72 Flinders Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9677 9677
Ah, George Calombaris. Masterchef judge, restaurant extraordinaire, businessman and cookbook author, it goes without saying that he leads an extremely busy life. And while many top-end restaurants around town closed down for Christmas last week, Little Press and Cellar, the little sister of Calombaris’ Press Club, was happily open on Wednesday afternoon when my ex-colleague, Rob and I stopped by. Hell, I even saw George himself running around and barking orders as I sat on my cushy leather chair towards the back of the linear, elegant dining room while I was waiting for Rob. Does the guy ever sleep? (I know that insomniac Rob doesn’t, but I’m talking about George here)
Little Press, at only six months old, may not have attracted a tremendous amount of press (badoom, ching!) but it has been getting a lot of nods from both food bloggers and non-foodie friends. While the bar space is as elegant as the Press Club next door, you get the sense that things are done slightly more casually here. Wine lists are hung on a little hook underneath each table, the service isn’t as formal as what you’d get next door and one would be able to saunter into the place with linen shorts and a tank top without anyone batting an eyelid (well, I did anyway).
While Little Press’ list of both old and new world, local and imported, wines was out of this world (they even had a French one from 1945!), Rob and I decided to have some ouzo. He ordered a glass of plomari from Mytilene ($7.50) while I opted for a Barbyanni Green, also from Mytilene ($8.50). Our glasses came with a wooden board with a separate glass of water and another glass full of ice cubes. We were told that we could drink it however we wanted: either straight-up or with ice and/or water. We took tentative sips without adding water or ice before plonking several ice cubes in our glass and then drizzling the mixture with water, which I’ve been told is the traditional way of doing it. Dare I say that I do prefer drinking it straight-up though. While my Barbyanni Green had a relatively mellow, grassy taste (which was supposed to represent ‘ocean mist’), Rob’s had a much stronger flavour which consisted of bold and intense herb notes.
Food-wise, Greek-inspired bar snacks are king here with only a limited selection of mains and desserts available for those looking for a proper meal. Because we were meeting our work crew for dinner later that evening, Rob and I decided to share a few nibbles so that we would have room for burgers at Beer Deluxe.
I was delighted to see George’s lovely taramosalata (fish roe dip) make an appearance at Little Press ($13.50). While I was slightly disappointed to see that the trimmings that made it good the first time I had it weren’t there (Yarra Valley salmon roe, sultanas etc), it only took a little bit of olive oil to heighten the deliciousness of this dip which was as thick as (though obviously much nicer than) Rob’s eyebrows. I was especially delighted to see the taramosalata served with chips instead of boring stale pita bread pieces. The chips were particularly good; they were so irresistibly crunchy. Like, really crunchy. Wow. And props for the presentation too.
Rob and I had a sticky pork belly square each ($6 per piece). Each piece was evenly roasted, then plonked on a squirt of ouzo-infused apple jelly before being adorned with a strip of crispy pancetta, sage leaves and ash salt. It was a well-crafted dish, jam-packed with lovely contrasts in both taste and texture. At the risk of sounding like a complete travesty, I’m not a fan of pork belly (the texture of the fat puts me off) but I really loved this dish and the pork fat blissfully melted in my mouth without any involuntary gag reflexes.
Finally, I had a piece of kataifi-wrapped prawn ($5.50 each). No prawn for Rob though – the poor bugger is allergic to seafood (and pretty much everything that tastes good). While everything up to this point had been fantastic, the prawn simply blew me away. The Attikii honey dressing was sinfully sweet and delicious, and slightly infused with a bit of lemon and chilli for a slight edge. A dollop of almond yoghurt (not avocado as per website menu) on top provided a lovely smooth contrast against the crispy kataifi shreds and crunchy chopped nuts while chopped coriander kept things fresh. Just, WOW.
We were pretty much done with our food when a waitress sailed past to plonk some hot white bread on our table. She apologised for not having given us bread earlier on (yeah, a bit late don’t you think?!) but they had only JUST come out of the oven. Only a minor annoyance – and yes, the bread WAS delicious especially with the olive oil from Crete and the ash salt – but still, WTF?!
Despite not having ordered a lot of food, we were both quite full. Heck, even when I sat down to eat my burger at Beer Deluxe almost three hours later, I was still not even sure if I would be able to finish it because my stomach was so, so satisfied (I did, but only just). I guess this means that while Little Press is all about bar snacks and drinks, one should be able to enjoy a very filling lunch (or dinner) there. George, you may be occasionally ignorant (turning your nose up at century-old egg and not knowing what it is, even though you’re supposed to be a CHEF?) and a food blogger-hating douche, but damn, your food is absolutely AMAZING. I wrote positive reviews for not only this place but the Press Club and Hellenic Republic so please don’t do to me what you did to Winsor Dobbin, please?