We’d let Jimmy Grants take precedence over a meal at Gazi, George Calombaris’s loud, spirited Greek dining room, for too long. At the end of the 4 day extravaganza that was the Melbourne Grand Prix the city’s restaurants were buzzing and Gazi was no exception. The terracotta pot lined ceiling, the open kitchen and relatively close quarters you can find yourself in with other diners makes for a cosy dining experience. The menu is varied and offers dips, Hellenic ‘dirty food’ (Greek street food), souvlakakia, salads and wood-fired/wood spit meats. Greek restaurants in New Zealand are few and far between and it’s been an age since I was last in Greece, so I was more than ready to get stuck into the menu.
We order a couple of Hellenic ‘dirty food’ dishes, a duck souvalakakia (a small souva), some pork belly from the wood fired spit and a village salad. TBS drinks a Vergina Red lager (an amber lager) and I sip on a glass of 2012 Kumeu River ‘Village’ chardonnay.
The kalamari arrives first- it’s remarkably tender- cooked to perfection. Alongside toasted pine nuts, spinach and slivers of guanciale (an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl) it rests atop a generous pool of baba ghanoush. Each bite is creamy and light, the guanciale offering bursts of welcome saltiness.
The pikilia piston lahaniko is a jumble of melt in the mouth eggplant and zucchini, tangy pickled Lombardo peppers, creamy chunks of manouri cheese and tyrokafteri- a sauce if you like, made up of feta, roasted peppers, yoghurt and garlic. The dish is full of flavour and contrasting textures. Both ‘dirty dishes’ are very appetising indeed.
The duck souvalakakia reminds us why we’re addicted to Jimmy Grants. The pillowy soft bread encases thin French fries, parsley, perky red onion, slivers of sweet pear, chunks of tender duck and swirls of mustard mayo. It’s messy, oh so satisfying eating.
The village salad is exactly what we hoped it would be. That addictive, fresh concoction of tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta, onion and pickled caper leaves. Our meal would be sorely lacking without it and it’s the ideal accompaniment to the wood-fired pork belly that lands on the table next.
Three generous slices of pork belly rest on smears of apple skordalia and white beans and is drizzled with a chunky walnut dressing. It looks great but unfortunately doesn’t taste great. The meat is dry in parts- unable to be alleviated by the skordalia, and the crackle is chewy and tough. We struggle through about a third of the dish before admitting defeat. It’s disappointing as all the dishes that have gone before the pork have been delicious. But it is here that Gazi redeems itself.
Our waitress clears our plates and asks if the pork was okay given there’s a lot leftover. We tell her what we think and in less than two shakes Fleur the manager is by our side thanking us for our feedback, whipping the pork off our bill and asking if we would like something else from the menu to replace it. The way they deal with the situation is exemplary.
We can’t resist the sound of the creme kataifi- a creme brûlée minus the crisp, ‘burnt’ top. The custard is voluptuous and silky and the delicate nest of kataifi is scattered with petals, pistachio and drizzled with honey syrup. We love it. Fleur glides over to let us know the dessert is on the house and delivers a couple of sugar dusted, rose Turkish delight.
We’d return to Gazi in a heartbeat- for the lively atmosphere, the gracious service and more, more, more ‘dirty dishes’. Oh and those souvalakakia- there definitely won’t be any sharing next time round.
Good to know:
Vergina Red lager, Thrace, HR $10
2012 Kumeu River ‘Village’ Chardonnay, Kumeu, New Zealand $11
Pikilia psiton lahaniko $12.50
Duck souvlakakia $12
Pork belly from the wood fired spit $32
Horiatiki (village salad) $12.50
Creme kataifi $12.50
2 Exhibition Street
Telephone +61 3 9207 7444
Open 7 days, 11:30am to late.
Images: Thomas Southam