I had a bunch of family in town for the tennis in January and we were tasked with coming up with a 'Melbourne' dining experience. We've had good luck with Hellenic Republic in the past, so we decided to give one of George Calombaris' other places a shot - his casual Greek place in the city, Gazi. The fit-out is lovely - upside-down terracotta pots hang from the ceiling, big windows let light flood in and the open kitchen is buzzing with activity.
We had an early booking, but so did everyone with tennis tickets, so Gazi was heaving with people. It's not the best place for a group catch-up: it's super loud, with music pumping and conversation echoing off the walls. We were struggling to even make ourselves heard by the staff. Luckily, we came up with the ordering option that required the least conversation - for $49 they'll put on a seven dish sharing menu, catering to whatever dietary requirements you have. So much easier than working your way through all the options on the menu.
Cindy kicked things off with a white-peach soda from the house-made sodas selection ($7), while the rest of us got boozy. Food-wise we started out with dips: a beetroot dip with feta and walnut praline and a tzatziki (the non-vegos got taramasalata). The beetroot dip was wonderful - especially with the sweet/crunchy walnut praline on top.
The dips were closely followed by a few serves of the saganaki with preserved cherry glyko on top. This was very reminiscent of the peppered fig version served at Hellenic Republic and is just as good - fried cheese with something sweet on top is a pretty sure-fire dish.
Next up were big serves of tiganites patates (fries with feta and oregano) and lahanosalata (cabbage, kefalograviera, honey and yoghurt dressing). These were both excellent, relying on their respective cheeses to elevate them beyond their humble bases, but there was way too much of both.
The vego dishes came thick and fast after the chips. We got kolokitha (roast pumpkin with creme fraiche, seeds, nuts and spring onions), grilled corn with with crushed popcorn, and horta (wild greens, tomato paste and a fried egg). I was super impressed by all of these - even the simple greens were superb, with the rich tomato paste and egg turning a side dish into something much more.
We'd lost count of our dishes up to this point and nobody could figure out whether or not our seven dishes was going to include dessert or not. We were all stuffed, but there were still some happy faces around the table when this plate of loukoumades - honey-Nutella slathered doughnuts sprinkled with nuts. They were excellent, and the perfect way to finish an excellent meal.
Our Gazi meal was pretty great - every dish hit the mark and at $50 a head it seemed like pretty good value to me. The menu is well stocked with vego dishes, but most of them relied on cheesiness to really fly, so I'm not sure how the vegan version would turn out. For all its casualness, Gazi's not really a relaxing place to eat - it's super loud and things are a bit rushed. The staff are efficient though and they whipped us through the meal effortlessly. I'm not sure the two of us will rush back for another round, but it could be a good option to take visitors when you're showing off the city.
Gazi has met with almost universal blog praise, including a couple of vego reviews on Ebezilla and I Spy Plum Pie, plus tons of omni reviews - see A Table for Two, Gourmanda, A Food Fable, For Food's Sake, Hungry and Fussy, Capital Food Journal, Chasing a Plate, Lisa Eats World, The Foodie World, The Epicurean of Southbank, A Chronicle of Gastronomy, Olive Sundays, The City Gourmand, Foodie & Fabulous, Confessions of a Little Piggy, The Brick Kitchen, Perth Food Reviews, DonutSam, Adventures in Winterland, The Epicurist, Little Caps, Lips Temptations, The Food Joy, The Blue Macaron, Far Fetched and Fanciful, Kit and Kafoodle, Melbourne Vita, Sweet and Sour Fork, It's an Expensive but Delicious Habit, Meghanism, I Only Eat Desserts, Roaming Potato, Curious Charlie, Gracious Expedition, Gastronomic Gems, Dumpling Love, The Food Society, Jordan's Food Baby, Eat Like Ushi, Gastronomical Ramblings, Jar Fed, Imelda Eats, Dammit Janet I Love Food, Sarah Cooks, Missy Ness' Food Train of Thought, Yellow Yellow Eggs, Pigging Out Around the World, MEL: HOT OR NOT, Suburban Culinary Adventures and Barley Blog,
There are just a couple of people less impressed with it - both 15,000kms of food and One Fat Cow were a bit underwhelmed.
2 Exhibition St, Melbourne
food, dessert, drinks
Accessibility: Entry is flat. The interior and most of the tables are on the same level, but the booths are raised. There's a mix of bar stools and regular tables - it's all pretty crowded. We ordered and paid at the table. We didn't visit the toilets.