Some of my fondest travel memories are of travelling around Greece, chasing the sun from the mainland and hopping from island to island. Whenever I’m looking for an escape from the busy office, I often transport myself back to the Greek Islands, where I once spent countless hours basking in the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea and watching the sun go down in Santorini. But my favourite memory is sitting at a seaside Greek taverna sipping ouzo and feasting on seafood and slow roasted lamb fresh from the spit.
Luckily for me, Melbourne is home to a thriving Greek scene. One of my favourite Greek restaurants is Hellenic Republic, the brain child of George Calombaris. It may look a bit more modern than your average Greek taverna but it does serve authentic, hearty Greek cuisine.
With its splashes of aegean blue and white throughout the venue, Hellenic Republic remains true to its Greek heritage. Its vast size has been cleverly broken up into sections to give it a feeling of warmth and character. For a venue of its size, the acoustics are surprisingly sound. It may not feel like you’re dining in yia yias’s kitchen but the restaurant manages to effortlessly blend elements of old and new as one happy family.
The menu is designed to share and showcases the best of authentic Greek cuisine with a modern twist. Renowned chefs George Calombaris and Travis McAuley pride themselves in sourcing the best and freshest ingredients from Greece and Melbourne to create authentic recipes in a clean, modern style.
If you’re feeling hungry, try the Trapezi or Athenian banquet menu – prices at $58 and $70 per person. We opted for a selection of the large and small plates, recommended by our lovely waitress for the evening.
To start – a plate of freshly made pita, soft and fluffy with a slightly crisp chargrilled shell ($5). The partner – a roasted beetroot dip ($10) filled with a creamy feta centre which cut through the earthy beetroot beautifully.
One look at the saganaki ($15)was enough to make the arteries harden. The generous slab of Kefalograviera cheese sizzled ferociously on a hot grill when served. With a slightly crisp golden layer at the top, the real treat is the soft oozing layer of goodness which lies beneath. The sheeps’ cheese was slightly salty, typical of most cheeses used in saganaki, and was pleasantly broken up by a hint of sweetness from the soaked figs.
In true Greek fashion, the Paithakia lamb cutlets ($22), cooked medium-rare were cooked to perfection, falling apart from the bone with ease. The delicate seasoning of oregano and a hint of lemon juice allowed the lamb to shine, without overpowering it.
Don’t miss the delicacies, fresh from the oven. One of the best being the slow roasted shoulder of lamb ($32), which was gently braised and deliciously fragrant from the fresh oregano permeating through it. The only problem is that there was too much of it – I would recommend a half serve next time. We keenly reached for the horiatiki (Greek salad) ($12) and triple cooked chips for a bit of a break.
The spanakopita was beautifully presented, encased in impossibly soft, paper thin layers of filo pastry. The spinach and feta filling was well-balanced and lightly seasoned, melding beautifully with the pastry.
Make sure you consult your second stomach to make room for their dessert menu. It’s everything a good Greek dessert menu should be – syrupy, sweet and full of flavour. The galaktoboureko ($10) was one of the best of its kind I have had. Wafer thin layers of filo pastry sandwich a generous filling of semolina infused custard which is so dreamy, creamy and light. But the real hero of the dish is the orange and glyka syrup which soaks so eagerly into the pastry layer with a delicate citrusy sweetness.
Hellenic Republic is definitely one of the leaders in good quality Greek cuisine in Melbourne. I will be back again soon, when I am looking for a temporary fix for my Greek travel bug
Approximately $55pp including a range of sharing plates and drinks.