Being our last night in Melbourne and meeting 2 good friends, Ping, Boay and Boay’s family for dinner, we booked to check out Helenic Republic.
George Calombaris either has his own personal Delphic oracle, or possibly we should credit him with a canny understanding of the world economy. Maybe he’s just plain lucky. Whatever the case, with Hellenic Republic – the East Brunswick outpost of the growing Calombaris empire – he has produced a recession-proof restaurant.
It’s cheap(ish), cheerful and just a little bit cheeky. It has been dubbed as “the Jetstar version of the Press Club”. This restaurant does offer comfort food for troubled times. It’s gutsy, uncomplicated, home-style Greek cooking.
Rather than the plush, darkened, reverential dinner environment of the Press Club, this is a space open on two sides to an abundance of light, offering lunch and dinner during the week with the addition of brunch on the weekends. This is the sort of place where one glass of wine is rarely enough.
Its white-washed frontage and Greek striped awnings give way to street art designs along the side wall, declaring its position as a Hellas meets Melbourne eatery infused with a relaxed vibe that’s becoming rare in the establishments of the celebrity chef set.
This theme carries through to the dining area, where traditional cuisine is flavoured with a contemporary twist and delivered to your table by laid-back yet attentive wait staff.
The menu is meant to be shared among the diners so we decided to order a few different dishes. The wait staff were great in recommending some dishes for us to try. One of them was Tyri saganaki – Kefalograviera with peppered figs. Kefalograviera is a hard sheep milk cheese with a salty flavor and rich aroma. It is often used in a Greek dish called Saganaki, cut into triangular pieces, rolled in seasoned flour and lightly fried.
The peppered figs were sweet and peppery and were exactly the perfect complement to the cheese. It was so yummy that we ordered a second helping.
Pita bread with a side of tzatziki is a must at a Greek restaurant. Tzatziki is a typical Greek dip made of cucumber, dill, garlic, olive oil and yoghurt. It is lovely and refreshing.
Loukaniko was another dish not to be missed and it is their smoked pork and leek sausage which is then lightly grilled with a hint of chilli and served with a slice of lemon wedge. So simple, yet so effective.
Another recommendation from the wait staff was to try the arni sto fourno which is the slow roasted shoulder of lamb marinated with garlic and oregano. It was beautiful and very tender, falling off the bone when you cut through the meat. The texture and taste of the meat reflected on how well they were marinated and treated, and the time they spent under the heat.
One dish that we just had to have was Mary’s moussaka. This is George’s mum recipe for moussaka and seeing it being done on Masterchef, we couldn’t leave without giving it a go. It is not a massive dish but underneath that molten crust is a mix of eggplant and potato slices coupled with a meat based ragu.
A couple of vegetable dishes that we ordered were patzari salata which is a beetroot salad mixed with yoghurt and coriander and fasolaskia which was steamed green beans topped with feta and pine nuts. Both were simple and really delicious.
To state the obvious, Hellenic Republic is a Greek restaurant and it would look similar to many many other Greek restaurants. The difference here however is in the delivery and quality of ingredients used. Similarly, the space is understated and casual which for a place like this, it should be. On our visit, the service was really good too with staff being completely accommodating without being intrusive. Definitely well worth it.
On the whole, 8 ½ for food quality, 8 ½ for atmosphere, 8 ½ for pricing ($50 per person) and 8 ½ for service.
434 Lygon St,
Brunswick East, Victoria
Tel: 03 9381 1222
BREAKFAST: SAT - SUN 9 UNTIL 11.30AM
LUNCH: FRI – SUN 12 UNTIL 4PM
DINNER: MON – SUN 5.30PM UNTIL LATE