I love George Calombaris, aka Georgie. Not only is he the most adorable TV chef personality (BOOM BOOM SHAKE THE ROOM), he’s also some sort of chef genie, winning Young Chef of the Year at age 24. Now at the ripe old age of 34, he is the owner/co-owner of 6 esteemed restaurants around Melbourne, as well as one in Mykonos. That pretty much sums up why I was so excited to eat at Hellenic Republic, one of Georgie’s earlier restaurants, serving traditional Greek fare with a modern twist.
I had just blasted through all three of my exams, received my dream pharmacy intern position for 2014, and was 3 weeks away from a holiday in Japan. It was a good day, and the plan was to order way too much food and celebrate in style.
We had made a booking for 6pm but we arrived half an hour early. We attempted to loiter outside for a bit, but being on the more rustic end of town, along with the amazing smells emanating from the building, made waiting more than 10 minutes impossible. So instead, we chose to sit inside in our wicker chairs, watching the meat turn on a spit, inhaling the thick wafts of delicious scents.
|Olives Local and Hellenic ($5.5)/Pita ($4.5)/Taramosalata (small, $6)|
We began with the classic trio of starters – Olives Local and Hellenic ($5.5), Pita ($4.5), and Taramosalata (small, $6). The olives were well marinated and heavily flavoured, but they didn’t hold a candle to the pita bread. The pita was pillowy around the edges, getting crispier as you moved towards the center, all infused with a charred, woody fragrance.
|Taramosalata (small, $6)|
Best of all though, was the Taramosalata, aka cod roe dip. It was sheer decadence, the smooth creamy texture holding a subtle but intense briny flavour. I was in heaven, dragging the top-notch pita bread through the dip and wondering how anything could be so seductive. It all made sense when I was found out that the dip was made almost entirely of cod roe, with only a smidgen of breadcrumbs, olive oil, and garlic blended in.
|Tyri Saganaki ($14.5)|
Of course we had to sample Hellenic Republic’s signature dish – the Tyri Saganaki ($14.5). The wedge of cheese was grilled until it was crisp outside and chewy in the middle, and its rich saltiness tempered by the soft figs sweetened with honey and balsamic. It’s hardly a groundbreaking combination, but it is sheer decadence and an explosion of classic flavours.
|Small Spit Combo ($16.2)/Tzatziki (small, $5)|
You haven’t really eaten at a Greek restaurant until you’ve had their grilled meats, and because we couldn’t decide between lamb and chicken, the waiter helpfully suggested the Small Spit Combo ($16.2), which had some of both. To be honest, I liked this but I didn’t love this. Whilst it had the requisite deliciously smoky flavours, I’ve had much more tender and flavoursome experiences elsewhere. It did go well with the sweet and refreshing plate of Tzatziki (small, $5) though.
|Kipriaki Salata Dimitriakon (small, $7.2)|
On the suggestion of our waiter, we ordered a Kipriaki Salata Dimitriakon (small, $7.2) to go with all our protein. Despite the complex sounding name, it’s actually just the classic Cypriot salad consisting of grains, pulses, nuts and yoghurt. Naturally this made for a rather hefty salad, but it wasn’t weighed down thanks to copious amounts of coriander tossed through with a tangy dressing, and the sweet pop of pomegranate. I especially liked the slivers of toasted almonds.
|Htapodi (small, $10.8)|
Because I could never neglect the seafood, I ordered a small serve of Htapodi (small, $10.8), which was Western Australian octopus, pickled with ouzo and spices. This was a much needed break from the more substantial dishes, the cool sour flavours and the addictive chewiness making for a great palate cleanser.
|Kalamari (small, $10.8)|
I can never look past Kalamari (small, $10.8) when it’s on the menu, but this one was a bit of a hit and miss. It was exquisitely tender with just a hint of chewiness, but I couldn’t taste anything else above the overwhelming, bitter smokiness.
|The stone says 'Passion'!|
Hellenic Republic isn’t the pretentious dining experience you’d expect from a celebrity chef. It’s honest Greek food that’s been giving a good polish, and DAMN do those Greeks know how to eat. It would’ve been nice if everything had been as amazing as the cod roe dip but, that would be asking for the impossible.
Oh and whilst we’re here, some amazing end-of-exams cupcakes I had from Cupcake Central
Rating: 15/20 – shiny greek food
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. And the amount of battery left in my gameboy advance.