If you’ve been playing along with my dining escapades for a while now, you have probably read about my Greek connection. When I was born, my dad was in the midst of a serious snooker battle (spanning 15 years) with an old Greek fellow in the rural NSW town I grew up in. Every Friday they would battle it out over Greek coffees and kourambiethes. When I came along, to try to distract his opponent, my Mum and Dad asked the Venardos’ if they would like to be my godparents; or perhaps the honour was a bribe for Stavros to go easy on my dad. Either way, I grew up eating spanakopita (spinach and feta pie) even when I refused to eat any other kind of vegetable. I learned many things from my Nona (godmother): that ice cream is healthy because it is full of calcium, that chips deep fried in olive oil and dusted with dried dill and salt are very healthy (duh, potato is a vegetable) and that sugar-coated almonds are best left in their tulle-wrapped bomboniere form displayed in the china cabinet forevermore. She also instilled in me a deep love of Greek food.
Fortunately there is plenty of Greek food in Melbourne; George Columbaris opens a new restaurant every second month and modernised Greek salads are a staple in most cafes. However, there is something to be said for the simple, traditional food of my childhood. I rave about George’s soft shell crab souvlakakia but I can promise you, Nona has never whipped one up in her dill-scented, wood-panelled kitchen. This is what attracted me to Meltemi Greek Tavern in Moonee Ponds – authentic Greek food from a family owned restaurant with plenty of wooden beams to remind me of my Nona.
First up, wine. The wine list is concise and well-priced, mostly Aussie, but with a few sweet Greek wines and yes, retsina. We went with the 2013 Palliser Estate ‘Pencarrow’ Pinot Noir ($48) from Martinborough, NZ – quite fruit-driven with some darker berry and plum characters and some lovely savoury herbal notes.
The menu is extensive and covers all the traditional favourites with an entire A4 page devoted to each of Starters, Seafood and Meat. To begin with, Saganaki ($13.50) with pita bread ($4) was a given, because FRIED CHEESE
This was delivered piping hot with a gorgeous crunchy exterior. The pita was warm and fluffy-textured. A very good start.
My Love adores scallops so when we see them on a menu, they are compulsory.
For $16.50 there was a generous serve of plump and juicy scallops with roe attached. Served simply chargrilled with lemon, the freshness of the produce was evident.
For his main course, My Love opted for Soutzoukakia – pan-fired meatballs, cooked in traditional Greek salsa ($28)
This was good, honest, traditional Greek food. The simple presentation fails to convey the indulgence of these meatballs – rich layers of herby complexity and a rustic meaty texture; drenched in a fragrant tomato sauce.
I had to order my benchmark, Lamb Gyros ($27) which is as Greek as it comes – slow cooked charcoal lamb with traditional sides
The lamb was perfect, nicely charred with gently rendered fat. The tzatziki was a standout with a perfect balance of tartness and creaminess and a fresh burst of herbs. However, I was a little disappointed that the salad was just a garden salad, lacking feta and olives; and rather oddly, the potato wedges were just a touch cold.
Loukoumades ($10) let us finish on a high.
These were some of the best I have ever had (a big call). Served piping hot with exactly the right amount of honey syrup (drenched but not swimming). For the uninitiated, these are the Greek version of donut holes. Meltemi’s had a lovely light texture with a crunchy coating. Just delightful.
Service was casual but friendly. The food came out so quickly, we could almost have done with a little more of a gap between dishes; but if the rest of the diners were anything to go by, Meltemi are used to catering for hungry Greek families.
We had a great night at Meltemi Greek Tavern. Traditional, well-cooked food with authentic flavours and a lovely casual, friendly environment. We will most certainly be back, perhaps if Nona ever comes to town 🙂
Disclosure: This post is part of a collaboration with Moonee Valley Council. The restaurant was chosen by me, the review was conducted anonymously and all food and drinks were paid for.