389 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9602 4444
One of these days, I’m going to sail around the Greek Islands armed with a fistful of Australian dollars and lap in the sun, the sights and the food. But for now, I will have to settle with dining at Aspro Ble in the heart of Melbourne, the city with the largest Greek population in the world outside of Greece. Located in Lonsdale Street, but away from the Greek Precinct, Aspro Ble has been making more of a dent in Melbourne’s foodie circle than the Greece economy has in recent years. Its location on tacky Hardware Lane did initially prevent me from visiting but curiosity got the better of me.
Dave and I popped in for a post-work dinner last week after ditching last minute plans to have dumplings at Shanghai Street. Sucked in by Winston’s Instagram photos and vivid descriptions of slow-roasted lamb, I knew I had to visit. We didn’t have a booking but at 5:30pm, we had no problems in securing a table in the diminutive dining room.
Dave grabbed a bottle of Greek beer (it was either Alpha or Mythos, I really couldn’t remember) while I ordered a nice glass of Shiraz. For some reason, I was expecting a few Greek varieties to appear on the menu so I was surprised to see that all the wines were local. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course.
We took quite some time in deciding what to order, partly because we just kept chit-chatting about stuff and partly because we didn’t quite know what to order despite being armed with recommendations from Winston. The waitress said that two little dishes and two larger ones would fill us up but we decided to be rebels by ordering two little dishes, one large one and a side salad. Ooh!
Aspro Ble uses Kefalograviera cheese for its saganaki fig and cherry conserve dish ($13). For Dave and I, this dish was dejavu for we enjoyed saganaki being served with figs at Hellenic Republic ages ago. We both thought that the cherries added a lovely dimension to the fig conserve, but we were disappointed to find that the cheese was not gooey – it stayed rock hard when we cut into it. No fun.
The calamari and prawn dumplings in a creamy caper and dill sauce ($16) don’t sound like a typical Greek tavern dish but I’d be happy to see these in more Greek restaurants if they tasted as good as these. The best way to describe them would be a soft filling of calamari and prawn encased in fried sheets made with what tasted and felt like wanton skins. I’d say they were more like raviolo rather than dumplings too (but then again, aren’t ravioli considered dumplings?). Anyway.
They were beautiful. Like a bronze Adonis walking on the beaches of Mykonos. The fillings were tasty enough but the sauce really made the dish sparkle. The dish was rich and tasty, with flecks of capers and chilli accentuating each morsel. And at $4 a piece, I reckon they were a bargain.
Although people say good things about the butterflied oregano, garlic and lemon chargrilled chicken, we decided that we couldn’t not order a lamb dish at a Greek restaurant. Thus, we had our eyes set on the slow-roasted lamb with a garlic yoghurt dressing ($24). Our lamb had been slow-roasted for five hours and as a result, the meat was beautifully tender and buttery. It was accompanied by a yoghurt dressing (which was pretty much a lighter form of tzatziki), a little jug of tarragon gravy which was flavoured with pan drippings and a small slice of lemon.
The lamb was beautiful and deceptively filling. If I was to be picky, I would have preferred a little bit more tarragon gravy but that was it. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish all of the lamb but it was only because we chit-chatted too much during the dinner and so the rest of the lamb ended up really cold and hard – our fault.
Dave doesn’t normally make friends with salad, but I convinced him to share a Greek village salad ($9) to balance everything out. It did its job.
We were pretty full after that and we were glad that we didn’t order two large dishes as per the waitress’ recommendation (see, they’re not always right!). Having said that, we weren’t going to leave without ordering dessert.
We shared a plate of loukomades (Greek donuts) with honey and walnuts ($12). They also came with lumps of double-strained Greek yoghurt and raspberry coulis, ingredients that weren’t mentioned on the menu. The donuts were crispy on the outside and soft, chewy and dense in the inside. We thought they were better than the ones that George’s Hellenic empire churn out, which I thought was the benchmark when it came to Greek donuts (not that I know a lot about Greek food in the first place!). And even though these donuts tipped us over the edge, we did not regret ordering them. They proved to be the perfect finish to what had been a great dinner.
The service was great the whole way through, even after it started to get packed at 7pm. And the damage was only miniscule, only $40 or so per head.