Something special is happening in Ramsgate. At its newest bistro, a bushy heap of dried oregano is being taken to with a flame – its smoke slowly seeping into your pre-dinner aperitif. They call it the I Am Greek, which it most certainly is. It’s like a Negroni, but the gin is succeeded by tsipouro – a Greek spirit made from grape must.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and much like the aperitifs restaurant Ble Kouzina is brimming with playful renditions of its owner’s native cuisine. “You always have to keep your culture with you, but you must always add to it as well,” says Natalia Gaspari. “It’s not all about moussaka and lamb. We have so many beautiful flavours – we can create miracles.”

Designed by DS17 (Bel & Brio, Nour), the restaurant is simple without being bare. Walls are painted in the palest of blue, with a chevron of pale-wood banquets on either side. An earthy terrazzo floor adds some warmth to the room, which is brought to life with pot plants and jars of preserved fruit.

Beginning her career at Hellenic House before being asked to join Peter Conistis’s team at Alpha, Gaspari credits her time under the veteran as giving her the awareness to explore her own identity. “It gave me the opportunity to work with people from different cultures,” she says. “That doesn’t happen in Greece. Especially on a little island.”

It’s not surprising then to discover there’s an alchemy afoot here that digs deeper than meat-on-a-stick (souvlaki), and actually gets to the spirit of what makes Greek food Greek.

Gaspari marries dill, marjoram, mint and cloves into a bouquet (its aroma fills the dining room) and peppers her food with Grecian charm. Start with mezedes (a similar concept to tapas). It involves dolmades that are upgraded with a velvety avgolemono foam – a clever emulsion of egg and lemon – and Kefalograviera cheese served in the heavy pan it was baked in and seasoned with honey and sesame. Eat it while it’s hot.

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Moving onto mains, the kakavia – a classic Ionian fish stew – is finessed with lobster-and-haloumi ravioli and a generous cluster of shellfish: mussels, clams and vongole. The broth is clear and more delicate than its ancestral predecessors but bursts with saffron and marjoram. A sinister-looking pie straddles the line between sweet and savoury. The rich stew of Kefalonian octopus and black olives come dressed in black, squid-ink filo. It sits atop a bed of fava skordali, a puree made from black garlic, yellow split peas and lemon. It works like mash, only better.

Christian Ramirez has compiled a wine list to showcase the (mostly) unexplored world of Greek wine. There’s agiorgitiko, assyrtiko and xinomavro, to which the staff can pair meals soundly. For dessert, lemon sorbet is sandwiched between two crunchy dark-chocolate kataifi (baklava-type pastry) cakes and served with dragonfruit and galaktoboureko (milk-and-mastic custard), which comes with crispy baklava wafers, figs and berry compote.

And it’s open for breakfast on the weekend. Baked eggs and hot brandy, anyone?

Ble Kouzina
2/203–207 Ransgate Road, Ramsgate Beach
(03) 9529 4335

Hours:
Tue to Thu 11.30am–10pm
Fri & Sat 7pm–10pm

blerestaurant.com.au