It's no secret that I'm a bit of a George Colambaris fan, though his current stint on Masterchef Australia hasn't had my heart growing any fonder. ("Cook like you're saving the world!"? Really?) Nevertheless, I was pleased when a fellow vegan potlucker sometimes known as Clag admitted his own affection for the man, similarly forged in the afternoon hours of Ready Steady Cook, and investigated the potential for a classy potluckers' meet-up at the Press Club.
It took a couple of months for us to synchronise calendars and save our pennies while Clag negotiated a $90 five course vegan kerasma with Press Club staff. But once it was all set anticipation grew, with Press Club-themed Facebook updates reaching a dizzying crescendo in the couple of hours before our meal.
We assembled in the bar, with some of us eager and early enough to have time for a drink. The division of the cocktail menu into feminine, masculine and unisex items had a couple of us cringing but didn't stop us ordering. Michael and I shared an M ($15, pictured above) - a sweet and sour combination of coconut liqueur, cherry brandy, lime juice and vanilla sugar syrup.
Once we were seated at our table, out came the bread! Tender and tasty, I tried to restrain myself as I anticipated the courses to come. It was difficult, though - this was really good bread.
The waitress called these saganaki martinis. Watermelon skewers straddle shot glasses filled with a 'Greek salad' of tomato consomme and finely chopped cucumber. The second skewery mouthful was of rockmelon and peppered fig (just like the peppered fig served at Hellenic Republic). Though the flavours were certainly pleasant, I think it was the novelty of the arrangement that impressed us and had us excitedly wondering what might come next.
The second official course was probably the highlight, with happy disagreements ricocheting around the table as to which component was the best. Sarah was most impressed by the smoked beetroot with pomegranate vinaigrette, Lisa loved the delicate daikon that wrapped itself around a second 'modern Greek salad', while Clag, Michael and I were gobsmacked by the ladyfinger with moussaka, a feather-light filo pastry with a silky centre of savoury zucchini. I tried to genteelly slice it up, but it really needed to be picked up and relished as a finger food.
Course #3 sent some ripples around the table. A few avowed tomato-haters weren't happy to see their nemesis so prominently on display, but at least gave it a try. These tender tomatoes contained a sweet stuffing of couscous, dried fruit and nuts, and sat amid a bean puree. Sadly this was the most protein we were to see all night.
The stuffed tomatoes arrived with two 'sides' - the first was this eggplant, disintegrating deliciously into olive oil and warm spices, served at room temperature. Reminding me of my favourite Indian-style eggplant curries, I would have preferred to eat this warm but I ate it very happily all the same.
A cabbage salad with a bright and citrusy dressing rounded out the course.
The fourth course featured large and juicy mushrooms, stuffed with rice and herbs.
On the side, a bowl of lemon kipfler potatoes. I wasn't especially impressed by these, though I know a couple of my vegan potlucker peers will disagree.
Also appearing in round 4 was the third and final Greek salad. Toby loved the way they prepared the cucumber, removing the seeds and chopping the flesh into chunky curls.
Finally came dessert - a quince crumble topped with a delicate dollop of soy sorbet. (House-made soy sorbet, just for us!) The crumble was hearty and homely, and many of us failed to finish it. The problem was the soy sorbet - it tasted spectacular, cut through the crumble perfectly, but was too small to spread across the entire dish. Not having been offered coffee or other drinks at this stage, we toyed with our sweet but dry crumbles and dreamed of second and third helpings of the sorbet.
The Sorbet Shortfall reflected my one quibble with the meal - it seemed out of balance. What we ate was like a procession of side dishes. Delicious, sometimes remarkable side dishes, but nothing that sat proudly and clearly as a centrepiece. And where was the protein? Greek food is chock-full of brilliant legumes and I'm sorry that we didn't see more of them.
Imbalance aside, this was a most memorable meal. Everyone was thrilled to have a high-end, lamb-and-leather restaurant oblige us with a feast completely devoid of animal products. We've been talking to each other, and anyone else who will listen, about the Press Club for the entire week since.
You read about Michael's and my previous (non-vegan) visit to the Press Club here.