Friday, March 14, 2014

A Feast at Hellenic Republic

The other night Charlie and I went to Hellenic Republic with Brad and Katie and were served by Eric Northman, a handsome vampire with a somewhat unpredictable, yet lovable, temperament and a history of memory loss. Luckily our waiter (Alex, in real life) did not have memory loss. He did look a hell of a lot like Eric Northman, though. Like, imagine if Eric Northman was bringing you course after course of delicious greek food –  pretty sure this is what dreams are made of.

Charlie and I never made it to Hellenic Republic while we lived just around the corner from it in Brunswick, probably because we were poor and also skeptical of George Colambaris, the celebrity chef behind the restaurant. We've recently been enamored by Colambaris' Jimmy Grants in Collingwood, though, so we figured HR was worth a try. Plus, Katie and Brad rave about the place! Enough of a reason to make a booking right there.
After some convincing, I agreed to go with the Trapezi sharing menu at $58 a head, but only if we could also get an order of the moussaka, not included on the banquet. Eric Northman warned us that it would be too much food, so this time I was sure to ask first if wrapping leftovers was allowed. It was, but not before I signed a contract that the food was no longer the restaurant's responsibility. I mean, I get it, but I find it so bizarre that back home in the States, the land of law suits, wrapping leftovers is not a problem. Here, taking home leftovers is so stigmatized! Not only do you have to promise not to sue, you also kind of get the vibe that your waiter thinks you're cheap. Like, no, vampire, I'm not cheap. Just a glutton!
The food started coming pretty quickly – first, small dishes like mixed olives, warm pita and creamy, salty-sweet taramosalata. A neon-bright beet salad with yogurt, cilantro and smoked almonds. The beauty above: pastourma, a subtly salty cured meat, with fresh figs, cloud-light ricotta and more almonds. A beautifully composed bite and a beautifully presented dish.
Another favorite: tyra saganaki with peppered figs – the oozing slice of cheese fried to a golden crisp.
The seafood course is next – one slice of grilled fish of the day and one scallop each. These thick steaks, swordfish, if I'm correct, were gorgeously grilled and topped with diced vegetables. Tender, moist scallops were served in-shell with a crust of delicate garlicky breadcrumbs. These were tasty, but a kinda small. Give me more!
The seafood was served with a "Cypriot salad of grains, pulses and nuts," namely barley, lentils, more almonds, raisins and a ton of parsley with a dollop of yogurt on top. This was my favorite salad of the night – the raisins really lightened it up and lent a welcomed sweet note.

And finally, if not for our outstanding moussaka, the meat. A generous serve of chicken and lamb was accompanied by tzatziki, slaw and potatoes. At this point, my game was all about stomach space-preservation for the moussaka, but each meat was deliciously done. Dark meat chicken was flavorful, moist and well-seasoned and the lamb was as if it had just fallen off the bone. If there's one thing those Greeks know how to do, it's meat. The garlicky tzatziki was bright and laden with parsley.
Eric Northman apologized profusely (he glamoured us) that the moussaka hadn't arrived yet but I think we all just assumed it was coming after the meat. When it did arrive it was piping hot – a crisp golden crust gave way to a thick layer of creamy b├ęchamel and underneath, layers of sliced potato, meat and eggplant bubbled away. Eric was right that we didn't need it – I was the only one who ate more than a small spoonful – but it was totes worth the discomfort I experienced from once again overeating.
Creamy rice pudding came in cute little personal pots and was topped with salted caramel, almond pound cake and pistachios. You're gonna be full by this time, inevitably, but this is some seriously good rice pudding. Maybe the rice could have been a bit more al dente but, like, I don't know the mysteries of rice pudding and for all I know maybe this was exactly how rice pudding enthusiasts/Dionysians like their sweet, sweet grains. 

The moral of this Greek myth/vampire TV series is that Hellenic Republic is really good, even though it's not cheap and it's super hyped up. It's out of the way, but worth the odyssey-by-tram to Brunswick – Brunswick is the best, anyway.

Hellenic Republic: 434 Lygon St., Brunswick East, VIC 3057. (3)93811222
Hellenic Republic Brunswick on Urbanspoon


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