Gazi, Melbourne – Greece is the word
As we trundled down one of Melbourne’s busiest streets at peak hour, we wondered if we’d offended the gods. Heading to Gazi, a relatively new Greek cafe that has taken over the space previously occupied by chef George Calombaris’ fine-dining establishment, the Press Club (which has now re-opened in a smaller space next door), the tram was jam-packed with psyched-up pre-teens heading for the One Direction concert as well as harried office workers on their way home.
Arriving at Gazi somewhat frazzled and cold from the early spring westerly gales lashing the city, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were slightly dismayed to find the pre-concert crowd was also well in evidence there. Just shy of 6.30pm, the place was teeming with excitable lasses, their chaperones (looking faintly bemused at the prospect of the evening’s entertainment to come), at long tables, all chowing down on plates ferried speedily from the kitchen.
Gazi is not a small space. Booths line a wall of windows overlooking the Exhibition Street frontage, which are absolutely the prime seats, while the main floor shoehorns in around 80 patrons. There’s also L-shaped bar seating around the open kitchen and another high bar bordering the main floor. As we were to discover, the crowd was not merely a product of the nearby concert – no sooner had a table cleared, plates, glasses and bodies were replaced in the blink of an eye.
It’s a good-looking venue. The atmosphere is noisy, fun and energetic. The interior is industrial-chic with a quirky touch. Innumerable terracotta pots hang from the ceiling, interspersed with light fittings – decoration meets an attempt at noise insulation. The former looks great but Greedy Girl suggests the latter is not terribly successful.
While conversation is tricky (especially in a group that didn’t secure one of the aforementioned booths), communication with the wait staff worked like a charm. The welcome is warm, the staff are generally pretty personable and organised and the food comes out promptly and piping hot.
Calombaris is a noted Melbourne chef/entrepreneur, having several establishments throughout Melbourne and its inner suburbs. He has also attained national notoriety as a judge on the Australian version of Masterchef. He’s not done with fine dining. The Press Club is being re-worked as a 30-seat venue in what was once the bar, next door with a projected opening sometime later this year. Greedy Girl had eaten several times at The Press Club. The experiences were very mixed. On one lunch visit, a haloumi souffle was so salty as to be inedible. On an evening visit, the dishes were quite enjoyable but certainly didn’t fit Greedy Girl’s vision of fine dining and on the third, a business lunch last year, the only option was a five-course degustation. It was a power of food; too much was served too quickly for the audience of suits looking to get out the door. For visitors or those able to enjoy a more leisurely lunch it would have been ideal – it was strange, however, not to have any option for the menu.
Calombaris has devised Gazi as a ‘Greek bistro’ – fun, fast, contemporary food featuring the hallmark dishes of that venerable cuisine. Already gaining a reputation for its take on souvlaki, we were tempted to try all four kinds – beef brisket, chicken, crab and duck but opted instead to just take the first two varieties and share another couple of small plates which Calombaris lists under the heading ‘Hellenic Dirty Food’.
There are quite a few of the ‘usual suspects’ – lamb keftethes and prawns but also some interesting plates – sardines, lamb’s brains. We chose a favourite – saganaki cheese dressed with a mustard glyko (Greek preserve, made from fruit) and toasted pistachios and a dreamy short rib moussaka.
The moussaka is an utter triumph – soft, tasty perfection. Braised lamb short ribs were cuddled by lashings of eggplant, bechamel sauce, goat’s curd and topped with fronds of rocket. It’s a great dish.
These were washed down by Angry Man pale ale from Murray’s Craft Brewing Co in Port Stephens (for gluttonous husband) and a glass of Holly’s Garden Pinot Gris from Whitlands, in Victoria’s north-east, for Greedy Girl. It was perfectly drinkable, but wanting to try something different as we moved on to the souvlakakia (small ‘souvas’), she decided to fully ‘go Greek’ and chose the Mercouri ‘Lampadias’ rose. She rated it a ‘D’ – for different. It had a beautiful bouquet but the flavour had a few too many edges for her liking.
But on to the food.
It was hard to taste any mustard and the amount of onion and chips was limited. Greedy Girl estimates she had three chips in her chicken souva. It was also difficult to take a bite and get a sense of all the ingredients – as a result, the meat tasted a little dry. Greedy Girl wishes she had opened the bread flap to try to rearrange the contents so the flavour experience was a bit more rounded.
Contemplating dessert, nothing really jumped out at us. The listing of Greek chocolate bars intrigued us but at $10.45 for a block we demurred. While Greece has made enormous contributions to the world’s gastronomic heritage, Greedy Girl isn’t sure chocolate belongs up there in the pantheon … perhaps another time.
Gazi is a fun, lively, bustling place that looks like it’s always been there. There was a constant queue to get in the door and lots of people are turned away because they haven’t booked. Greedy Girl would be very happy to go back and try more.
2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne