It looks deceitfully like a slice of pizza, but it isn’t. It is, in fact something better! The golden triangle of kefalotyri is pan fried to an even golden tan, glistening seductively in sweet, sticky honey. A charred wedge of lemon is begging for a squeeze; golden shower of zingy juice drips and bathes that salty love of soft cheese. I let out a sigh, this tasty saganaki has sent me into Dionysus‘ embrace on every mouthful.
My lust for Greek food is fulfilled at GAZI in Melbourne.
George Calombaris, I should know that name. Well indeed, I know him more than just the name. Let put it this way, he did praised my dish “Sex of the plate” many moons ago on that popular cooking reality TV show. Don’t judge him simply because he is short, at only the age of 36, he has built himself a successful multi million dollar empire, consisting of seven restaurants sprawl all over Melbourne, GAZI is one of them.
GAZI has now taken over the prime spot on Exhibition Street where The Press Club used to be. The swanky space has been stripped down to an unrecognisable grunge to fit in with the “messy Greek street food” menu. Exposed un-rendered concrete walls, high-back booth seating, black tables and metal chairs, it is unsophisticatedly casual but with a personal touch, the feature ceiling of an orange wave of upturned terracotta pots in different sizes are hard not be to acknowledged and awe-inspired. The beautiful masterpiece doesn’t stop me being paranoid that eventually one of them pots will fall down and crack my skull.
The place is heaving and booking is essential, we managed to secure a table for four at 8pm which was cheekily booked by my friend using my name, and dropping the “M” word.
Drink menu is extensive, but the special Greek Zodiac horoscope inspired cocktail menu caught our attention. Priced at $18 per concoction, but somehow the Sagittarius is significantly cheaper at only $6.00. As much as I would like to try my own star sign cocktail, but cheap cocktail rules. The half-man-half-horse of a cocktail is a summer friendly mix of gin, aperol, dry vermouth with mint and watermelon soda, served in a jar of course.
The boys are out for a good time this evening, we don’t even bother to peruse the menu and let the chefs bring forth the food, “Doing it Greek Style” banquet for $69.00 per person. We order three dips with bread to kick start our meal. The Tzatziki is possibly one of the best I’ve had, it actually has texture rather than being a soggy mess. The refreshing shredded cucumber offers light crunch in the thick Greek yoghurt that doesn’t drip all over the place.
But we absolutely adore the Taramosalata with prawn crackers. As our friend tells us that a good taramosalata shouldn’t be in a lurid pink hue if is made with good quality fish roe. The silky smooth creamy white dip packs a strong flavour of the sea from the caviar, the crunchy prawn cracker is a great contrast combo.
I love the new twist to the classic eggplant dip, melitzanosalata by using Japanese miso paste. The saltiness of miso elevates the sweet smokey flavour of the charred eggplant. I reckon all the dips here had been through a tornado whirl in a Thermomix, they are just so god damn smooth!
Another feature of GAZI worth mentioning is deep blue serving plate specially made for the restaurant. The design resembles “The evil eye”, known as ‘Mati’, a fixture in Greece commonly appeared on drinking vessels as many believe the eye can ward off the evil spirits and misfortune caused by the envy of others.
With the banquet, we will be sharing 10 dishes and first to arrive is the mithia brasto. It is served chilled, a school of cold meaty mussels are dressed in a herbaceous onion, garlic and tomato broth, the umami from the mussels opens up our appetite and we are ready for more food.
The saganaki is served on a small cast iron fry pan called the ‘saganaki’ in Greek, which is where the name of this dish came from. The kefalotyri cheese is very similar to haloumi, the firm cheese is salty, elastic enough but not stretchy, and that squeaky sensation. We would have easily order another serve if only because we still have another eight dishes to come.
The ultimate Greek street food, you simply can’t go past the souvlakakia. Diners are welcomed to choose their own souvlaki variations, but since there are four of us, we cover all the options. You snooze you lose, the soft shell crab souvlaki got snatched up immediately by fast hand at the table, leaving the duck, chicken and beef brisket to choose from. Apart from the soft shell crab, all other combos are served with fries wrapped up inside. All the meat are superbly tender and well seasoned.
We move on to something more substantial from the wood fire grill menu and get served with grilled swordfish and spit roast chicken from the rotisserie. I believe the two big hunk of swordfish fillets had been twiced cooked, steamed or sous vide to retain its moisture and it tends to dry out easily when overcooked, then finishing it off on the wood fire grill. A squeeze of lemon is all your need to offer a nice counterbalance to the sweet flakey flesh.
Nothing is better than serving chicken with the bones on. The generous serving is piled high up with spit roast chicken pieces that are deliciously tender meat even the breasts and intoxicatingly smoky from the rotisserie; served with hot harissa sauce to spice up your life. There are also two sides to do with the meat.
The Marouli is a flawless simple dish, a whole wedge of iceberg is charred lightly then lubricated liberally with lemon juice and olive oil then a light sprinkle of oregano leaves; great refreshing salad with the meat.
This chips gained its popularity from the sister restaurant Hellenic Republic and now everyone will be to enjoy it here at GAZI and also the newly opened Jimmy Grants. The golden chips are exactly how it should be, fat batons of crunchy goodness with fluffy waxy flesh inside, but it does get a little greasy with the garlic oil. But it is the addition of feta cheese that really gives those chips that extra touch of indulgence.
I have to say the desserts are possibly the weakest link on the menu. Acropolis Now brings the kitsch back in town, inspired from the historical landmark in Athens, the crumbled base of a pillar is made of strawberry mousse which seems a little firm to my liking. Next to it is a mound of coffee soil with the hint of refreshing pine forest flavour derived from mastic, an extract from the trunk of the mastic tree, wide grown on the Chios island in Greece.
Loukomathes, the Greek version donuts, the golden fried dough balls are firm and chewy, with a relentless sweetness from the soaking in honey syrup and a Nutella filling inside. I do like a couple gratings of lemon zest on the fried doughs tends to offset the sweetness nicely.
The food is good, the drink is cheap (only on Sagittarius), the vibe is fantastic. Despite the short man eats like a caveman on TV, he is actually quite a smart fella and able to put a smile on your face and your tummy with his Greek food. And he has lost a lot of weight recently too, so kudos to him! Oh shall I say, “Opaaaaa!”GAZI 2 Exhibition Street Melbourne Phone: +03 9207 7444 Opening hours: Lunch + Dinner 11.30am – late (11pm), daily