Gazi – Greek Hawker Style Food

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halal symbol* NOTE : The Lamb and Beef are Halal – at the time I went they couldn’t confirm that the chicken was as they couldn’t get in touch with the supplier. So just call up and check if you want to know.

There was a long awaited catchup that was in order and I heard of George Calombaris’ new restaurant – Gazi – opening up so suggested we try it. Gazi is located where The Press Club used to reside – in Exhibition Street in the Melbourne CBD – and looks totally different to what The Press Club did. For all you Press Club fans – The Press Club will be re-opening in the later part of 2013 and located where The Little Press used to be situated (next door to Gazi).

Gazi can be seen as the city sister restaurant of Hellenic Republic (located in Brunswick) and is an all day diner that represents Hellenic street food- Calombaris dubs this “Hellenic dirty food” – delivered in classic Melbourne style. Gazi is named after Calombaris; favourite Athens neighborhood and has a wow factor as you walk into the elegant cave like restaurant. The wow factor I talk about comes from the ceiling canopy of more than 3000 terracotta pots turned upside down that also provide a glow to the ceiling. Beneath this breathtaking art installation is where diners seat. There are booths along the outer edges of the restaurants, as well as seating at the bar which allows you to see the chefs moving fast paced to make each and everyone of the dishes. There is also seating throughout the rest of the restaurant in the form of wooden tables and comfortable seating.

Another great aspect to the interior is the table decor – each table has royal blue plates with a huge evil eye located in the centre – which is called  μάτι (mati) – and is a charm of sorts that according to superstition wards off bad luck. There is a description of this on the menu. Something a little special to be noted is the presence of two suitcases as decor – they are mounted on the wall facing the kitchen. They both hang open and if you take a look inside there is a date and name present – and these represent the years and the names of Calombaris’ grandfather and grandmother. The years represent the years which they made their long journey across from Greece to Australia. Such a great touch and addition to this already spectacular place.

The staff are super friendly and welcoming – starting from the time you walk into the restaurant to when you leave. They welcome you with a Greek greeting such as “Kalispera” which means Good Evening. As I only eat halal meats, I asked our waitress if any of the meats were halal – she went to ask the chef if they were and came back to inform me that the Lamb and Beef were, but they weren’t sure if the Chicken was as they couldn’t get in touch with their supplier. The fact that they went to the effort to try and contact the supplier I thought was great. Thumbs up for service for sure. They are also enthusiastic and happy to offer up opinions on what types of foods we should try or if we had enough food ordered or not.

This night there were four of us for dinner and we were located in a booth seating and as we had an early dinner booking, they needed the table back by 8:30pm. As we perused the menu’s we ordered some drinks. The drinks menu is quite impressive in itself – there are cocktails, mocktails, wine, ouzo and more to choose from. There are 6 different mocktails to choose from all of which have really interesting ingredients for a mocktail drink such as cucumber, beetroot, egg white etc. I started off with the Cucumber, Rose Water, Lime and Soda which was quite different. The Cucumber taste was quite strong and left quite a dry taste in your mouth. I also go to try the Pear, Ginger, Lemon, Egg White (sour) drink which I preferred to the previous one.

The menu is split into 7 different sections – starting off with Dips, then Ethnika Vromika which are smaller dishes,  Soulakakakia, Wood Fire Grill and Wood Fire Spit sections, Salads, Vegetables, Pulses & Grains and finally ending with Dessert. Head chef is Luke Croston and he has done great things in providing an insight into food from street vendors as well as bustling ouzerias. At Gazi the kitchen not only has a wood fire grill but a wood fired spit as well (you can check it out in the gallery above). There is a 10-course sharing menu that you can choose that costs $69 per person – and the kitchen can tailor make this to be vegetarian, pescatrarian etc – and is aptly named “Doing It Greek Style”. We did consider this option however with differing dietary requirements amongst us we decided to do our own version of the 10-course menu =p Also something to note is for Lunch on Monday to Fridays there is a “Bend Over Box” which takes you from savoury to sweet – something that I need to come back to try.

We decided t o get 5 “Ethnika Vromika” dishes – which are the Hellenic Dirty Food hawker style dishes. The Crispy Lamb Brains with charred creamed leeks, picked grapes was first to arrive. I have never had lamb brains before so I was a bit apprehensive at first to try it out – but if you don’t keep thinking that they are lamb brains then it just tastes like a lamb cutlet really. There is a crunchy golden crumb on the outside and the lamb brain mixture on the inside is smooth and flavoursome – kind of creamy tasting. The addition of the creamy leeks and the pickled grapes which adds sweetness to the dish and it really is a great flavour combination.  I actually really enjoyed this dish.

Next we got the Prawns – Braised, Olives, Capers, Onions, Garlic & Parsley (there are three pieces of prawn in this dish). The prawns are decently sized and are wood-fired showcasing its woody flavours. The prawns are nice but not a stand out dish to me.

We also ordered the Koulourakia with meze – Lamb Keftethes, Braised Baby Octopus. I was really looking forward to this dish – I am a huge Lamb Kefte fan – but I was disappointed at the size of the Keftethes. They are as small as a marble. The flavours of the Keftethes however are delicious – perfectly seasoned and cooked. This meze comes with Braised Baby Octopus, as well as some Smoked Pork Belly and some Bread to eat all these elements with. The concept of the meze is good idea and it works – I just think the Keftethes could have been bigger.

We then got the Roast Bull Horn Peppers – Chargrilled Cuttlefish,Witlof. Garlic Dressing. This dish was quite colourful and vibrant, and had the flavours to match. The cuttlefish were cooked for just the right amount and wasn’t tough at all, the garlic dressing was punchy and together with the roast bull horn peppers (which provided the smokiness) worked well together.

Lastly we got the Saganaki – Cumquat and Currant Mustard Glyko. The Saganaki – which in this case is a wedge of Kefalograviera – serves as the base and the cumquat glyko with currants is smeared over the top of it. This dish is an interesting concept putting together the sweet and cheese flavours and I think (as did everyone else on the table) that it worked. The cumquat jam provided some tanginess and the currants some extra sweetness to balance out the strong cheese flavour.

We all had heard about the souvlakis’ here and couldn’t have come to Gazi for Dinner and not have tried them out. There are four different varieties to choose from – Chicken, Beef Brisket, Pork and Crab. I ordered the Crab Souvlaki. The Souvlaki is served on pillowy marshmallow soft flat bread which encases the soft shell crab that comes with coriander, mint and mayonnaise. There are juices which flood out the bottom, but you are still left with so much flavour as you bite into these. The other souvlaki have a welcome addition of French fries which I think is a great idea. I first had French fries in my souvlaki when I visited Saudia Arabia and it was strange at first – but a welcome strangeness.

At this point we were all pretty full and wondered if we had ordered too much food. We still had the Baby Snapper from the Wood Fire Grill and the Chicken from the Wood Fire Spit to come. Together with this we ordered two Salads – Marouli – Iceberg Lettuce, Lemon, Olive Oil, Oregano and the Beetroot – Roasted, Pearl Barley, Peanut Hommus, Toursi Red Onion, Watercress. I couldn’t try the chicken from the wood fire spit – but my friends told me that it was a really great dish – the chicken was moist and the combination of the feta and the red capsicum (tyrokafteri) together with the white beans was tasty. The Baby Snapper from the Wood Fire Grill was great as well – the snapper was moist and not too dry. The fish on its own didn’t have as much flavour as I would have expected, but with the topping of chickpeas and caramelised onions it enhanced this flavour.

The Beetroot salad was one of my favourite dishes of the night. The Pearl Barley together was soft and together with the crunchy sweetness of the beetroot and the nutty hommus – presented the perfect balance of flavours. The Marouli salad was a simple flavoured salad was a great palate cleanser from all the flavours we had had.

Despite being quite full we couldn’t leave without trying out the desserts. And really everyone somehow has space for desserts. We placed our order and went with getting the Pavlova, Loukomathes, Brulee and Bombe Metaxa. It was 8:30pm at this point, and when I had made the booking was told that they would need the table back by that time. So we had to move over to the bar to have our desserts which we were totally fine with, but the waitress felt so bad and was apologising profusely (eventhough we knew we had to be out of there by a certain time) – see service is a sure winner here at Gazi. And for our troubles, she ended up not charging us for one of the desserts for being so nice about moving.

The Pavlova is a dessert with the WOW factor – it is a spherical meringue that has been shaped around a balloon and dusted with dehydrated raspberry and musk. Inside this meringue cave is ruby red grapefruit sorbet and pomegranate seeds. There are so many little surprises in this dish and it’s really a fun dish to eat. The meringue is crunchy and not too sweet. I love the addition of pomegranate seeds adding a bit of tang amongst all the sweetness. Another WOW factor dish was the Bombe Metaxa which states is for two people but really it is so big that it could easily feed more. The dish come out and looks somewhat like a white bee hive (meringue) – once it has been placed on the table, it is flambed right in front of you. Inside is Tsoureki which is Greek Bread that is similar to Brioche, layered with chocolate ice cream and chocolate wafer. The meringue on the Bombe Metaxa is soft and gooey, whereas the meringue on the pavlova is crunchy and crisp.

The Brulee comes with Date, Turkish Delight Crumble and was also delish. The brulee custard  itself was smooth and creamy and full of flavour – the addition of dates and Turkish delight further added to this. Lastly we had the Loukomathes which are served with Cocoa Nibs and Honey. These are Greek donuts and are served warm and are like eating fluffy clouds. Really delicious.

The atmosphere is buzzing and vibrant and the place is full of character. Everyone is there to have a good time at dinner and enjoy this bit of Greece right in the heart of the CBD and its so easy to do here at Gazi. It is welcome addition to the MADE establishment and to Colombaris’ repertoire. The service is fantastic and the food is really really delicious. I would definitely recommend this place to any of my friends. From the drinks to the desserts there isn’t much you can fault. And you really do need to visit to check out the terracotta pot art installation – so grab a group of friends and explore the menu.

Rating : 4.5 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – You can view the menu at http://gazirestaurant.com.au/menu/.
Direct link for the Dinner Menu – http://gazirestaurant.com.au/menu/pdf/lunch-dinner
Direct link for the Drinks Menu – http://gazirestaurant.com.au/storage/menu/Gazi_Beverage_List.pdf

There is a 10 course tasting menu including your choice of souvlaki for $69 per person called “Doing It Greek Style” and a
Lunch menu for $27.50 which is called “Bend Over Box” which is available Monday to Friday till 3pm – it includes dishes from savory to sweet.
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Vibrant, Casual, Fun and Enjoyable. Bring a group of friends as most of the menu is for sharing dishes – this way you can sample the menu.
Standout Dish: Souvlakis, Roast Bull Horn Peppers, The Pavlova, Lambs Brains, Beetroot – Roasted, Pearl Barley, Peanut Hommus, Toursi Red Onion, Watercress (I couldn’t pick just one – so picked one from each section of the menu)
Service: Fantastic – Friendly and very helpful if you want to know anything about the dishes or even if you want to find out if the meat is halal.
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://gazirestaurant.com.au/ Bookings are recommended but if its not your thing you can just walk in.
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://gazirestaurant.com.au/
2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Tel No: 9207 7444

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 11:30am – 11:00pm

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The Press Club – Food with a Greek Twist

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Drinks at Press Club Butter with Cod Flavoured Butter Peas, Pickled Mushroom, Marouli Tomato, Olive, Cucumber Salmon, Fosolakia, Skordalia Chicken, Corn, Kritharaki Fruits, Sorbet, Ice Cream Karythopita, Creme Fraiche, Cherry

The Press Club is a two-hatted restaurant owned by chef and restaurateur George Colombaris. The Press Club showcases Colombaris’ Greek heritage together with modern Australian dishes, and is one of the most popular venues in Melbourne.

Ever since I started to watch Masterchef and there was a challenge where the contestants had to cook at The Press Club, I wanted to try out the Degustation menu with the distinctive Aphrodite dessert. However, I never got around to visiting and the dessert no longer exists, yet I still had to make to this famous venue. Previously, I had only come here late one night for a dessert fix and found the desserts were absolutely delectable, so high expectations were set for the food.

The Press Club is a classy yet welcoming place – there are dark floors, a wooden ceiling which have dangling light globes and beautiful textured wallpaper. Tables are decked out with a white table cloth and have a spot of colour in the form of an orange water glass (which I loved!), and are spaced out perfectly and is what adds the casualness to the place. The staff are friendly, passionate and knowledgeable and make the place even warmer. The kitchen is an open style theatre and allows diners to look at the chefs preparing meals. Just at the front of the open kitchen is a marble table which serves as a “Chef’s Table,” where diners can see the chefs plating up dishes right in front of them. The restaurant exudes elegance and class.

My friends and I arrived for a lunchtime meal and had three options menuwise to select from – Mini Symposium Degustation, The Kerasma or the Business Lunch. The Mini Symposium Degustation was 6 courses that each person on the table would get, The Kerasma was the ” To Treat and To Share” menu, where the entire table would have a selection of Tastes, Small, Main and Dessert dishes to share and lastly, the Business Lunch where you could either select from 2 or 3 courses. We decided to do the Business Lunch and I opted for the 3 courses.

The meal started off with complimentary bread that came with house-made salted cod roe butter. There were two different types of bread available – olive and plain. I wasn’t a massive fan of the salted cod roe butter (due to not being a massive fan of cod), however the rest of the table did enjoy it and said it complimented the breads, and was especially suited to the olive bread. The butter itself was airy, light and fluffy and the texture was perfect. For my first course I had the Peas, Pickled Mushroom, Marouli which I thought was a very fresh dish made from the freshest of ingredients. The ingredients worked well together and had a great after taste as well – clean and delicious. I would have liked more of the avocado to be added, but that’s just being picky.

My next dish was Salmon, Fosolakia, Skordalia. Fosolakia is the Greek for beans and Skordalia is a thick puree made of crushed garlic with a thick base such as potatoes etc. The Salmon was the perfect pink colouring and cooked to perfection with the right amount of crispness in the skin. Matched together with the beans and the puree sauce – it made for a great combination and was my favourite dish of the day. The fish was juicy and flavoursome and the beans provided the texture in the form a great crunch.

For dessert I had the Karythopita, Creme Fraiche, Cherry – which was a de-constructed cheesecake / walnut cake. This dish was good but not great. The crumble was fresh and tasted great. The main cheesecake / walnut cake part was nice and had great texture and flavour, but as a whole I thought this dish could have been a whole lot better. My friend had the Fruits and Sorbet Ice cream – three different house-made flavours of sorbet with fresh fruit. The flavours were deceiving and not what you would expect from the colours that you see. Worth trying!

Overall the food and ambience of The Press Club is fantastic and the staff are friendly and attentive. You can fire off any questions you have about the menu or drinks and they will tell you the answers, and if they don’t know it they wouldn’t hesitate to go and find out. Perfect service! The quality of the food is fantastic and you can tell that real care and love has been put into every dish.

The Press Club has announced on its site that it will be closing in March 2013 and a complete refurbishment of this space will welcome Gazi’, an informal restaurant inspired by the street food of Athens. For more information please visit their website – http://www.thepressclub.com.au/newsreviews.html

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$$$
Menu –There are many menus to select from – Lunch menu (http://www.thepressclub.com.au/lunchmenu.html) – which consists of the Keresma, Business Lunch and Mini Symposium Degustation Menus, Dinner Menus (http://www.thepressclub.com.au/dinnermenu.html) – which is the Symposium Degustation where you can select from either 5 or 8 courses
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Classy, Elegant and Inviting
Standout Dish: Salmon, Fosolakia, Skordalia. Fosolakia
Service: Fantastic, Friendly, Attentive and Knowledgeable. Outsanding service!
Online Booking: Yes and Reservations are Essential – via http://www.thepressclub.com.au/bookings.html
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.thepressclub.com.au/index.html
72 Flinders St, Melbourne
Tel No: 9677 9677

Opening Hours:
Lunch
Monday – Sunday: 12pm to 3pm
Dinner
Monday – Sunday: 6pm to 10pm

The Press Club on Urbanspoon

Mama Baba – A Combination of Greek and Italian

          
      

Left to Right (clockwise) : Haloumi Fried Cheese with Beetroot Relish, Cured Salmon with Yoghurt and Greens, Chorizo Sausage with Peppers, Penne Pasta with Pesto, Peas’ and Almonds, Gnudi- Ricotta, burnt butter, honey, walnuts, sage, capers, Beef Cheek with 2 cheese Wet Polenta, Snapper Fillet with Fish Broth and Lettuce, Capers,Polenta Chips with Sour Cream, Chilli Soffritto

Left to Right (clockwise) : Mama Baba decor, “Our Ferrero Rocher” dessert, the Hanging cheese and meats looking into the kitchen, The bicycle and fruits at the Entrance, The dining area with the bar and the projector wall in the background, The other desserts – The Italian Mess – Caramel mascarpone, meringue, fruits  and Bomboloni – Cinnamon, Nutella
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Our fortnightly work dinner catchup had come around again and this time the place that was chosen was George Colmabaris’ restaurant Mama Baba. I have previously been to his other restaurants (Maha, Press Club, St Katherines to name a few) and have usually enjoyed the food. Mama Baba has a combination of Greek and Italian dishes as the name pertains to – his Mama is Greek and his Baba is Italian (there are decorations around the venue that state this). I think the naming of this restaurant is unique and really shows how much focus he has on family and food which I think is fantastic.

This is not your typical restaurant venue like his other places. It is located in back streets of South Yarra and in what used to be an old warehouse.  It is a wide open spacious restaurant and has a vintage feel to it. You are greeted when you first walk in with a bicycle and some fruits which then follows around to the open and see through kitchen, where you can see the chefs busily preparing food. Cheeses and meats hang from the ceiling. There is a long bar which almost spans the length of the restaurant and has highlighted lighting and is colourful  Something a bit different is the curved wall where a projector plays visual items – on this occasion we had the ballet and then it later changed to the movie – TRON.

In most of George’s Restaurants like Hellenic Republic and St Katherines’, the food has a very homey feeling. Mama Baba is the same. It has a rustic and home cooked feeling to it. The Menu is split into two sections – the Mama which are the Greek dishes, and the Baba section which are the Italian dishes. You can either go A la Carte or choose from the Mama Menu. We decided to go with the Mama Menu – which is a selection of dishes over 4 courses – we were told this was the best way to try out the menu.

The dishes that we got served are pictured above. We started off with 3 entrees plus a vegetarian option for me (Polenta Chips with Sour Cream). The Fried Haloumi with Beetroot Relish was the standout amongst the entrees as was the Cured Salmon with Yoghurt and Greens. Next we got a selection of pasta and this is where I had one gripe – some of my pasta pieces weren’t cooked fully and were hard. The flavour however was nice – pesto and peas and this dish was the greenest dish I have ever seen! The standout dish here and in fact for the night was the Gnudi (Gnocchi). There is just something about the combination of Gnocchi and Burnt butter that makes me drool!  The gnocchi itself were huge and if you were to order just that and have all 5 gnocchis you will definitely need to be rolled out of the restaurant.
The mains were nothing to write home about, they were OK. I could actually taste the fishiness of the fish that came out, and I am never a fan of that. As a vegetarian substitute because I couldn’t eat the Beef Cheek – I was given a wheat grain rice mixed with vegetables which was packed full of flavour and was actually quite nice and very filling, however a bit on the salty side.

Onto dessert (the most important part of the meal I say) – we were given a selection of the Italian Mess and the Bomboloni. Prior to coming to the restaurant, as I do, I checked out the menu and really wanted to try out “Our Ferrero Rocher” – so we ordered that as well. For $13 I was expecting a lot more than a tiny little dessert and was also let down by the flavour. There were no nuts as a normal ferrero rocher has or the wafer biscuit bits. This dessert is one that was talked about so I was expecting something special.

Overall, the place and the decor was fantastic. The food is not up to the normal standard that I would expect from a George Colombaris restaurant. The food was good but not great. Might give it a few months before I go back and try some of the other menu items.

Rating : 3 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – A la Carte Menu, Mama Menu (4 Courses for $55) and Group Menus – http://mamababa.com.au/menus/
Fullness: 85%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Funky, Vintage and Open – a massive fan!
Standout Dish: Gnudi
Service: Great Service and very friendly. Sometimes though it was a bit hard to get the waiters attention if we needed something. Also when I called up to make a reservation I had a query about if the food was halal and the lady said she would find out and call me back – and she did. Impressed by that.
Online Booking: No
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://mamababa.com.au/
21 Daly St, South Yarra
Tel No: 9207 7421

Opening Hours:
Lunch: Friday & Sunday: 12pm – 3pm
DINNER:
Monday-Thursday & Saturday:  6pm – LATE
Friday & Sunday: 5pm – LATE

Mama Baba on Urbanspoon