made and lovely in flavour and the feta in filo pastry was something we could have had a fight over. If I had any criticism of it, then a little bit more honey would have been perfect.
Steve and I struggled a little with the mains on the A La Carte menu and unless you wanted a salad there were only two vegetarian options to choose between. Moussaka (£16.50) and Orzo Pasta (£18.50).
Both struck me as expensive again, especially the pasta and when reading the general press release on the Lemoni opening I don’t think I can agree with the term “affordable”. Especially with so many different options around the Riverside and town centre. I just can’t see many families opting to eat here on a regular basis.
Lucy went for the Chicken Skewer served with couscous, vegetables and potatoes (£16.50)
Steve, in the end, chose more starters for his main and went for the Melitzanosalata (£5.50), another portion of carb-loading Pita, Spanakopita (£6.00) and some Potato Chips (£4.00).
The Moussaka was a generous portion and was served with a small side salad and was scolding hot, so it took a while to cool down. It was layered with aubergine, potato and Béchamel sauce and whilst there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, it didn’t blow me away and was probably a little bit bland. I also did wonder if it had been sitting around for a while? For a £16.50 dish, I would have expected something a little more special.
Lucy did love her chicken though and despite her spotting it came with no sauce of any kind, the marinade was full of flavour and the chicken was soft and tender. She left her new potatoes until last as usually isn’t a fan, (and y’know kids and veg) but then took a bite, eyes widened and said they were the best potatoes she’d ever had!
Steve’s food arrived and the freshly baked potato chips were insanely good, and Lucy and I couldn’t resist stealing quite a few!
The Melitzanosalata was a bit like ‘Marmite’ in the sense of you’ll either love it or hate it! The menu describes the dish as “charcoal grilled aubergines served with extra virgin olive oil and pomegranate seeds” but there was most definitely something else in there. I’d be interested to hear what others think of this one. I can’t even describe the taste, it didn’t seem like anything I’d had before, and the texture was strangely ‘gummy’… if that’s even a thing?
Moving on, Steve thought his Spanakopita looked a bit odd and did in fact wonder if it was the right dish. I said maybe they do it a little different here and said just take a bite and see what’s it like. So, he cut off a huge corner and ate it. It wasn’t Spanakopita. Not even close. We don’t know what it was, as the waiter wouldn’t say, but it was full of meat…and he’s vegetarian and hasn’t eaten any form of meat or fish for five years.
He was quite rightly upset and bit a bit shocked. We called our waiter over and not being the type of people to make a scene or a fuss explained what had happened. The waiter swiftly took away the dish and said he’d be back with the correct one. We saw him talking to the manager in the corner who shook her head, looked concerned and came over. But there was no apology given and she simply said, “did you take a big bite?” then moved on to asking how Lucy was and that was it!
Knowing too well that mistakes can happen to anyone, whether you’ve been open one week, one year or ten years, it doesn’t matter. It’s how that mistake is dealt with that ultimately that makes or breaks the situation. We didn’t feel like the restaurant, at the time of it happening, fully grasped how big a deal it was to us.
It did put a little dampener on our meal and whilst we did try to quickly move on and enjoy the rest of our food there’s always that feeling of awkwardness in the background.
Steve felt like he was made to feel like it was his fault almost and we did worry that Lemoni had no system in place to make sure people who don’t eat certain foods don’t get given the wrong dishes, especially if they have an allergy.
I have since received an apology from Lemoni and was offered the chance to go back another time, but politely declined. I’m not sure a second visit would change any of these feelings and my review on the quality of the food and the prices wouldn’t change either way. Aside from this one big mistake, the customer service and friendliness of the staff were as you’d expect, and we had no other substantial complaints.
It wouldn’t be right to eat at Lemoni and not have a Greek dessert, so we went for the Loukoumades (£7.00), which are freshly made doughnuts. Served in one of three ways: with honey and crushed walnuts, chocolate spread or sugar with cinnamon. We went for the sugar and cinnamon.
I also spotted the Chocolate Souffle served with ice-cream (£7.50) so we added that to our order too and decided to share both.
At this point, I also realised we’d not been asked once if we’d like another drink at all, despite all having empty glasses. We did have a jug of tap water, so we were fine, but I did find this a little odd and put this one down to the teething issues thing.
The doughnuts, in my opinion, were slightly under-fried. They weren’t as light and fluffy as I think they’re meant to be. The Souffle was cooked well and we ate every bite. I had however just eaten some life-changing ice-cream at the Lido the Friday before so probably a little unfairly compared the Lemoni ice-cream to theirs, and it didn’t win!
I was really torn writing this review as I really do hope that the feeding of meat to a vegetarian will never happen again and that it was a one-off. I also really hope that all the niggly teething issues smooth over as most of the food was enjoyable and I wish Lemoni the best of luck.
Would I go back again? Not for those prices. Would I choose The Real Greek over Lemoni? Most probably yes. Is it ok to be disappointed because it’s exactly what I expected in the first place…nothing ground-breaking? I’m not sure.
Please remember that this is just my opinion of one experience at Lemoni. I’m sure other people will think differently and possibly like it a lot more than we did.
Despite this meal being gifted in exchange for an honest review, for the three of us, the total bill came in at £101.80, which for lunch I feel is quite pricey. Especially as we only ordered three drinks with two being soft drinks. We didn’t over-order on food and in fact, all still felt like we could have eaten more quite soon after, we needed to!
Have you been yet? Let me know in the comments below what you think, feedback is always welcome.