Michael Tassis has done Italian, Latin, seafood and steak. Now, for his fifth venue, Greek eatery Opa Bar and Mezze, the prolific restaurateur returns to the food he grew up with.
“It’s a great thing to come back to my heritage,” Tassis tells Broadsheet. “My father George left Greece in the 1960s, and growing up in Sydney we had a lot of barbeques where he would entertain the neighbours with Greek food. We were always eating traditional dishes from his region of Ioannina [on the northern Greek mainland] like souvla, moussaka, pastitsio and lamb fricassee.”
All these and more are on the menu at Opa (named after the Greek exclamation that you might hear punctuating songs and dances at community celebrations), which opened last week at the Riverside Centre on Eagle Street, in the now unrecognisable former home of Jellyfish.
It’s a coming of age for Tassis, who also oversees four other restaurants in the riverfront precinct: George’s Paragon, Massimo Restaurant & Bar, Rico Bar and Dining and Fatcow Steak & Lobster. Now he has a chance to really speak through his food, designing the menu with fellow head chefs Vangjel and Dianna Jorgo, a husband-and-wife team from the same region of Greece as Michael’s dad. The couple were previously at The Greek Club before spending 25 years cooking together on the island of Paros.
The menu is split between traditional dishes – lahanodolmades (pork and veal wrapped in cabbage leaves and served with avgolemono, or egg and lemon sauce), souvla (lamb on the spit), soutzoukakia beef tartare (cumin- and cinnamon-spiced meatballs served with tomato and a quail egg), and half a lamb (requiring 48 hours’ notice) – and modernised Greek seafood, including raw ocean trout with citrus, watermelon and fennel; freshly shucked oysters with tomato and ouzo; and chargrilled lobster with capers and ladolemono (lemon and oil) or Cretan butter sauce.
The expansive 21-plate mezze offering takes you from saganaki to octopus to spicy sausages and meatballs. There’s also a surprise or two on the dessert menu, including chocolate baklava.
The wine list is extensive, with close to 200 bottles on offer. You’ll find a selection of Greek wines, including savatiano and xinomavro. But the real focus is on pinot noir, due to its versatility with red and white meats, as well as fish. You can also try a vertical tasting, sampling back-to-back vintages of assyrtiko from Clare Valley producer Jim Barry – the first winemaker in the country to plant this Greek variety in 2012. There’s also cocktails, ouzo and Greek liqueurs.
The 500-square-metre venue is separated into two spaces: a casual bar built around a long marble counter for sipping on wine and snacking on share plates (you can order your food via an app), and a dining room with table service and a more extensive food menu. Each spot offers majestic views across the Brisbane River, whether you’re lounging in a sofa booth or perched on the wooden seating out front.
Inside, it’s all white walls and blue-stone flooring with accents of terracotta tiles, pale timber and terrazzo tabletops. Local design firm Clui (Montrachet, Salt Meats Cheese, Atelier Brasserie) worked with Tassis, who says he wanted to create the feeling of being in Corfu or Santorini, and builders Tonic Projects (The Calile Hotel, Fish Lane) to bring a slice of the Greek islands to life.
As Broadsheet exits the restaurant on opening night, a large wine glass is knocked off a table (not by us, thank you) and smashes into pieces on the floor. It doesn’t take long for the crowd to begin shouting “Opa!” – a moment that captures the fun, familial vibes Opa is bringing to Brisbane’s waterfront.
Opa Bar and Mezze
123 Eagle St, Brisbane
(07) 2111 5155
Restaurant: Mon to Sun 12pm–3pm, 5.30pm–10pm
Bar: Mon to Sun 11am-late