Gazi Melbourne is one of George Calombaris’ newest restaurants. Housed in the space that was home to the fine dining Press Club (which will be reborn in the old “Little Press” space as a smaller restaurant later this year), Gazi is a very different proposition. The interior is completely different, and the focus is on Greek “street food” with a fun, casual vibe.
The restaurant is dark, and you can’t help but spend time looking at all of the terracotta pots hanging upside down from the roof. It makes for a very unique effect and is in sync with the rustic yet modern, minimalist space.
The drinks menu contains a handful of “seasonal” cocktails, as well as an extensive selection of Greek and Australian wines. Beers are varied, with a decent range of local and imported beers. The cocktails were quite tasty, however it was the selection of spirits that surprised me. I’ve been drinking Gin & Tonics on my nights out lately and was very impressed to find 10 different gins on offer, including the hard-to-find-in-Australia Sipsmith Gin. Being an on-trend restaurant, a decent selection of rums is available too, as well as a range of other spirits.
The plates are adorned with the “evil eye”, a symbol which will be instantly recognisable to anyone of Mediterranean or Arabic heritage. In Greece, the evil eye is called “Mati”. It is a symbol of protection against those who would wish misfortune against you by giving you the evil eye. Superstitions aside, it makes for a great plate design.
The Greek “street food” on offer at Gazi is designed for sharing and is very simple – similar in many ways to the offerings at sister restaurant Hellenic Republic but brasher and louder. It’s Hellenic Republic with the casual meter turned up to 11.
When it comes to ordering you can choose to “Do it Greek Style” aka a 10 course sharing menu, or order off the menu. The menu is split into Dips, Ethnika Vromika (Hellenic Dirty Food), Souvlakakia (Small Souvlakis), Wood Fire Grill, Wood Fire Spit, Salads, Vegetables & Grains, and Dessert. There’s no real rule and you can mix and match from all over the menu.
My wife and I couldn’t decide what we wanted to get when we first visited as everything looked so good and luckily the waiter interrupted us part of the way through our order and suggested that we probably had ordered enough. He asked us what else were were considering and then suggested a good combination of items out of what we had selected. This was a good thing, as we were both well and truly satisfied by the time we reached the end of our meal.
Taramosalata with Prawn Crackers ($9.50)
The taramosalata is a fish roe dip and is the same as the one at Hellenic Republic, save for the addition of prawn crackers. My wife and I love the stuff, and as much as we wanted to try only new things, we couldn’t go past this to start. The pita bread is wood charred on the outside and pillowy on the inside. It’s very tasty and the staff aren’t shy about offering you more bread if you finish what’s on the table and still have dip left over.
“Tune” Ouzo Cured Tuna, Watermelon and Goats Curd ($12.50)
A sure sign that summer is on its way, this dish was very light and tasty. The sweetness and crunchiness of the watermelon offset the soft texture and sourness of the goats curd beautifully.
“Short Rib Moussaka” Short Rib, Eggplant, Bechamel, Goats Curd ($16.50)
This dish was a real highlight. The slow cooked short rib fell apart and combined with the other ingredients to form a gooey mess of deliciousness.
“Corn” Half Cob, Aleppo Mayo, Seeds, Kefalograviera ($2.50 each)
The corn, despite my best efforts just did not want to be photographed in a non-blurry fashion. Perhaps the evil eye was involved? No would be the answer to that question, as its stubbornness was soon forgotten when I got to the more important task of eating it. I reminded me of the grilled corn that you find in Mexican or Spanish restaurants. Authentically Greek? I’m not sure but very tasty in any case.
Grilled Prawn ($4.50 each)
The prawns are from Yamba in New South Wales and are as simple as you can get. Grilled on the wood fire with a light dressing of lemon and oregano. You can’t go wrong.
Lamb Cutlets ($6.50 each)
The lamb cutlets are from Gippsland in Victoria and are again simply grilled on the wood fire and lightly dressed. Tasty and smoky.
“Souvlakakia” Beef Brisket with Chips, Parsley, Onion & Mustard Mayo ($8.50) + Duck with Chips, Parsley, Onion & Mustard Mayo ($9.50)
Again I have to draw comparisons to Hellenic Republic and Jimmy Grant’s. If you’ve had a souvlaki from either of these Calombaris restaurants then you know exactly what to expect. The beef brisket was one of the lowlights of the night. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything special when compared to the amazing duck one next to it, which was very succulent and delicious.
My wife and I were back at Gazi a few weeks later with a group of friends and we tried the soft shell crab and chicken souvlakakia on that occasion which were both really good. Out of the four versions on offer, it’s the duck and the soft shell crab that really stand out.
“Pavlova” Pavlova with Mastic, Ruby Red Grapefruit Curd, Cream ($12.50)
By this stage of the night my wife and I were both very full but we couldn’t leave without trying the pavlova which has already built up quite the reputation. The pavlova is served as a rather large ball and at first there’s some confusion about how to tackle the thing.
Cracking open the top with your spoon though reveals…
The musk flavour of the mastic in the crunchy yet somehow slightly powdery shell was really nice and it wasn’t overly sweet which allowed it to really balance nicely with the curd and cream. Fun and very tasty.
Other dishes that we tried on our return to Gazi included:
- Saganaki with toasted pistachio & kumquat mustard glyko
- Koulourakia with a meze of lamb keftethes & braised baby octopus
- Smoked sardine with crumbed, tomato & pinenut pelte & toursi vegetables
- Pork belly from the wood fired spit with white beans & apple skordalia
Quite simply, they were all delicious, with the saganaki and sardine really standing out.
At the end of the day Gazi delivers on its promise of delivering simple, honest Greek food in a fun, casual environment. The food is very tasty and the service is especially great, with the staff skilfully straddling the line between being casual and laid back and being knowledgeable and professional. When chefs become celebrities the quality of their restaurants can suffer but with Gazi, George Calombaris has hit the nerve of what is on trend in Melbourne dining at the moment (casual food) and successfully put his twist on it.
2 Exhibition Street
Sun – Sat: 11:30am to 11:00pm