It’s all Greek to meze: The Apollo, Potts Point

THE TIME ARRIVES IN EVERYONE’S LIFE when they ask: where did I come from?

In a mongrel nation of immigrants like Australia, that interesting search often leads in life-changing directions, or at least to an SBS documentary.

If you’re a chef, it’s handy if part of your family hails from an exotic and/or sunny Mediterranean or Asian nation.

Grandmother from Cuba? Sorry, but you’re out of luck. 

Taramasalata with salmon roe and warm pita bread

Rediscovering your heritage can also surprise, which is how a restaurateur who made his reputation from Thai food, Longrain’s Sam Christie, teamed up with a chef known for great Italian, Jonathan Barthelmess, previously at Manly Pavilion and Coast. They share Greek ancestry and this ode to their origins is an inner-city snappy yet traditional Greek taverna. (As an aside, decades earlier, Barthelmess’ grandfather was a chef at Pruniers).

Barthelmess hasn’t tried to reinvent Greek food the way chefs such as David Tsirekas at Xanthi, with ouzo in their blood, attempt in dishes such as pork belly baklava. The Apollo is more Greek 101. They’ve opted to keep it simple but stylish and there’s a light, vibrant touch that sets The Apollo’s food apart from similarly classical places such as Medusa Taverna and Eleni’s at Civic.

The street corner setting was previously a forgettable Indian. Now it looks like a half-restored Parthenon, cleverly stripped back to a meticulously designed dishevelment. The polished concrete floor, heavy timber tables and marble bar ensure noise levels are boisterous. The lighting is night lamp low, so bring a torch to read the menu. The room is as much a drinking den as a dining one, with an enterprising, moderately sized list of Australian and European wines, including several Greek options. The list hovers in the $55 and $75 range. Of course with Christie’s influence, there are a bunch of funky, Greek-christened cocktails, such as the Nana Mouskouri, $16: white Havana club, aperol, watermelon, cranberry, lime and mint.

The sneaker-clad flood team groove about the place with genuine enthusiasm, dealing with the early evening onslaught the no bookings policy provokes with grace and speed. The food arrives with similar swiftness, allowing dinner to end in 70 minutes from bums down to bill paid.

Wild weed pie

The $55 per person ‘full Greek’ is the easiest and best option for a table, taking in all the essentials, from pickles to taramasalata, pita, the lamb, lemon potatoes, Greek salad and walnut pastries. It’s food designed for sharing, but the bill can soon stack up

After initial meze, ranging from olives, $7, to warm pitta, $2.50pp, served in small pizza boxes, grilled mussels, $12, and a jar of the excellent, winter-pale taramasalata topped with salmon roe, $12, the most impressive of eight entrees are fried king prawns, $6 each, big enough to pick a fight with a lobster, so crunchy you can eat the legs and most of the shell, along with the sweet, firm flesh.

Pigs tail salad, $18, is laced with nuggets of crisp-skinned pork amid a nutty combination of farro, pomegranate and walnuts offset by sweet currants and citrussy baby sorrel leaves. Sardines with chilli and lemon offer minimal appeal as the small, butterflied fish are too easily cooked, leaving them a little dry.

Wild weed pie, $18, is as desired and prized by Greeks as the Elgin Marbles. It’s the rural version of spanakopita: a mix of salty feta and bitter greens, such as chicory and dandelion, wrapped in filo and scented with oregano, it reminds me of Sydney’s finest Greek-born chef, the now-retired Janni Kyritsis, who titled his cookbook after this dish. Jonathan does his mentor and his legacy justice.

When it Athens… so it’s Greek salad, $15, a mix of several tomatoes, de-pipped olives and cucumber with a slab of feta, more creamy and mild than tangy and salted, sprinkled with dried oregano, done rather well.

Greek salad

For mains, the wood grill stars in humble offerings such as gelatinous swordfish steak, $32, smeared with a minty green sauce. Like so many of the dishes, it comes with a cheek of lemon for a squeeze of liquid sunshine. There’s a sense of you-can-try-this-at-home to the fatty, coarsely chopped platter of lamb ribs and loin, $34, spiced with cumin, fennel and garlic, slow-cooked for several hours over the charcoal, but the simple truth is most of us don’t. Like much of the Jonathan’s food, it’s pleasingly good without being remarkable, familiar yet somehow exotic.

Desserts stray from traditional, but keep an ebullient sense of fun as the refreshing mound of pineapple granita over ouzo-marinated watermelon, $9 demonstrates. While the rosewater jelly-filled donut balls with chocolate sauce, $12, have only a tenuous link to Greece, who cares? They’re clever, delicious and a wink to current fashions, yet given a distinctly Greek twist.

It’s a sign chef knows who he is, after all. 

 

SCORE 7.5/10

Where 44 Macleay St, Potts Point; 8354 0888

When Dinner Mon-Thur from 6pm; All-day dining Fri-Sun noon-11.30pm

Food Greek

In a mouthful A leading Sydney chef and a restaurateur team up to rediscover their Greek heritage with elan

 

 * A version of this review first appeared in The Daily Telegraph, 2012.

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