Hellenic Republic @ 434 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
16 January 2011
The bustling Hellenic Republic forms part of The Press Club Group, a burgeoning conglomerate of restaurants which, at present, also includes The Press Club, Maha Bar and Grill and the recently opened PM24. Apart from the association with celebrity chef George Calombaris, these restaurants, with the exception of PM24, have at least one other feature in common – their almighty Sunday lunch banquets which give diners the opportunity to indulge in mammoth quantities of food at affordable prices. At Hellenic Republic, for $58 per person, diners can order the banquet styled Trapezi menu and sample a vast range of dishes which, on our visit, included a selection of small tastes, grilled fish, spit roast meat and Greek doughnuts.
Our feast began with the saganaki - one of Hellenic Republic’s signature dishes and understandably so. The marriage of salty pan-seared Kefalograviera - a robust sheep milk cheese originating from Greece - with sweet caramelised figs was an unbeatable combination. With the added textural kick from the chewiness of the cheese, this dish was a highly addictive appetiser.
A range of small dishes followed: warm pita bread served with an interesting white cod roe dip; fennel seasoned veal shin with mild saffron yoghurt; cured salmon which was wonderfully complemented with ripe cantaloupe pieces; and honeyed carrot salad with walnuts, coriander and feta. These well formulated dishes of bold and vibrant flavour combinations showcased the culinary potential of Greek cuisine.
The scallops that followed were a case of ancillary ingredients overshadowing the intended hero of a dish. This dish was characterized more by the rich potato and garlic puree and the liberal serve of explicitly crunchy toasted breadcrumbs than it was about the petite and insipid scallop hidden within. This is not to say that the dish was not enjoyable – quite the contrary in fact – but a more balanced use of ingredients may have enhanced the overall dish.
The fish of the day was grilled swordfish with olives, shallots and parsley. While the swordfish steak was extremely dense and meaty in texture, it was surprisingly juicy and bursting with flavour. The fish was served with a Cypriot grain salad akin to the delicious cracked wheat and freekeh salad available at Cumulus. My general aversion to legumes and cereals becomes nonexistent when I am presented with enlivening salads of this sort. The Hellenic Republic version combined sweet raisins and pomegranate with creamy Greek yoghurt, fresh coriander and almond slivers to flavour an otherwise dreary mix of puy lentils and freekeh grains. The Cypriot grain salad is a medley of exciting flavours and textures which will appeal to even the most carnivorous individuals.
The savoury courses finished with a plate of chicken and lamb spit roast served with inconsistently crispy oregano hand cut chips, a tzatziki dip and a refreshing cabbage salad. The chicken and lamb were very well seasoned and extremely tender - the charred meat pieces that were lined with thin layers of melt-in-the-mouth fat were particularly enjoyable.
Our meal ended with an underwhelming sweet dish of Greek doughnuts. To my understanding, these golden puffs were prepared in the traditional manner – they were crisp on the outside, dense and savoury on the inside and accompanied with a fragrant honey for sweetness and flavour. However, in my opinion, the density of the dough balls rendered them somewhat unpleasant to eat, which is unfortunate given that the accompanying Attiki honey exhibited beautiful floral notes and was simply delicious. On the whole, I prefer the Turkish delight filled doughnuts at Maha which are tastier and far more ethereal in texture.
The Trapezi menu at Hellenic Republic is highly recommended – it offers a variety of quality food in generous quantities for a very reasonable price. Also worth noting are the $5.50 1 litre bottles of San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water – the cheapest I have seen at any Melbourne restaurant to date. With a vivacious yet homely atmosphere, Hellenic Republic is the ideal place to enjoy a lazy Sunday lunch in the company of friends and family.