The yearlong lead-up to the opening of 1821 sounds like a passage from The Odyssey. Last Monday, following ongoing negotiations with the landlord and the Sydney City Council, the Greek giant helmed by chef David Tsirekas (Perama and Xanthi) finally opened its doors.
Athens-based hospitality designer Dimitris Economou tells the story of the year 1821, when the Greek people overthrew the Ottoman Empire. Split into distinct zones – a main dining, top-floor mezzanine and basement bar (the final bunker-style hideout set to open in a month’s time) – the venue displays historical relics that paint a picture of the country’s proud and turbulent history. There’s the partition of walking sticks, an ode to the hill-dwelling guerilla shepherds of the Greek rebellion, alongside the most striking feature of all: a floor-to-ceiling Greek flag on the far right wall – cut out from white plaster to expose the original brick beneath.
When it comes to the food, Tsirekas took to tweaking classic dishes without losing the hallmarks of comfort and generosity. “Its about warmth and hospitality,” says Tsirekas. “It’s designed to share. It’s about simplicity and balance, which has been a part of Greek cuisine from ancient times. I still wanted to retain traditional methods but hone it in towards the philosophy of the ancients with refined and clean flavours.”
Tsirekas has worked tirelessly to build one-on-one relationships with small-scale suppliers to ensure the best produce hits the plate. “It all comes back to a village sense of belonging,” explains Tsirekas. “Everyone has an ownership of the product and takes pride in where it comes from.”
Take the octopus. Tsirekas got together with Con Nemistas from Southern Fresh Seafood to find the perfect size and texture for grilling. And it’s just as you’d expect: charred and tender, served with swordfish taramasalata and pickled vegetables. The dish closest to his heart? “My favourite has been the lamb shoulder,” says Tsirekas. “It was always a signature at Perama and Xanthi so here I wanted to really nail it and evolve it. There’s also the lobster pasta. A simple dish that best represents everything I love about the Greek Islands.”
With an abundance of ouzo and names such as Aphrodite Bellini (sparkling Greek wine, ouzo, pear purée, lemon) and Tears of Chios (Mastiha, Belvedere, Chambord, lemon), the cocktails drive the message home. But it’s the wine list – full of sparkling, white and red varieties from Santorini to Crete – that comes as the unexpected twist.