The company of others is an essential and inseparable aspect of Greek eating. The Greek table is all about celebrating the things that matter like friendship, love, food, wine (even, at times, shouting at each other). This is what we were told by chef, David Tsirekas., former Head Chef of Xanthi and Perama and the star of a recent “Chef’s Table” evening at The Civic Hotel. In addition to showcasing the new bistro menu at the CBD institution, the event was also a very special preview of Tsirekas’ fine dining Greek epic 1821, which is soon to be open on Pitt Street.
The kitchen at the Civic Hotel was previously led by MKR twins Vikki and Helena Moursellas, but the keys have now been handed over to Tsirekas, hence the night was all about celebrating some old favourites from his previous restaurants as well as some new creations. The key thing bringing it all together was an appreciation of Greek culture and having fun with fresh contemporary Greek cuisine.
To start we tucked into a Mezze Board, a nod to the traditions of some Greek restaurants that sell ouzo to patrons and offer mezzes or nibbles to accompany this drink. The mezzes are typically salty, sour or savoury in taste and in a tradition that is like the small bars in Italy, it’s designed to get people to drink more. The night’s board featured a taramasalata or a pink dip made of salted and cured roe of cod as well as marinated olives, a smoky eggplant dip and dolmades, or stuffed vine leaves.
The entrees continued with some spanakopita (spinach pie.) This pie had a crisp, golden filo pastry encasing a filling of beautiful, light, and tasty feta cheese.
Zucchini Chips continued the night, light-as-a-feather, battered and fried with a very moreish, crunchy texture softened by a thick, creamy tahini; a pleasant move away from the thick watery zucchini chips that can be found elsewhere throughout Sydney.
The first main course was a set of signature Mini Yeeros. The yeeros are typically like a pork and mayonnaise-filled kebab but Tsirekas has put a fresh spin on this dish and it will feature at both The Civic and 1821. The highlight was Tsirekas’s answer to Peking duck, mirroring a classic duck pancake with a flatbread topped with juicy duck meat, mayonnaise, hoisin sauce, shallots and chilli. The soft-shell crab was another delight, where the fish was battered deep-fried and served with fresh cucumber. There was also a pork variety complete with a crispy crackling and some creamy slaw.
The next course featured two mains – an earthy Mushroom Truffle Moussaka and Tsirekas’s signature Lamb Skaras (lamb shoulder.) The former was very creamy thanks to a gooey béchamel sauce sitting atop its modern answer to Ottoman influences (read: potatoes and eggplant.) It was rich but not too heavy. The lamb shoulder was something else. This had been slowly braised in an oven and barbecued at the end to create a delightful, charcoal exterior. It may not have been roasting away on yia-yia’s spit for hours but it certainly tasted as though it had.
The evening was capped with a glass of Biblia Chora Biblinos an Ancient Phoenician cult wine that is so unique the grape’s DNA has no match to Modern Greek grapes. It’s produced to be consumed with food, so we had this with a Aegean Lobster Spaghetti, a dish not unlike an upmarket answer to Italy’s spaghetti marinara.
David Tsirekas looks poised to scale the pantheon with 1821, no doubt a venture which will strengthen an already rich and vibrant Greek dining scene in Sydney. This will be a modern acropolis in the site of the old Vault Hotel on Martin Place. The restaurant is named after the year that marked the start of the Greek War of Independence and it appears that Tsirekas is continuing to pay tribute to his Greek heritage in all aspects. As someone who once ate at Xanthi before it closed and after witnessing the pitch-perfect Chef’s table, I can highly recommend Tsirekas’s work and look forward to the imminent opening.
1821 (launching in late September 2016)
Address: 122 Pitt St, Sydney, Australia 2000
Contact: 0450 393 781
The Civic Hotel
Address: 388 Pitt St (corner of Goulburn St), Sydney, Australia 2000
Contact: 02 8080 7000
Opening Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10am – 2am
Image supplied and used with permission.