The booking had been made. The menu had been studied. I was secretly salivating at the prospect of eating at Hellenic Republic. Sometimes, high expectations lead to high disappointment, but I had eaten at Press Club, heard good things of Maha and watched MasterChef. What could go wrong?
Hardly the intimate dinner for two, I was part of a 14 person brigade that had set course for one of Melbourne’s best examples of Greek food. A group larger than 10, we were unfortunately only given the option of a set menu. This seriously impeded my ability to judge the diversity of the menu, yet did present us with enough food to feed not only our table, but quite possibly the large table next to us.
First to arrive were two dips, Melitzanosalata – eggplant dressed with red wine onions and, Taromasalata – white cod roe. Accompanied by fresh, smoky pita bread. The Melitzanosalata was lovely. Lively eggplant taste without the overpowering garlic hit that can sometimes spoil this dip. The Taromasalata equally as well made, with a subtle fishy taste from the cod roe, again, not overshadowed by the garlic.
It was then on to three more dishes: beetroot roasted in cumin seed and served with yoghurt, peppers marinated in vinegar and olive oil and a cured pork loin. The beetroot was great, firm texture and packed with flavour from the cumin seed and corriander that dressed it. Yum.
Next course saw a fisherman’s stew of squid, prawns, short pasta and feta in a tomato based sauce, spanakopita, and fish croquettes. This was accompanied by wild greens served cold with lemon juice and olive oil. The fisherman’s stew was the stand out here. Creamy texture balance by the sharpness of the feta and sweetness from the squid and prawns. Delectable. Unfortunately the same can not be said for the other dishes. The spanakopita was rather lifeless and bland and the fish croquette tasted like the canned tuna and potato cakes I was served as a child. Disappointing.
This set the scene for the remainder of the meal unfortunately. The remaining dishes were served without the friendly service we had become accustomed to and we quickly detected that our table was in wait. Despite this we pushed on and were greeted with a chickpea stew, grilled squid, a vegetarian moussaka and the spit of the day, which was – and I’m assuming quite often is – lamb. The chickpea stew was a pass, just, and the squid was under dressed and underwhelming. The lamb, which was served with tzatziki, was rather tough and lacked the smoky flavour that you would expect. It was also riddled with fat. The saving grace was the moussaka, which surprisingly was only served for dietry reasons, which was a shame because it was probably the dish of the night.
As quickly as the main course arrived, it was taken away and replaced with dessert. Seasonal fruit was served with halva, a coconut cake and loukoumades, a Greek doughnut drizzled in honey. I would have liked to take the time to appreciate the dessert, however we were served coffee, and the bill, then promptly told that our table was required. Nice.
So the meal I had been anticipating for quite some time, left a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth. Far removed from the dizzying heights of The Press Club and reviews of Maha, Hellenic Republic was, well disappointing.
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