Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 15, 2009: Hellenic Republic

Who doesn't love Georgie Calombaris? He's bloked it up with Peter Everett on Ready Steady Cook, shilled for a fancy brand of feta and won all kinds of awards with his city restaurant The Press Club. So when word started seeping out that he had something on the go in East Brunswick, Cindy and I were very excited. It opened to stunning reviews and huge crowds, and Mike and Jo rounded us up on Thursday night so that we could try it out.

Even with a 9pm booking we were faced with a packed out venue as we arrived - it was probably closer to 9:20 when a table opened up for us. It's a nice place, all wide open space with a bar and a courtyard, but the tables are crammed a little too close together. The menu is predominantly about small plates ($7-$13.50) and we ordered roughly two each. We were pretty well satisfied, although not so much so that we couldn't fit dessert in - more about that later.

Let's start with the undoubted star of the show - the Kefalograviera Saganki served warm with peppered figs ($11.50). Honestly, I could have eaten these until my heart seized up - perfectly fried cheese with the sweet and peppery flavours somehow enhancing the saltiness of the cheese. If you've yet to sample this, stop reading this now and dash over to East Brunswick and give it a shot - it's even better than it looks.

We'd also heard good things about the chips (Tiganites Patates - hand cut potatoes cooked in olive oil and seaseond with oregano, $8.50), so they were the second of our unhealthy choices. Again, they really hit the spot. They were perfectly cooked - you can almost taste the crunchiness in the photo - and the seasoning gave them something a little more interesting than just saltiness.

We opted for a couple of healthier plates to try to counterbalance the fried cheese and chips of our first two. The Patzari (roasted beetroot in cumin served with yoghurt, $7.50) added some non-yellow colour to our meal, not to mention some tender vegies - they were well roasted, and real beetroot is a treat whenever you eat it, but the cumin didn't quite shine through like I'd hoped it would.

Our other healthy option was the Horta (wild greens served cold with olive oil and lemon juice, $7.50)

I'm not sure what made these particular greens wild but they were delightfully slathered in oily lemon flavours, and probably not the counterpoint to the cheese that I pretended they were.

Finally, we traded some of our chips with Mike and Jo in exchange for a taste each of their spanakopita (spinach pie, $11.50). There was something unidentified in the filling that I thought gave this spanak something a little extra, but the pastry was a bit of a let down (not as light and crispy as I'm used to), making this the night's only real disappointment.

Cindy had been planning her ordering around dessert from the moment we'd picked up the menu, so there was no question that we'd be sampling something from the sweets section. The question was, how much? We were all set to order one dish each but our helpful waiter advised us that we'd probably all end up dead, and suggested we split three instead. So we did: Loukoumades (Greek donuts soaked in Attiki honey, $12.50), Baklava Yianniotiko (baklava from Yiannina, $11.50) and Ekmek Kataifi Pagoto (Soaked Kataifi, cherries and Mastic icecream).

There's not really much to say about baklavas - these were quite good versions of the idea, but be careful not to do what Cindy did and bite into the whole clove that's baked into the pastry - hmm, strong!

The donuts were nothing if not plentiful - I'm very glad that the original order (which had me dealing with a bowl of these on my own) didn't stand. They're pretty special - the honey is very sweet and would probably be overwhelming after about three, but they're chewy little balls of joy for the first couple.

Finally, the mastic icecream. This was a little strange - it started out making everyone slightly uncomfortable but the flavour really grew on us, and it was rivalling the donuts for best dessert of the night by the end. The soaked pillow of nut pastry (kataifi) was pretty outstanding as well.

So take all that, add a couple of meaty plates, two carafes of wine and a couple of coffees and estimate a price - I estimated a lot more than the $180 that it cost the four of us. Our four vego plates come in at $35, which is insanely cheap for the quality of the food that's being put on your plate. It's probably pricey enough that we'll not become super regular visitors to Hellenic Republic but for a treat night out, it's great value. By all accounts the meaty stuff is excellently prepared as well and the whole place is running pretty smoothly already (I think they've made their lives easier by bringing a whole bunch of Press Club staff across to get things going), so we were all pretty pleased with our visit - maybe we should check it out again for breakfast one of these days.

Address: 434 Lygon Street, East Brunswick
Ph: 9381 1222
Licensed
Price: Small plates, $7.50-$13.50; desserts $3.50-$12.50
Website: http://www.hellenicrepublic.com.au/ (coming soon apparently)

16 comments:

  1. ive heard mixed reviews of this place but no one has said a bad thing about that saganaki. i will go just for that!

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  2. Aw, man. My reasons for visiting Hellenic Republic just keep growing and growing. Must! Resist! Until after masters essay completed!
    Great snappy review by the way :)

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  3. i remember at a greek cooking class in Sydney, how I thought it was strange to stir shit loads of yoghurt with beetroot, but it was so so good.

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  4. Good post, Michael! That saganaki looks amazing.

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  5. I will be dreaming of that saganaki tonight. And plotting to head over to eat some.

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  6. this looks great - another fine eatery to try in East Brunswick - the list just keeps growing!

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  7. It was real insulting being waved to the bar by the unshaven Greek host after being double booked, only to be met by the remnants of the previous diners whi had just been hurried out... fortunately some quick thinking by the bartenders had our seats cleared and drinks in hand.

    Only to be further dissappointed by the moody manager from the Press Club who simply plonked our fish at our table and stormed off, no explanations. So much for leading by example!

    Other than that the service was efficient and with a smile despite the huge workload and the food great.

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  8. Wow, that's the most positive response I've had to a post in ages - I guess I should write reviews while in the grip of debilitating jetlag more often.

    Ran, Agnes and Dani - the saganaki is truly outstanding, you should ask if it comes as a main. Who says fried cheese isn't a meal?

    Claire - it's probably good to save something like this up as a reward for completing your essay, just to keep the motivation up.

    Tytty - I've yet to have a bad experience with fresh beetroot, and it really works well with the yoghurt.

    Johanna - that strip is just booming isn't it? A blogger has a hard time keeping up.

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  9. everything I have heard has been great.. cant wait to give it a try..and fried cheese is a main no doubt!!

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  10. this place is so weird - it was completely empty for AGES, just the facade of the bakery that once stood there and open air behind it, and then one day POOF! there stood a massive and incredibly packed restaurant. since then, every time we go past it, even during the day it's full. it must be doing something right!

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  11. Jodes, I hope it manages to live up to your high expectations when you do visit. :-)

    Philippa, I think Colambaris now has the reputation that has people following wherever he sets up shop. He is clearly doing something right - our dining companions Mike and Jo ate lunch there twice on the weekend before we joined them for dinner!

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  12. great review! you helped me relive my experiences of the place during the chrissie break - hopefully that'll hold me until i'm down next in melbourne. If you happen to be in the neighbourhood and you just want something light i recommend you pair up the loukoumades with a frappe! Very authentic and just the thing to cool down with on a hot day - you'll have plenty of those this week!

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  13. Loukoumades and a frappe? SL, that sounds like my kind of afternoon tea. :-)

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  14. Exceptional service under fire by the Hellenic manager (not seen her before at the Press Club but have seen at Reserve)... Calombaris has a knack for great staff...

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  15. I went just before new years. The service was excellent. The food was average. The lamb was so dry I couldn't swallow it it without a sip of water between mouthfuls. We had to then share two pieces of water melon, six or eight grapes and 5 cherries between three of us. The dessert pictured above with the ice cream on top was so sweet it was inedible. $228 later I felt ripped off. Get real George!

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  16. i liked what i ate,,,Robert De Niro was eating with his company just next to me!!

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