Strofilia: The Nation’s Revolutionary Gem of Greek Gastronomy and Culture

Perfectly situated in a 17th century converted warehouse, this family-run business played a pivotal role in transforming people’s perceptions of Greek cuisine in the heart of Europe

As the first restaurant of its kind in Brussels, Strofilia’s culinary charm revolves around the concept of “mezzes” – a selection of small side dishes served as a whole – encouraging diners to come together in the true Greek spirit and enjoy the evening in a hospitable and classical wine and dine setting.

The growing success and immaculate reputation of the restaurant, however, lies entirely in the hands of the man behind the business: Stefanos Svanias gave life to Strofilia from a passion passed on through the generations of his family, and a desire to introduce the genuine simplicity of Greek cuisine to Brussels. The story of one of the most respected Greek restaurants outside the country is founded on a career-changing journey that began in 1982, when Stefanos left Greece to develop his skills in Europe’s capital city.

Stefanos studied Hotel Management at the Centre d'Enseignement et de Recherches des Industries Alimentaires (CERIA) for two years and then at INFOBO for another two, where he received a degree in Restaurant and Gastronomy Applications. He soon found a gap in the Greek gastronomy market in Brussels that allowed him to break through with his first business.

“I found that there was no Greek restaurant serving Mezzes, so I decided to open the first “Ouzeri” outside of Greece in January 1990,” he said. Ouzeris are typical Greek taverns serving “Ouzu” (a Greek liquor) and local mezzes. Located in the heart of Ixelles, Stefanos’ Ouzeri attracted a wide and varied clientele, opening Brussels to the world of authentic and traditional Greek cuisine.

As the restaurant skyrocketed to success for an entire decade, plans for Strofilia slowly started to emerge.

Stefanos said: “Ten years after the creation of Ouzeri, I realized that there was a demand for clients to go out as larger parties or groups, and in my mind I thought this idea could work towards a new project. I wanted to be able to accommodate multiple groups of six people or more as well as bigger groups from companies.

“The most difficult part, however, was to find the perfect location – a challenge that took me around a year and a half to complete”

The first signs of Strofilia came in the form of a 17th century wine cellar in the heart of Brussels. Stefanos wanted to move on from Ouzeri and concentrate on a menu offering the best of Greek wine with a variety of mezzes. The cellar was part of a converted warehouse that had served as a hub to wine trading for several decades, and its original, historic feel and warm ambience were an instantly perfect fit, reflecting Stefanos’ passion for a genuine and authentic cuisine inspired by his Byzantine origins.

The wine cellar soon became an iconic first step into the birth of Strofilia. Stefanos added: “We created a multi-functional space for groups, wine tastings, events, and so on, and the wine cellar perfectly contributed to the originality of Strofilia”.

The cellar, however, is not the only seating option at the restaurant. Strofilia also boasts a vibrant and beautifully designed upper floor filled with white-washed tables, colourful cylinder ornaments and a wall stacked entirely with wooden wine chests, keeping in line with the restaurant’s theme and traditionalism. The space, which was created in 2009 by an award-winning architectural firm in Brussels, gives the restaurant a brighter and more contemporary twist, allowing it to cater to two significantly different types of occasions and ambiances.

Although the pearl of Strofilia lies with its menu and extensive wine list, the restaurant also engages customers to share their mezzes and enjoy the evening in a social and buzzing dining atmosphere. The wine cellar in particular has been an ideal venue for evening music festivities and events, and Stefanos has held various wine tastings and receptions to promote and stimulate passions for good wine and food.

With the pace at which Strofilia has grown over the years, it is often easy to forget that at the core of its management it is first and foremost a dedicated family business.

“At the beginning my wife was supporting me a lot, and later my kids began to help out,” Stefanos said.

“There is no difference between a cook and a poet, because they both have an artistic mind”

“My son is the Deputy Manager of the restaurant but we also recruit externally quite a bit. The advantage of running a tight family business is that it is much easier to manage the challenges of the restaurant when they arise.”

George Svanias, Stefanos’ son, assists with overseeing all front-of-house operations, financial aspects and staff management, including the organisation of wine tastings and other functions such as wedding and baptism receptions.

Stefanos said: “We faced many challenges of course but were able to overcome all of them. The greatest one has been transmitting to customers that Greek cuisine has a lot of hidden recipes, and that from them, fine cuisine can be produced.”

It is through these hidden recipes that Strofilia has deservedly won over its large group of loyal customers – a clientele that is mostly international. The restaurant’s menu consists of a varied selection of hot and cold mezzes ranging from simple Greek cheese platters served with dried fruit, to Pita Kessarias pastries filled with lamb and roulades stuffed with eggplant and yellowfin tuna from Alonissos. The mezzes are always accompanied by a bottle of Ouzo or a bottle of wine from the best of the restaurant’s classified selection.

To Stefanos, the four pillars of Greece’s culinary art rest on freshness, simplicity, variety, and a cuisine rich in vitamins. “All our chefs are Greek and the majority of our products are imported locally,” Stefanos explained.

In January of 2013, Strofilia launched a new and innovative menu, designed and created by Greek Michelin Star Executive Chef Alexandros Tsiotinis. Plans to keep improving Strofilia’s dining experience, however, are never in shortage. “Our main objectives right now include music festivities and wine tastings, and of course our continuous search for new and exciting mezzes. “We have been working on organising a wine tasting for the Alpha Estate in January 2015.”

With the European gastronomy market in high competition and with a mounting interest in the tourism, hospitality and gastronomy academia, there has never been a better – but tougher – time to break through in the industry.

“Complete your studies and practice a lot before launching your own restaurant business,” advises Stefanos, who has had his share of both in the run-up to Strofilia.

A strong passion for an authentic cusine is of course obligatory, and as Stefanos has demonstrated with both his businesses, a successful restaurant industry is ever-changing but consistently loyal. It also requires the touch of a creative mind-set and a vision that goes beyond the dining table and all the way to the culture and artistic cookery of the restaurant’s nation – another proven skillset in Strofilia’s family management.

“There is no difference between a cook and a poet, because they both have an artistic mind,” Stefanos pointed out.

And indeed, it is the art and culinary creativity of his restaurant that continues to allure customers to its door from both Brussels and beyond, a success that is bound to remain imprinted in the world’s most recognised wine press – or in other words, Strofilia.

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Lucia
29 Jan, 2015 Lucia
Quoting Peter:
Quoting Lucy:
Quoting Peter:
Quoting Lucy:
ARTICLE OF THE MONTH!!? :)


Yes!


Great!! Well done Lucia :)


Lucia is a very good writer, but this is not her best piece. I would opt for that on Nike.


Thank you everyone! Peter - NIKE was a great article for me, but it's an old one now. Perhaps Strofilia will get the trophy now... I think they need to update the site ;)
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Peter
27 Jan, 2015 Peter
Quoting Lucy:
Quoting Peter:
Quoting Lucy:
ARTICLE OF THE MONTH!!? :)


Yes!


Great!! Well done Lucia :)


Lucia is a very good writer, but this is not her best piece. I would opt for that on Nike.
Quote
Lucy
27 Jan, 2015 Lucy
Quoting Peter:
Quoting Lucy:
ARTICLE OF THE MONTH!!? :)


Yes!


Great!! Well done Lucia :)
Quote
Peter
27 Jan, 2015 Peter
Quoting Lucy:
ARTICLE OF THE MONTH!!? :)


Yes!
Quote
Lucy
15 Jan, 2015 Lucy
ARTICLE OF THE MONTH!!? :)
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Anne-Marie Elletrias
15 Dec, 2014 Anne-Marie Elletrias
I was looking for a good wine & food place in Brussels to hold my graduation reception dinner, Il l look into this it sounds perfect!! Great article, it should eb article of the month :)
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Jacob
10 Dec, 2014 Jacob
I'm booking :)
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Helen
06 Dec, 2014 Helen
Ditto David's comment, we should all go together! I've heard of it but never been...now I really want to go! Lucia do you know the owners? So great that you're writing again you star x
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David
05 Dec, 2014 David
Great restaurant! Lucia when am i taking you!
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Jacob
05 Dec, 2014 Jacob
Great that Strofilia has been published! Great article Lucia next time in Brussels we go!!
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