In the 8th century, the Greeks gave us The Iliad, courtesy of Homer.
In the 6th century BC, the Greeks gave us Aesop and his fables.
In the 5th century BC, the Greeks gave us the Parthenon .
And sometime last century, the Greeks gave us George Calombaris, executive chef of Melbourne’s Press Club.
The unassuming The Press Club restaurant has only been open a few years, yet during this time it has won many accolades and has been highly recommended by many diners as well as leading food critics. With a name like that, one may not have thought that The Press Club would be a Greek restaurant. The interior, too, might also confuse you as it has a modern Wall Street feel to it. There are no traces of tired Greek clichés that you see in Doncaster – i.e. white stone taverns with names such as Dimosthenes Greek Taverna or Dasdsadasasdjknrewrnjkvv-opoulos Mykonos Restaurant. And if you’re still wondering why it’s called The Press Club – it’s because the restaurant is situated on the site of the old Herald building. Geddit? Har-har .
The reason why TPC is a hit with Melburnians is because it serves Greek food with a modern twist, thus differentiating it from all the other Greek restaurants in Melbourne. By ‘modern,’ I mean exciting food that slightly deviates from traditional fare yet are obviously still “Greek” e.g. rather than getting a standard gyros or a pastitstio, you get something wtf-ish such as soufflé cup full of scallop mousse, topped with ouzo foam and finely-cut strawberry-flavoured wax strips used to remove an omg-fully-sick Maria’s moustache. The masterpiece is then freckled with anise pepper and hair from Nick Giannakopoulos’ eyebrows. Okay, so maybe not as dramatic as that but you get the picture .
Sunday lunchtimes at TPC, however, are set aside for the masa mezedes, a traditional Greek banquet with 12 dishes presented as four courses for the lowly sum of $55 per head. The price also includes unlimited Acqua Panna water, which to be honest, tastes pretty much the same as Melbourne tap water but hey, it’s all included in the price so I ain’t complaining.
Let’s get on with the Dionysia, shall we?
After munching on some warm ciabatta dipped in olive oil and ash salt from Cyprus (sounds perhaps a bit pretentious but the salt was really nice – not too salty which is somewhat ironic given the nature of the element”salt”), we got a wooden board filled with sorts of meze (the Greek equivalent of tapa, if you wish).
- The horiatiki (Greek salad) was quite pleasant, nothing to whinge about. My only regret was eating all the salad in one go rather than saving it for when the hearty meat dishes came out as the salad would’ve been a great accompaniment to the meats.
- Pita bread + eggplant dip – I’m not a big fan of eggplant but the dips went down swimmingly with the thinly-sliced pita triangles
- Kalamata olives – what can I say about the olives? They’re just OLIVES, ffs!
- Chickpea and haloumi patties – they were AWESOME! In fact, I tried to prolong the life of my little pattie by having one small bite intermittently as I ate the other dishes. You know how that chick wanted a packet of tim tams that never ran out?! Yeah well, I want a chickpea + haloumi patty that would still be a complete patty every time I took a bite, dammit! I’m keen to find a recipe for them so that I can make them at home.
An unoffensive bowl of fasolada, a vegetable and bean soup which was rich and filling but didn’t really illicit any reaction from me. I felt that if this soup was left out of the lunch menu, it wouldn’t have been missed.
The next course was strangely called the “fish course” even though only one of the three dishes had fish in it. They could’ve called it the ‘entree course’ or something like that, but what’s the point of arguing with the Greeks…
- Pickled Octopus – The bowl which held many many pieces of pink rubbery tentacles looked a bit freaky and would definitely make some of my risk-adverse friends a little queasy (hello Aaron!). In fact, I think TPC kitchen stormed into the set of The Simpsons and kidnapped those fugly alien creatures to cook this dish. Despite the ewwwy-ness of the tentacles, however, they were actually quite nice. I think the octopus tentacles were cured in some kind of red wine and lime dressing. Yum!
- Tiropita – I’m 95% sure that the squarish-looking pie in the middle is called the tiropita, but Greeks out there are welcome to correct me. Anyway, it was a pie made out of very light filo pastry, filled with feta cheese and zucchini. The zucchini is another one of those vegies that I’m not keen on but I was pleasantly surprised at how awesome this cute little pie tasted. Mmmm.
- Garfish sauteed in flour and olive oil – Although it lacked much flavour, I liked the simplicity of it – a nice change from the other very rich dishes we had.
At this point, we were 80% full so imagine how surprise when another huge plate came to our table laden with three dishes: one huge plate of lamb rissoni, one equally huge plate of chicken and a bowl with about 10 pieces of baked coriander potatoes! Ayayayay! Someone, however, had to finish all this off…
The chicken was fresh off the spit and doused in skordalia (a puree made out garlic and white bean). The pieces were topped with toasted pistachio, raisins and breadcrumbs. A dash of lemon added a very nice tang to an already excellent dish.
The lamb dish was just as nice. Perfectly-cooked risoni pasta covered shanks of lamb, braised in onions and star anise. It was rich and initially a little bit too sweet for me but with a dash of salt and some feta cheese mixed into it (I retained the huge chunk of feta from the salad), it was quite nice.
Finally, a large bowl of coriander potatoes – golden and crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside – acted as a side dish though even how huge the serving was, they could’ve passed as a main alone. I could only eat about two pieces but I could’ve easily ate the entire bowl if I wasn’t so full.
We were both STUFFED but look how much food was left on the table! At the end, we both managed to finish everything but it really was a struggle. And we both felt so sick afterward that we both went straight to bed as soon as we got home.
Dessert was brought to us in a take-away pizza box which allowed us pursue a take-away option but without wanting to seem so “Asian,” we decided to save face by eating the desserts on the table. We may have been full but you can never be TOO full for dessert!
Inside the box were:
- Two pieces of sokolatenio yalaktoboureko, a ridiculously rich slab of soft brown chocolate topped with two thin sheets of pastry (so rich that I downed one glass of water to wash it down)
- Two pieces of baklava, again very rich (and hella sticky) but also very pleasant
- Four pieces of loukoumathes, which are hot Greek donuts which are sort of like a cross between choux pastry and a cinnamon doughnut. They were awesome!
Well, what can I say?! Great food at decent prices, EXTREMELY generous servings, great atmosphere and friendly service. Another thing that Adam and I observed was that when we were looking around the room, tables with 4-6 people had pretty much the same serving sizes as us when it came to the mains, salads and sides (obviously a table of 6 would have 6 haloumi patties, of course). This made us wonder whether they got the quantities for our table wrong or whether they gave the same amount to each table regardless of how many people were sitting on it. We both agreed that our food could have easily fed about 3-4 people but heyyy, more bang for our buck – can’t complain!
I can definitely see myself coming back to this place to suss out the a la carte meals which are obviously more flashy and thus, more expensive. Obviously, I would highly recommend this place for the Sunday lunch option particularly if you have a huge stomach and want Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis-quality food at Kappa-Trackie-Wearing Voula-from-Oakleigh prices.