Hellenic Republic

Do you know how long I have waited to eat at Hellenic Republic? ALL OF MY LIFE. Or at least it seems that way. For years I’ve been trying to lock it in as my preferred birthday blow-out treat venue, but as I share these outings with my mother as our birthdays are mere days apart, and she has the shocking temerity to not like Greek food (WHAT), it was not to be. Thankfully when catching up with Jen and Zoe for a long overdue dinner of awesome, Jen had the good sense to book at table at Hellenic, throwing me into an excited/nervous maelstrom of “oh yes FINALLY but will it be good oh god I hope it’s good.”

Zoe had thankfully been to Hellenic many a time, and had the good oil on what we should order. As long as we finished on the loukoumathes, the Greek doughnuts that have become chef George Columbaris’ specialty and have long been haunting my most covetous dreams, I was very happy to accept whatever showed up. And very happy I ended up indeed.

To start we went with a pair of dips with grilled pita bread, because I can’t pass up the chance to slather bread in things. The tzatziki of cucumber, dill and olive oil drizzled yoghurt was agreeably tart, but my heart was immediately taken by the fava Santorini – yellow split pea dip with white truffle oil, capers, and shallots. THIS DIP WAS BROUGHT DOWN FROM OLYMPUS BY SOME WILY HERO THIEF OF ANTIQUITY, THIS IS MY FIRM BELIEF. Because how else could it have been so outrageously, surprisingly good? I don’t ordinarily expect dips to rate among the best part part of a meal (who does) but this was extraordinary and a must order.

Our other starter was the tyri saganaki kefalograviera with peppered figs. I’m always happy to eat up hot salty cheese like it is manna, but felt slight trepidation about the idea of a peppered fig. I should not have been so silly and trusted in George, as it turns out peppered figs are quite delightful, the sharp burr of peppery heat mellowing out against the fig’s sweetness so that with the salty cheese it was a fantastic hot-savoury-sweet taste melange.

The Cypriot salad of grains, pulses, nuts and yoghurt was our concession towards vaguely healthy eating, and it was a very good choice indeed, being very nutty, lightly dressed with olive oil yet allowing the simple grains to pop against the tart yoghurt.

And immediately directing spite at any sense of healthy eating was the next dish, the Tiganites Patates – potatoes fried in olive oil, and flaked with oregano and salt. You probably don’t need yet another description from me about crispy fried potato, so I will spare you, but it was good, ever so good.

As my vegie main I got for myself a spanakopita, which as we all know is a Greek cheese and spinach pie in flaky filo pastry. A nice round of a pie, it was light and flaky, not at all greasy or oily, a nice salty golden pillow threaded with green.

I was growing dangerously full by this point, and was worried at the fact I still had two desserts to sample! The much longed for loukoumathes were first – Hellenic doughnuts generously drizzled with honey, dusted with cinnamon and then topped with scattered walnuts. These were as divinely sweet as the description implies, puffed balls of dough liberally coated in thick, oozy, sweet sweet sweet honey. They were in all honestly probably a bit too rich for their own good, we actually couldn’t finish the bowl between the three of us! But they were still very worth trying, I would just recommend either eating less before they are scheduled to hit the table (a very difficult proposition), or having more people to share them with.

Our second dessert was the Bougatsa me Frouta tou pathous – semolina and passionfruit custard pie, encased in filo pastry and topped with vanilla ice-cream. This was the secret stealth winner of the whole meal. Akin to a round roll version of vanilla slice, it was a gorgeous rich custard delight, bright yellow and decadent yet not at all heavy once settled in your stomach, it was somewhat a feat of wizardry. Zoe informed us that this is a dish commonly served for breakfast in Greece, which seems enormously unfair in comparison to cereal and means we should all probably pack up and go to Greece tomorrow.

So did Hellenic Republic live up to my wild expectations? Yes, and then some. The staff were a delight and enormously professional while still being friendly, the space although large manages to make you and your table of diners feel they have an intimate cocoon, and the food, as gushingly detailed above, was well worth the wait. I hope I don’t have to wait as long for a second helping.

Hellenic Republic

434 Lygon Street, East Brunswick

Ph: 9381 1222

hellenicrepublic.com.au

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Huxtaburger

In continuing ‘Hayley is finally visiting places that the blogosphere was losing their minds about three years ago’ news, I finally made a visit to Huxtaburger.

There was a time, young readers, when you couldn’t move for folks posting rave reviews about Huxtable’s various endeavours, especially their burger offshoot Huxtaburger. The first one, situated across the road from Huxtable base camp on Smith Street in Collingwood, always had an enormous line spilling out the front of it. Everyone, it seemed, was rapacious for American diner style burgers that were simple, filling, and provided avenues for a lot of Bill Cosby sweater jokes while you were waiting for them.

I, and many other vegetarians, were silent on the Huxtaburger score, however, as for a long time (I think two years? More careful foodie historians will be able to correct me) Huxtaburger simply did not have a vegetarian burger option. Which seemed slightly mad in veg*n-obsessed Melbourne, but the official line given forth was that the burger boffins simply didn’t want to offer a vegetarian burger that wasn’t as good as the meaty ones that were sending Melbourne collectively mad, and were going to keep quietly developing until one cut the mustard. Fair enough, I suppose, although in that time waiting my interest in visiting Huxtaburger waned into non-existence.

Indeed, it took Mel and I coming into possession of some Huxtaburger vouchers for me to remember that indeed they actually had vegie options now. To the CBD outpost we went!

The shop itself is very clean and a fusion between a diner and a slicker version of your standard chain burger restaurant. The staff were ENORMOUSLY friendly, and certainly made the customer service level of things far more enjoyable than I’m used to expecting in similar establishments.

The vegie burger is called the Sondra (all the burgers are named after Cosby Show characters) and consists of a slab of grilled tofu, tomato slices, lettuce, and sesame-soy mayo sandwiched in a brioche-style bun. The bun wasn’t too sweet, thankfully, which I often find is the standard fault of the brioche burger bun, but instead was very well balanced in flavour while also being structurally sound in keeping the burger together. The Sondra was actually the least messy burger I’ve encountered in a long time, a pleasing antidote to the types of burgers that stuff far too many toppings in that collapse out all over you as soon as you take a bite.

The tofu itself, being a cohesive slab, also stayed together nicely, but the one big problem with the burger as a whole is that the tofu itself just isn’t that flavourful. It had possibly been marinated in some kind of soy concoction before being put on the grill, but contrasted with the mild mayo it didn’t pack any kind of punch and was rather dull. Like eating a geography teacher.

What did pack punch, however, was the side order of chipotle fries. A colourful cup of crinkly chips that had been liberally sprinkled with chipotle seasoning, I actually needed to go a little mad in squirting tomato sauce on them so that my mouth didn’t end up on fire. They were a needed dose of fun!

The real question here is, would I go back to Huxtaburger without the dangled carrot of a voucher, and would I encourage you all to do the same? Honestly, I am not sure that I would. The pros that it is cheap and quick is overshadowed by the reality that the vegetarian option is simply not that exciting. The fact that within walking distance of the CBD Huxtaburger I could go to three different Lord of the Fries outlets and gorge myself on plentiful vegetarian burger options is probably damning enough.

There was a time, young readers, when if a food place didn’t have terribly good vegie options, veg*n diners would just sadly shrug and muddle through. But considering that Melbourne now boasts such an extremely veg*n-friendly food scene, whenever I now come across seemingly tokenistic vegetarian options my reaction tends to be “why did you even bother?” Because there are so many options now that we don’t have to put up with it. So while Huxtaburger may be one of the grand burger poobahs for meat eaters, vegetarians might want to seek out other alternatives. And that’s okay, because now we can.

Huxtaburger

Rear 357 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD (also locations in Collingwood and Prahran)

www.huxtaburger.com.au