When it opened in 2008, the original Hellenic Republic in Brunswick East dragged Aussie Greek cuisine out of the sad, overcooked lamb and gingham table-clothed past and into a confident and crowd-pleasingly delicious new era. We learnt to love rowdy, taverna-style eating and discovered that real tarama – the proper, good stuff - is actually white, not lolly pink. We also learnt that when it’s done right, a plate of roast chicken and chips can be a thing of true wonder.
Fast-forward five years and Hellenic is still cranking. Meanwhile, Calombaris has pulled the pin on Middle Eastern-inspired St Katherine’s to make way for Hellenic Mark Two. The entrepreneurial chef says he knows what good at, and that returning to the simplicity of his ancestral cuisine seems a “no brainer”. “We’ve gone back to our roots,” he says, adding, “Hellenic works. It’s a simple concept and people love it.”
Like its predecessor, the flavours here are assured and uncomplicated, although - perhaps in keeping with the east-side locale - the atmosphere is a little more subdued. The service, under charming industry stalwart Ari Vlassopoulos, is switched-on and genuinely convivial, while Greek pop music and approachable native wine matches add to the breezy Mediterranean authenticity of the dining experience.
Many of the classic Hellenic dishes that we’ve fallen for, like the mixed grain salad, grilled saganaki with peppered figs and the aforementioned silky white tarama; have made the trek across the Yarra. Head chef and co-owner Travis McCauley says of the Kew menu, “It’s about 85% of what we do in Brunswick, with a few cheeky additions like the ouzo-pickled cucumber and bifteki [beef] jaffles”. He adds, “We’re getting ready to introduce a dedicated brass baklava trolley with four different types of baklava, too,” which we rather like the sound of.
The airy, bi-level interior has had a modest refit, sidestepping the more rustic features of its northside sibling in favour of bold gestures, such as a series of large frescoes recreating the poster art of classic Greek films of the ‘60s and ‘70s including Zorba the Greek. The main ground floor space has been divided into four distinct zones, the largest of which is soon due to welcome a Greek style pastry and coffee shop, Sweet Hellenic, serving up what McCauley calls “twisted Greek classics” under the guidance of ex-Vue de Monde pastry chef Anthony Hart.
And on the off chance that you’re thinking Calombaris might be showing signs of slowing down, forget it - he and McCauley already have their sights focused on their next project, and will say “yassu” to a third Hellenic (in Williamstown) in early 2014.