It all started as my in laws (mother, father and brother aka known as mo, fo, bro) paid us a visit from UK and were keen to try a little of the George magic so we decided to take them for a family feast at Hellenic Republic and then some fine dining at Press Club over lunch which we thought would give them a taster of both ends of the scale.
Rather than go with a fixed menu we chose what we fancied and with guidance in relation to volume from our friendly waiter, we think we did pretty well.
We enjoyed a few nibbley small plates to begin with including some bread and dips (tzatziki and fava the split pea one with truffle), saganaki with peppered figs and the grilled asparagus, broken egg, anchovy mayo, tsoureki crumbs.
The meat dishes - lamb, chicken and pork were all seasoned well with the true flavours of the meat coming through but enhanced by char grill and some herbaceous notes. Our sides of Cypriot salad of grains, pulses, nuts, yoghurt and the potatoes fried in olive oil, oregano, salt were also moreish and flavoursome. I particularly like the grain salad and the sweet tang of the pomegranate elevate it above the much loved freekah salad at Cumulus in my humble opinion. Both are great though, don't get me wrong!
We shared various desserts including the Hellenic Mess, Greek doughnuts, vanilla custard pastry and baklava. I enjoyed the doughnuts with some ice cream - too sweet without it. Custard pastry was like a spring roll / vanilla slice. My father in law seemed to love the Hellenic Mess but the rest of us prefer the more traditional style and I don't need Ouzo in my strawberry sauce. Sad to say baklava was a little disappointing and Steve prefers the one from Steve's Deli at South Melbourne market.
Overall it was a great family feast where we could chatter and share food and catch up and share food and enjoy each other's company and share food. It's all very care free and like a Greek holiday. Great as a first reunion dinner for us.
There are various lunch options to choose from that suits a range of budgets and time available for lunch from a simple 2 courses at $38 per person (3 courses at $45) to a family style sharing a la Maha or Embrasse on a Sunday when it was open at $50 and then the most expensive mini symposium or degustation at $85.
After much umming and ahhing we decided to go with the degustation and also opted for an additional Wagyu beef course that was described in such delectable detail that we couldn't refuse.
We'd have loved to have sat at the Chef's Table but with 5 of us that wasn't possible. However we were able to look over and watch all the activity over this busy lunch service.
We loved our food and were lucky enough to be able to taste some additional courses too. As luck would have it, and it was unexpected the table next to us assigned to two former colleagues and now friends of mine (Kim and Greg) so we enjoyed some banter over the food.
What did we enjoy? All of it but if I were to summarise some highlights they would be:
- Freshness of the first green asparagus dish which was crunchy and herbaceous with a cold tang of horseradish contrasted by the natural warming heat of it
- Beautiful tuna tartare with a lovely contrasting cube of seared tuna
- Sweet, creamy and unctuous crab with fresh almonds and a salty sea note running through. This was a surprise course for us.
- Surf and turf - fleshy barramundi with a heavy braised beef cheek accompaniment. Surprisingly the dish held up the heavy and hearty meaty goodness.
- Another surprise course served in a paper bag - a chiko roll like one from a fish and chip place but made with wallaby. It was like a yummy Greggs pasty for those UK readers. The wallaby theme continued to another surprise course.
- Beautiful rare wallaby with a strong gamey flavour sweetened by beets and bitter chocolate
- Lamb with a lovely ratatouille of eggplant but I felt the middle eastern spicing was a not my thing. The goats milk bubbles were very unusual and exciting though.
- The Wagyu was really special. Melted on the tongue, incredibly rich and succulent. Almost spongey in texture unlike anything I've had before
- Sweet saganaki dessert was a talking point especially as it was sweetened by beetroot and the sweetness cut through with a yoghurt ice cream. Like the Wagyu, it was something so different to anything we'd had before but this time it was because it was created that way whereas the Wagyu is a natural product that is just so different
George popped into the restaurant and he found some time to come over and say hello which was very good of him making us feel welcome and valued.
I love the combination of cleverness and creativity that the Press Club brings out but also that it sticks to familiar flavours and its roots are traditional so whilst there are unusual and things that raise questions and causes dinner table discussions, there is no denying it's still delicious.
Following the Press Club, I was invited to a business lunch by a supplier at PM 24. It wasn't my choice so don't go thinking I'm a mad GC fan and every meal I have has to support him! Having said that I was pleased with the decision.
There were 5 of us at the lunch and we had main courses and desserts. My companions all decided to go with the signature rotisserie chicken and in my bid to be different I went steak frites with bearnaise sauce.
It was classical French cooking and we appreciated the superior produce and traditional execution done well. My frites were more the traditional Aussie hot chip and not the crispy shoestring fries of France so perhaps there's something there to think about but they were good chips so not really a point of criticism more a point of consideration.
Service was efficient and unobtrusive. Clever that they bring the tray of desserts to the table as saying no and declining becomes far too difficult. I went for the pretty fruit tart and the others opted for a coffee cream and the rum baba. Comments were that the rum baba packed a powerful punch of rum. The coffee cream was coffee flavoured and creamy so pleasant enough. My fruit tart was a little dry but because it was small the dryness wasn't too much of an issue.
Lunch at PM24 was followed by a last family dinner with mo fo bro at St Katherine's. My father in law chose to go there so Georgie C seems to be a Barley fave. During their trip here we had some epic meals and went to some great places and we let my father in law have free reign as to where he wanted to go for our last supper before they left and St Katherine's was his choice so off we went on Wednesday evening.
We deliberated over their feast menus or to come up with our own and we decided to go with our own instincts and choose what we wanted.
The dips were as per the previous time we had them, delicious. The fava one wasn't on the menu and was replaced by a carrot and pumpkin one which seemed the least popular on our table. I'm not a carrot fan so didn't expect to like it anyway. The bread went down a storm and I think in the space of three minutes we chowed down 4 bagfuls!
Grilled halloumi was good but apparently not as good as the saganaki with peppered figs at Hellenic. Lamb sausage was a bit too dense and meaty for me but the men liked it. I loved the KFC which was pure meat with a moreish BBQ sauce and Kewpie mayo. Also have to mention that the packaging at St Kat's is always fun with bright stripey tubs and paper bags of bread.
The grilled John Dory was one of my favourites with a zesty and herby flavouring to it. We also shared the ribs and the mixed dish of chicken and lamb. Chips and tarama was passed around and my wariness of the tarama turned into delight. It wasn't overly fishy and was more creamy and salty so a good alternative to aioli. I also enjoyed the rice pilaf and corn salad as per the last visit.
Dessert time consisted of a couple of the Mrs Whippi's and some panna cotta. Mrs Whippi was a success. The panna cotta I felt was a little mediocre. The raspberry flavours didn't really come through and there wasn't a lot of panna cotta - just a few blobs scattered around. The lemon although delicious by itself overwhelmed the rest of the components of the dish so all I could taste was lemon.
Discussions over dinner was that St Kat's is quite similar to Hellenic Republic in its family sharing style. I personally prefer the taverna vibe at Hellenic as St Kat's is a little bright and refectory like for me but the food at St Kat's floats my boat more. The overall verdict was that food preferences laid with St Kat's but the saganaki at Hellenic Republic is the best dish between the two overall.
Following this dinner, a few work colleagues and I had lunch at Maha the next day! Not my idea ok!? We went for the two course soufra for $35 and it was great. We started off with some bread and mezze consisting of some whole almonds with cumin salt, olives, a walnut dip and some radishes in honey, black pepper and coriander. Who knew almonds had a furry coating like a peach? The bread was warm and soft and after one roll each, a second one came out soon after.
Our main course was a piece of Spanish mackerel done sous vide on top of some wilted spinach and the signature 12 our lamb with some mushroom rice and a fresh salad. The quality of these dishes is very good and the price tag makes it such value for money. No one could not enjoy mackerel cooked well and soft tender lamb.
We were well looked after and food was served within the time frame we requested and we all left with full bellies and smiley faces. Winner!
So that was my Calombaris endurance test and what a one it was. Friends have said that I wimped out and really should have fitted the other two in. I guess without sponsorship I wasn't able to finish the course!