Like everyone, I understand that buying lunch every day in Sydney, or anywhere for that matter, is pretty much the equivalent to setting your money on fire. Like many, I bring mine to work four, probably five days a week. I was working at the Broadsheet offices in Darlinghurst when I first happened upon the subject of this article. I hadn’t brought my lunch this particular day, or maybe I ate my lunch at 11am and was after Second Lunch – I can’t remember. Regardless, I was told to visit Flour and Stone. I thought I’d get a sanga, or a pie, or a canelé, but I ended up with the spanakopita.
I wasn’t sure what was going on in the delightful piece of pie at the time but it was very good. I’m talking salty, herby, excellent cheese-to-everything-else ratio, and spinach in inoffensive-sized pieces. The pastry? Squishy. Squishy, but also … crunchy.
“It’s puff pastry and there’s a lot of butter in it,” the owner of the Woolloomooloo bakery Nadine Ingram says. “I think it’s all the juice that comes out of the ricotta and steam that makes it a little bit softer, but it’s still got that buttery edge.”
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Traditionally the Greek pie is made with filo pastry, but here the anatomy of spanakopita goes like this: silverbeet, shallots, dill, parsley and mint are chopped up very finely; this ensures everything cooks at the same rate and stays green. They’re then mixed with fresh ricotta, pecorino, feta and a liberal dose of nutmeg before being wrapped in puff pastry. A sprinkle of nigella seeds goes on top.
“[The spanakopita has] kind of become a new religion for [James, the chef who makes it]. It’s just taken over his life. It’s very popular and I keep pushing him to make more,” Ingram says.
Same, James, same.
Now look, the issue I have with making spanakopita is that I can never get the texture/consistency/spinach/or, umm, flavour right. The weekend after I ate Flour and Stone’s I tried to make it and it was shocking stuff. How did I get it so wrong?
“You can’t go wrong if you use lots of cheese,” Ingram says. “And by cheese I mean we’ve got the ricotta in there but obviously spanakopita’s got to have feta in it otherwise I don’t think it’s spanakopita. It’s also got a portion of parmesan or pecorino in there. It’s got to be well seasoned, lots of herbs; don’t be stingy with the herbs.”
With a freezer full of my shocking concoction I had forbidden myself from visiting F&S until I ate it all. My colleagues? Unimpressed. There were many weeks that my shit homemade spanakopita made its way to the office, and I continued to complain about how bad it was.
I think what makes F&S’s so good is that usually with spinach pie you’re like, “Cool, it’s spinach pie”, and after three bites you’re searching for tomato sauce (too far?) or roast potatoes to add something else. Well, kids, not here. Not with Flour and Stone’s spana – you don’t need anything else.
Also, there are no massive pieces of spinach so that when you take a bite, you don’t drag it out so it flops on your chin and onto your white T-shirt swiftly ruining it, and your day. Instead, the spinach is well integrated; none of this one-chunk-of-spinach, one-chunk-of-feta nonsense. Some may say – I certainly would – it’s of perfect equilibrium.
Finally, some advice on securing your spana. Firstly, for the love of lunch, get an end piece if it’s offered. You want as much pastry as possible.
Secondly, don’t make the error of going there at lunchtime. No, no, no. A 1pm drop in to Flour and Stone is for those who don’t want spanakopita. Those who do want spanakopita get there at 10.30am and not a second later. This bad boy comes out of the oven around then and, according to Ingram, now that it’s officially on the menu, it’s easier to snatch a piece these days than it has been in times gone by. “We were actually holding it back off the counter at one point [and keeping it out the back]. It was kind of like you had to give us a wink,” says Ingram, before we both laugh.
I knew it!
“I Can't Stop Thinking About” is a series about Sydney dishes Broadsheet Sydney editors are obsessed with.