Yiasou! Ti kanetai? - Hello how are you all? I can't help but feel inspired to try my Greeklish out recapping on our outing to the suburbs of Melbourne to visit Hellenic Republic - George Calombaris' East Brunswick eatery. Being the good Greek boy that I am I have never ventured out to try Greek food. Im pretty lucky to have my beautiful yia-yia and papou cook all manner of things Greek so the need has never arisen. However with Melbourne having one of the world's largest Greek populations outside of Greece, I felt that maybe it was time to give it a go. With Gianna in tow we decided that it would be Hellenic Republic that would go down as the first Greek restaurant where we would eat, just don't tell my grandparents.
It was a bitterly cold day and stepping inside Hellenic Republic was nothing short of amazing. The place was bustling and buzzing with atmosphere. Painted wooden chairs hung on the walls, tables with marble tops, a long bar with countless bottles of Ouzo, it was like being whizzed away back to Greece. After being promptly seated we were given a bit of assistance with picking some wine. We picked a bottle of Oenos Red, a Barberra Tempranillo ($45.00 bottle) , a very smooth and easy drink that would quite easily get the better of you without you realising. We perused through the menu and decided that we would take our time with lunch, after all it is one of the most enjoyable meals one can partake in. We picked the 'Trapezi' ($55.00 pp) or table spread as it loosely translates in English. Basically the Trapezi is a 3 course meal that samples most of the foods on the menu. By this stage I was thoroughly impressed not only by the sound of the menu, but on the basis that they had Greek rock salt on the table.
The first course or 'Meze' consisted of a few small entrees. Sauteed squash with yoghurt, melitzanosalata (eggplant taramasalata) with pita bread, cured Hellenic meats, salmon served on crunchy brown bread and "telia" (lastly) Kefalograviera saganaki - a traditional pan fried cheese served with peppered sweet figs. Just so you know, Gianna stopped talking for a good 20 mins whilst eating the cheese. Simply put it was amazing. All the meze dishes were beautiful. Perfectly presented and flavours that complemented one another. The eggplant taramasalata was a standout for me, silky in consistency and just plain tasty. But the Kefalograviera oh my. Words just can't do it justice. I'm sure Gianna would agree.
The second course of dishes to follow were the Psari kai Magirefta - Fish and oven baked dishes. There was a Cypriot grain salad - freekah, coriander, almonds raisins and yoghurt; a baked dish with kritharaki (orzo) and mixed seafood and oven baked Kingfish. The seafood kritaraki dish reminded me of what my grandfather used to cook when I was younger, although instead of being forced to eat it as I was in my youth I rather enjoyed it. Usually kritharaki is cooked with meat in a red sauce, but with seafood I found that the combination worked and it was nice to reminisce about my youth and the times my grandparents would chase me around and force me to eat all these Greek foods against my will. The Cypriot salad was also very nice, although Gianna couldn't have any with her allergies to coriander and all. Lucky for me because it was a mix of fresh flavours and textures that I have never tried before. But I have to admit that I am not a big seafood fan, however the Kingfish was heavenly. A decent portion of fish that was cooked to perfection and drizzled with a lemony herb dressing. It melted in your mouth. A serving of Lahanosalata - a shaved cabbage salad dressed with olive oil and lemon also came along. By this stage we were somewhat content with the food we had consumed and it was getting to that boozy stage after the 3rd glass of wine. But there was still more to come!
The third course was the meats. Psita or cooked chicken and lamb complimented with a serve of Tsatziki and hand cut Tiganites patate - potato chips cooked in olive oil and oregano. Simple, tasty and very filling. Eating this took me back to sitting at a taverna overlooking the Mediterranean ocean, sipping on ouzo without a care in the world. The tzatziki was very tasty and creamy and different to the taste I was used to growing up, not having that strong garlic hit but rather a subtle undertone. As I've said to Gianna, a good Greek girl needs to be able to make homemade tzatziki. The meat was tender and well seasoned and after trying to get through it all we were full. Full-stop, shut the gates FULL. Our lovely waitress reminded us that we actually asked her if everything in the banquet "would be enough". But there was still desert to come..and we had to mentally prepare ourselves.
Desert was Loukoumathes - Greek donughts drizzled in Attiki honey and walnuts. A Greek treat that my grandparents used to buy for me when we would go down to the shops. It was a nice way to end such a wonderful spread. Im glad that we went to Hellenic Republic, you cannot fault the service, the atmosphere and the value. I would have to say that it would have to be a definite stop over for anybody travelling to Melbourne.