A Greek Banquet on a Sunday Afternoon
They say the first bite is with the eye. Similarly, expectations of a dining
experience are often coloured by the surroundings of the restaurant. In that
case Hellenic Republic cannot help but to surprise. Situated in the unglamourous
surrounds of northern Lygon street, the newest venture from George Calombaris -
of Press Club and Maha (and Masterchef) fame - somehow seems both out of place
and yet perfectly comfortable.
Upon entering and being led to our seats, the atmosphere was one of a lot of people
having a good time. Friendly and energetic are two words that immediately spring to
mind. Families and reasonably large groups abound, and with good cause, lots
of small dishes to share are most certainly the order of the day. As followers of this
site will well know sharing food in large groups is not something that sits well with me,
but I do understand many people enjoy that sort of thing. On this occasion there was just Sarah and I, so going
with the $60 banquet option seemed the right way to go.
We went out on a limb when it came to the wine list, which it has to be said is fairly limited,
and chose a Greek wine. $45 provided us with a bottle of 2007 Notios Agiorgitiki, and no,
I didn't know what that was either. As it turns out, our waitress did, and it's a relatively
light red not a million miles from a sangiovese crossed with a pinot. It stood up well against
the small mountain of food that was to follow.
The first course of the small mountain consisted of: a small bowl of olives,
Kefalogravia saganaki (a fried cheese) served with peppered figs,
Patzari (roasted beetroot with cumin), pickled peppers, house cured
ham, and a couple of fish croquettes. I didn't much care for the beetroot,
but I do love Greek fried cheese, and paired with the figs this was my highlight
for round one.
Round two - some grilled salmon with a lemon and olive oil dressing (the dressing comes to the
table in an ice bucked with flowers), Tyropita a kind of fetta cheese pie in filo pastry,
a seafood rice dish, and a Greek salad which comes undressed with the intent of DIY dressing thanks
to olive oil and red wine vinegar on the table. Just when we thought that was it, along came the
Revithia Plaki (chickpeas in tomato sauce) and half a stuffed eggplant. I was a big fan of the eggplant stuffing, the seasoned mushroom with sweet caramelised onion sat well with the eggplant
container. By this stage, about halfway through our bottle of wine and working our way through
the plates, I was beginning to wish my belt was just slightly looser.
Then arrived round three - the expected grilled meats. Chicken and lamb, not huge amounts of either
but by this stage that is a very good thing. Served with the meats was a tzatziki and a bowl of some
of the freshest, best seasoned chips I've had in quite some time. These are cheekily
presented in a bowl lined with paper printed with several traditional Greek recipes.
The next two courses were seasonal fruits (melon, orange, grapes, that sort of thing), and desserts.
Greek doughnuts, some hazelnut shortbread and semi-dried grapes syrup. I had to help Sarah finish
the doughnuts, she didn't have to ask me twice. With that, and a couple of coffees we had finally
had our fill. And then some.
So would I recommend Hellenic Republic? The answer is a qualified yes. It really depends on what
you're looking for, after all in George Calombaris' own words this is "the Jetstar version of Press
Club". This was a great place for a big Sunday lunch, yes you can do cheaper, and maybe even better
value, but Hellenic Republic is a safe bet. If you go, you can be assured that you're going to be
getting quality food for your money. Even if it does mean sharing dishes.
Trapezi Beta - 6 course banquet (small tastes, salads, fish off the grill, meat off the spit, seasonal fruit, sweets). $59.50
2007 Notios Agiorgitiki - $45