George Calombaris is a clever man. He’s jumped on board the move to more casual dining by reinventing Press Club (I wasn’t a fan) as the fun and fiesty Gazi serving up Greek food street style. The menu has simple dips and breads and souvas with chips in them just like you get in Greece. Plus the whole place feels lively and buzzing rather than the more restrained Press Club atmosphere.
Gazi has been redesigned with lots of bench style and communal seating and a spectacular ceiling made from dangling terracotta pots creating a wave like effect. It’s noisy and fun and feels like the place to be right now in the CBD. It helps that service is utterly charming. I had lunch there with my friend Magda and we both fell in love with our waitress who was super friendly and chatty with great ordering recommendations while not interrupting our catch up too much.
To start there are a variety of dips. We tried the cauliflower skordalia ($9.50) which was topped with fragments of smoked almonds and some crispy pork mince. The dip was smooth and sultry and came with plenty of lightly warmed flat bread (also the option of gluten free bread).
The so called “mousaka omelette” ($14.50) didn’t really resemble a mousaka or an omelette but was absolutely delicious. More like a tortilla there’s a sturdy egg and potato base topped with some slow cooked lamb and pickled eggplant. It’s got all the flavours of a traditional mousaka but in a modern take.
Of course we had to have a souva. The traditional chicken souvlaki ($8.50) is made with moist, char grilled chicken topped with lots of parsley and a slick of onion mayo. A few chips and soft, smoky bread make this a hand held delight. Not so traditional the duck souvlaki ($9.50) erred slightly on the dry side on this visit but on a previous visit Magda’s verdict was the duck was so tender it was like confit duck. An accompanying “Horiatiki” salad ($12.50) was again a twist on the standard Greek salad with walnuts adding crunch. It was simple but a great flavour combination and really beautifully dressed.
Dessert was even more impressive. The risogalo jar ($14.50) has to be one of my favourite desserts this year. A mason jar is opened up to reveal a bit of theatrical smoke (too quickly dispersed for my camera) which contains layers of creamy rice pudding puree, banana, crunchy smoked almonds and sweet but savoury salted caramel. It’s the sort of dessert you dream about and consider returning for alone.
We also tried some of the Turkish delight, a snip at $3. This is made in Turkey and delivered to Gazi which gets through a huge block each week. It’s packed with pistachios and nuts with a really subtle flavour – an excellent accompaniment to a post lunch coffee or tea. As you can tell I’m smitten with Gazi. The reinvention of the space as a more casual and cheaper restaurant hasn’t compromised on the quality of food and service. There’s only one thing to do – just go.
Details: Gazi, 2 Exhibition St, Melbourne 3000 (Ph 03 9207 7444) Open: 12pm–10pm
Damage: Reasonable. Our bill came to $80 for two (without alcohol).