Gazi Restaurant, Melbourne – Masterchef Australia George Calombaris’s greek outpost is a fabulous spot for all things greek.
Terracota pots dotted the ceiling and I couldn’t help look up in awe as I first walked into Gazi – well among the top 3 picks in my foodie-bucket list for Melbourne. We didn’t have a reservation but we went really early for the lunch service and managed to snag a table, just as the first few drops of rain fell on our coats as we walked around Melbourne’s CBD. Could there really have been a more perfect time to tuck into Greek street food – I wouldn’t think so!
That I am a huge George Calombaris fan would be an understatement – I have followed him on Masterchef Australia religiously for all the seasons to date and was first in queue to have my books signed by him when he made a trip to the UAE. I’ve always admired his feedback to the contestants – knowledgeable but never intimidating, always inspiring. I was clear about wanting to experience Gazi before his famed Press Club – I wanted to get a feel for his vision of soul-satisfying Greek food before moving to modern Australian. And I’m oh-so-glad that I did it that way!
The blue evil eye ‘mati’ plates by Robert Gordon on every table, busy vibes of the open kitchen and overlooking the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the bustling CBD – Gazi checks all the right boxes. The menu is exhaustive – with a great selection of both bites, nibbles, mains and cocktails that well and truly capture the soul of Greek street food. From the moment we were seated at the table by the windows overlooking the Yarra river and watched the grey clouds gain momentum, we were glad to be indoors sipping on Gazi’s Thebes Cocktail – muddled magic of gin, vermouth, mandarin shrub and Greek basil. The staff gladly took us through the menu, highlighting both the specials, the greatest hits and their individual favourites. They added an infectious charm to the vibe of the restaurant.
The folks at Gazi might classify their Garida as “dirty hellenic food” but this crispy kataifi pastry wrapped tiger prawns with aleppo mayo, honey and smoked almonds is anything but! Its one of those dishes thats an instant show-stopper – I can imagine it making an appearance on practically every table. And why not, crunchy bite into perfectly cooked prawn always impresses when executed like they do at Gazi – we were meant to share this, from the looks of it you can imagine that didn’t really happen.
Their soft shell crab souvlaki with mint, coriander, honey and mayo is everything you want your taste of street food to be – crispy yet meaty crab deep fried and lovingly wrapped up in the arms of a pita wrap thats smeared with flavours that work well together. I’d never imagined loving the use of honey in so many of the savoury dishes – but used judiciously it added a great deal of oomph!
Another of my favourites from Gazi’s menu (and it sure was a tough ask to pick) was this simply grilled quail with roasted grapes. Although it looked a tad bit too simple – it had this beautiful marriage of flavours that didn’t even for a moment overshadow the delicate sensibilities of the quail (golden skin and everything!).
The house salad for the day was the char-grilled asparagus with crumbled feta, toasted almonds and a balsamic vinaigrette – a fine case of good quality produce that shined through purely by virtue of the minimalistic treatment of it – a fresh crunch still on the asparagus with mouthfuls of sweet-salty-herb flavours to complement.
We loved the spit-fire grilled chicken in equal measure – pulled meat in ridiculously juicy chunks, over bright orange tyrokafteri (a Greek sauce of roasted hot peppers and feta), white beans and a smoky walnut dressing. Bold flavours that were wholesome, the charred bits paired ever so well with the peppers and beans complete with an element of crunch, making it that delicious bite.
There was no way we were going to end a meal like that without a sweet indulgence and the goodness of the Loukomathes was just calling out to us – deep fried to golden crisp outside but cloud-like pillowy lightness inside drizzled with honey, nutella and crushed hazelnuts. It was the sorta finale we needed, eating with our fingers, a few quick bites watching the rain really come down.
We walked through the doors of Gazi with big expectations in flavours – after all you’d expect no less from one of the judges of MasterChef. And boy how it delivers! By the time we left, the place was buzzing and every table was occupied. I’d go back again in a heartbeat – or you know, after the next time I can brave a 16-hour long plane ride.
Location: Gazi, 2 Exhibition Street, CBD, Melbourne, VIC