Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hellenic Republic

Location: 434 Lygon Street, Brunswick East 3057
Phone: (03) 9381 1222
Link: www.hellenicrepublic.com.au
Cuisine: Greek

Another place that's been on my wishlist for a while has been George Calombaris' Hellenic Republic. Not exactly in the CBD, the place has often been brushed aside for a restaurant within the CBD. But not this time, we ventured out beyond the CBD to satisfy a craving for pita bread, dips and traditional Greek spit roasted meats.

Tram numbers 1 or 8 will get you to the Brunswick end of Lygon Street, and stop 126 is located directly outside the restaurant, about 25 minutes tram ride from Flinders Street Station.

Immediately upon entering, the amazing aromas of spit roasted meat hit us. A waitress shows us to our seats, and offer us a plate of mixed olives whilst we wait for our third member to arrive.

warm mixed olives
Again, we knock back the set menu (or what they call 'trapezi') in favour of designing our own menu.

We can't go past the pita bread with dips, and the waitress helpfully suggests we order a half serve of each dip (there are three) so that we can try them all.

warm pita bread with dips (clockwise from top-left): melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant, miso, tahini),
taramosalata (white cod roe dip) and tzatziki (cucumber, dill, garlic, olive oil and yoghurt)
The bread is warm, soft and fluffy inside, and tastes great even without the dips. But that's not why we've ordered it. The dips are divine. The roasted eggplant dip is unlike any other eggplant dip I have ever had before. At first taste, the first thing that hits you is the sweetness and there doesn't seem to be much eggplant flavour at all, Eventually, the subtle roasted eggplant flavour comes through, before the smokiness from the miso and tahini. It's a beautifully smooth texture, with a brilliant combination of flavours that just dance on the tongue.

The tamosalata is the saltier of the dips. It's a bit of a cross between a smoked salmon dip and an anchovy paste, but with the acidic flavour of lemons to cut through the saltiness. 

Tzatziki - the classic hero of Greek dips. Amazingly fresh, the yoghurt was light, smooth and creamy, the cucumber was fresh and crunchy and the garlic and olive oil were perfectly balanced. 

Having run out of bread, we save the dips to eat with the meats.

Having had an amazing corn-on-the-cob experience at Mamasita (yes yes, I still haven't done the review), this Greek version caught my eye and my curiosity would not let me skip it.

kalamboki - sweet corn, spiced butter, smoked almonds, kefalograviera
And it was amazing. Completely different to Mamasita's, but in a good way. The corn was smoky from the chargrill and served warm topped with a beautiful spiced butter and shaved kefalograviera cheese that was just starting to melt. The corn was sweet and juicy and the cheese was subtle. Slivers of smoked almonds were then scattered on top and around to provide yet another contrasting texture. Overall, a top dish. I could eat a whole meal of just this.

tyri saganaki - kefalograviera with peppered figs
Saganaki, another Greek classic that we just couldn't go past. Although, Hellenic Republic put its own spin on this classic by pairing the fried kefalograviera with sweetened peppered figs. Whilst not the biggest fan of the figs (I found them a little too sweet for my liking), I must admit the combination of flavours worked. The sweet peppery flavours of the fig cut through some of the heaviness of the fried cheese, and also provided a contrasting texture to the dish. 

meat platter: arni sto fourno (slow roasted shoulder of lamb, garlic, oregano)
and kotopoulo psistaria (Hazeldene’s free range chicken from the spit)
When I hear of Greek meat, my expectations skyrocket. We ordered the slow roasted lamb shoulder and the spit roasted chicken. Possibly because we had already eaten so much, but also possibly because I had set such high expectations for the quality of the meat, I was a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong, the meats were beautifully soft and tender. The lamb fell apart very easily, and the chicken was moist. But I found that both meats lacked seasoning compared to other Greek meats I've had in the past. I was expecting much stronger flavours - without which, the meat was more or less ordinary (but very well roasted) meat.

This was where the leftover dips from earlier came into play. The tzatziki went amazingly well with the lamb (classic combination of lamb and tzatziki), and the lemon flavours from the taramosalata paired very well with the chicken.

sides: tiganites patates (potatoes fried in olive oil, oregano, salt)
and patzari salata (beetroot salad, cumin yoghurt, coriander)
Sides, sides, sides. We probably could have done without these - or should have picked something a little different. The potatoes were relatively ordinary - reminding me a little of the duck fat potatoes from the Aylesbury, but without the duck fat. The beetroot salad was tasty, but the cumin gave the yoghurt a slightly odd taste. Given the selection of dishes we had ordered, we might have been better off with a lighter salad.

After standing in line for half an hour to buy some loukoumathes at the Canberra Multicultural Festival a few weeks earlier, there was no way I was going to pass by these Hellenic donuts.

loukoumathes - Hellenic donuts, local honey, walnuts, cinnamon
The donuts were crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, although at the end of a big meal, leaned a little to the heavy side. They were then coated with a thick honey syrup then sprinkled with walnuts and cinnamon. The honey was extremely sweet, and I made the first mistake of cutting open a donut, and dousing the inside with more honey. Big mistake. The walnuts provided a nutty relief to the honey overdose. 

Bakalava Yianniotiko
I've never been the biggest fan of baklava, but no Greek feast would be complete without it. The pastry on the top and bottom of each piece was built from several layers of filo pastry almost glued together from the honey (or was it sugar syrup?). The nuts inside were chopped finely and tightly packed together. Whilst I found the baklava too sweet, it was one of the better ones I've had before.

Greek coffee

H chose to finish her meal off with a Greek coffee. I personally could not understand why, the coffee was strong, bitter and grainy. But regardless of my opinion (and given I admittedly do not know much about coffee), H enjoyed hers.

Service was friendly and pleasant, and despite having told us on booking that we could only have the table for two hours, we were allowed to stay for longer. There was definitely a friendly warm atmosphere within the restaurant, and it was relatively loud, so it was nice that the tables were fairly well spaced out.

Overall Impression: 9/10
Hellenic Republic on Urbanspoon

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