One of the many reasons I adore holidaying on the Greek islands is the ease with which you can slink from beach to waterfront taverna just as you are, and take in the same inspiring sea views.
No driving and, more importantly, no worrying that you have to freshen up and dress up. This isn’t Costa Smeralda.
Messy, salty hair and sandy feet are perfectly acceptable on Mykonos. After all, you’re on vacation, right?
While popular belief dictates that “where there’s a gorgeous view, don’t expect great food”, when it comes to a desirable destination like Mykonos, where restaurateurs need to dish up the best or simply don’t survive, the chances of a poor meal at a premium beachfront location are pretty low.
Sure, there are restaurants and tavernas that are far better than others on the Cycladic party isle that is giving Ibiza a serious run for its money. If you do your research, however, you can be fairly sure that you won’t strike out when it comes to dining.
One restaurant that defies the prevailing notion surrounding drop-dead gorgeous views is Hippie Fish, a sprawling, sea-facing dining spot with an all-white aesthetic that looks over the crystal clear Aegean at Mykonos’ Agios Ioannis beach.
Agios Ioannis, or Ai Yiannis, is on the western side of the island, therefore, ideally situated for couples to get in some sunset schmoozing over a gorgeous lunch or dinner.
This is also where the classic ‘80s girl power flick Shirley Valentine was filmed with lead Pauline Collins stripping down to her thickly-permed curls and freckle-peppered, tanned birthday suit for manly, mustachioed Costas the fisherman, played by Tom Conti.
Back then it was a taverna known as Sunset. Today, its founder Nikos Xydakis refers to it as a beach restaurant and bar.
When we visited Mykonos last September to ring in our third wedding anniversary, we made a point of finally checking out this much talked-about resto.
If visiting the island in summer, bookings are recommended for Hippie Fish, for it draws a steady stream of famished celebrity clientele.
Indeed, burly security is recruited to serve as a buffer between prying paparazzi stalking their big-name prey, as they feast on freshly-caught fish and seafood, while Hippie Fish is also known for its sushi menu.
On the last day of our celebratory long weekend, all we felt like doing was lolling about on Agios Ioannis’ sandy beach and doing laps across the deep, crystalline seas.
The sun was just starting to inch towards the horizon, so we headed up to Hippie Fish, where laidback beachwear is welcome.
Staff had just set up for dinner and, being very early in the evening in late September, the restaurant was completely empty.
First, we took a quick stroll around a separate restaurant area which, this year, became an extension of Hippie Fish. We also took a look at Hippie Chic Boutique, where you can find swimwear, beachwear and accessories, like cute handmade beaded, embroidered clutches and fringed suede bags.
Back at Hippie Fish, we took our pick of the best tables closest to the seafront, with unhindered views. One of the prime reasons to visit Mykonos outside the peak months of July and August is that you won’t be fighting for a restaurant table, and the staff are not completely rushed off their feet, so have more time to look after you.
We took a seat at one of the white timber tables beneath a huge umbrella whose palm fronds flayed in the wind while uplifting house tunes played. Couples can cosy up with a pre-dinner cocktail in a couch corner stuffed with colourful pillows.
Hippie Fish may have started off as a simple taverna in 1978 which grew in size and went somewhat upscale, however the staff are welcoming and the feeling is authentically Greek. Guests from nearby hotels provide brisk business.
There is even a Hippie Chic hotel (photo below), an attractive, lovers’ bolt hole that’s all Cycladic whitewashed and stonework exteriors paired with earthy interiors, and views of the tiny sacred isle of Delos.
While we read over the menu, a dark-haired, blue-eyed waitress by the name of Dora cheerfully prepared two large tables, darting past weaved wooden fish sculptures and below urchin light fixtures that are characteristic of the interior décor at Hippie Fish.
Just as our cockles – lightly pan-tossed with olive oil, butter, garlic and parsley – and raw baby clams arrived, so did a group of about 60 American travellers, likely cruise ship passengers, of differing ages.
The ever-growing number of cruise ships docking at Mykonos for a half-day or more is proving important to businesses like this one in the shoulder months of May and September.
A tall, slim redhead member of the group was particularly excited and even donned flares and a flowery crop top (Hippie Fish, you see) for the occasion. She recruited a fellow group member to take photos of her as she posed and flitted around various locations of the restaurant, making the best use of the sunset and sea view backdrop.
Flashing a sparkling smile, Dora outlined the menu for the group and I heard one gentleman inquire about moussaka.
I thought two things. Firstly, we need more Doras. Secondly, I wanted to kindly explain to him that there is really so much more to Greek cuisine beyond the beef mince and eggplant staple.
In the heat of summer, when visiting one of Greece’s isles, your best bet is to go for the fish and seafood, meze, salads and vegetables.
But it’s to be expected, particularly if was his maiden trip to Greece. I admit to seeking out paella when in Madrid for the first time, rather than wait until I visit Valencia, from where the dish originates.
Next up for us was a tasty Mykonian salad featuring locally-produced louza – a cured meat made with pork that is similar to Italian coppa, along with sundried and cherry tomatoes, dried figs, crisp lettuce and soft manouri cheese, doused in a slightly sweet dressing. Indeed, louza is one of the few traditional Mykonian products to be found on the island, where tourism has long reigned supreme.
Fellow diners started streaming in as the sun glowed orange and we moved on to the main event: a generous gilthead sea bream (tsipoura in Greek) beautifully chargrilled to ensure all the essences remain locked into the tender white flesh of the fish. Zucchini, carrots, baby potatoes and red peppers given the grill treatment are all you really need as an accompaniment.
Our waiter deftly removed the spine and tiny bones and served the fillets together with a classic olive oil and lemon dressing. Not that he needed to go to the trouble.
I revel in the ritual of dissecting a grilled fish slowly and deliberately, allowing the aromas to steam up into the nostrils, and sharing it with my husband, or with visiting guests. Hands off the fish head; that’s all mine. Few realise that the cheeks are the most luscious part of the fish.
We’re fortunate to live on the southern Athens coast, so we have a view of the Argosaronic Sea and, if we’re lucky, welcoming winds will deliver the iodine-rich fragrance of the sea as we’re unwinding with an al fresco dinner on the balcony.
Greeks know how to prepare fish and that means grilling or baking it in oven until it’s just cooked through, with crisp skin on the outside and firm, juicy meat on the inside. Overcooking fish is culinary blasphemy in this country.
Together with the bream, we heeded a staff recommendation and enjoyed a dry white wine produced with plyto and vidiano grape varieties from Crete’s Rhous Tamiolakis, a small-scale winery south of Heraklion.
The family-run operation has achieved considerable success by experimenting with local varietals that were almost lost in time. Delicate and light, the vibrant yet unobtrusive wine complemented the seafood and fish perfectly.
The wine list might include a French drop that costs 290 euros a pop, but why go Gallic when you’re in Greece.
Hippie Fish highlights quality labels of both new generation and established winemakers – like Pavlidis’ Thema, Tsantalis’ Kanenas and Skouras – who are quietly creating some incredibly fine wines.
Beside us four bright-eyed young Germans happily shared a saganaki and clinked their wine glasses: “To Mykonos, yia mas!” And I thought, this really is what Greece is all about.
The lights of the town of Agios Ioannis started to cast a shimmering glow across a mirror-like sea, while a refreshing breeze floated over us. The Americans had settled in comfortably and ‘80s soul and R n’ B was playing overhead. I’m guessing they agree with me in that Hippie Fish delivers island atmosphere with a capital A.
As if on cue, a romantic wooden sail boat glided past and tied up at the other end of the beach, capping a dream of an anniversary weekend.
Hippie Fish Beach Restaurant and Bar
Ai Yianni beach, Mykonos
Tel: +30 22890 23547