“If you are reborn from your ashes, what death will scare you?” Somewhat sinister, kind of peculiar, but that is the headline written in Greek at George Calombaris’ new eatery.
Many following him over the last few years may have a love-hate relationship with him – building an empire, becoming one of Australia’s most loved master chefs, and then having it all come crashing down with rumours of his company grossly underpaying staff. And now, instead of shying away from the elephant in the room, George has embraced his past, and created his new venture, the Hellenic House Project.
Throughout the tumultuous times, one thing was always a certainty, George can cook. He knows how to run restaurants that create excitement, warmth, and a yearning desire just to be part of it. The Hellenic House Project is no different. Whilst you may have to book months in advance, if you are lucky enough to get a spot, you’ll be surprised that it’s much smaller and more relaxed than his previous ventures of the Press Club and Gazi. Downstairs, ‘the Kitchen menu’ is casual Greek Street Food, with souvas, snacks and dips. Upstairs, the Good Room, a petite 44-seater, is slightly more formal, and where you really get to see the George touches back in action. The cosy dark blue dining room with ethnic music blaring transforms you, where even if it’s a freezing 5 degrees outside, you feel like you’re sitting in a house on a Greek island in the middle of summer. (Wishful thinking, but if you can’t be in Europe, for the 1.5hour sitting, just go with it). And then suddenly, you see the man himself, same gregarious grin, bald head, and chirpy demeanour, welcoming you to his new humble abode.
Light and wonderful starters include the kingfish. Dainty slices of delicate raw fish sitting on top of Dolmathakia (dolmades) with a subtle creamy ginger yoghurt. Saganaki is just insane. Initially, you think you have the wrong country, as it’s served like a French escargot. Except instead of snails, each mouthful is a delectable ball of pleasure. Sweet sticky fig, rich black garlic and oozy decadent cheese give your tongue a bomb of explosion and tastebuds a Greek inspired disco party. Larger dishes include BBQ chicken Kalamaki (skewers), simple, yet so refined. And if you’re in for the big game, slow roasted lamb shoulder is always a winner. Whilst not overly large, the wine list is ample in impressive options at very reasonable price points, like a Valentine Grenache to keep your evening special, without being a blow-out.
George Calombaris may have made some mistakes in life, as we all have. It’s refreshing that he has acknowledged his perceived failures, and fortunately for us, is now back in the game. And to that we say a warm Filoxenia – Welcome Back.