Okay, I have to admit that as a young gourmet my knowledge of Greek food is very limited. In fact, when Dad told me that at some Greek feasts, they allow the diners to smash their plates, I couldn’t believe it. But what I do know is that traditional Greek food is about three things: family, hearty food and having a good time. Hellenika is the epitome of the true essence of traditional Greek dining.
When Dad told me that we were going to holiday at Nobby Beach, Hellenika was the first place that popped in my mind. I begged and fortunately Dad agreed to go on a Wednesday night.
It was only 6:30 when we arrived and yet the restaurant was nearly full. We took our seats and quickly placed an order for their signature slow cooked lamb, which I’m aware can sell out on some nights. We received the menus and instantly, we were enticed by the banquet, which I thought was very reasonably priced at $55 per head.
First up, two dips with some crusty, fresh bread. The taramasalata was creamy and thick with a pronounced taste from the fish roe. The red capsicum and feta dip was moreish and light.
Next up, the grilled sheep’s milk cheese, served simply with a cheek of lemon. It is amazing how particular flavours are accentuated through a simple slice of grilled cheese with squeeze of lemon; salty, tangy, sharp. I could eat a plateful any day of the week.
The Princess’ favourite food in the world was next, Tasmanian calamari, char grilled and hit with a squeeze of lemon. It was great to show the picky eater how equally enjoyable calamari can be without a deep fried crunch. It was ridiculously tender while still holding its body. I couldn’t resist trying to scoop every last bit of the cooking marinade from the bottom of the plate.
Dad’s pick of the night came next; salty pork belly with braised leeks. I am not entirely sure how they were prepared but it definitely included time on the char grill before serving. The grill added some delicious smoky flavours to the pull-apart meat. Perhaps, a little too much grilling had occurred on my piece of crackling. Although the ubiquitous crunch was there the char itself verged on burnt and overpowered any of the tasty goodness that is usually derived from tasty rendered pork fat. Nevertheless, the sweet, soft leeks complemented the rich, salty meat perfectly. Even the Princess enjoyed that combo!
The funny thing about the fish dish was that a few hours before our dinner, we were watching an episode of The Cook and The Chef, which was based on cooking King George Whiting. By happy coincidence, the daily local fish of the day was, King George Whiting, very simply served with a cheek of lemon, atop a bed of soft eggplant. The fish was impeccable but I thought the eggplant neither added nor detracted from the fish so on balance perhaps it was not necessary. On the side was a village salad with all my favourite things, feta, cucumber, tomato and olives. Instead of one square of feta placed strategically on top I prefer it to be crumbed throughout.
Our last savoury course of the night was their signature lamb shoulder we pre-ordered. It was served alongside some potatoes cooked in lamb stock with dill yogurt and an eggplant dip. The meat was soft and succulent but needed some extra seasoning to enliven the glorious lamb meat.
Before desserts were served I asked whether their halva ice cream, which QLD Good Food Guide editor Natascha Mirosch had tipped me off about, would be part of the trio of desserts. Although it wasn’t they thoughtfully served us a scoop. There was a certain distinctive nutty flavour, hazelnut perhaps? It also had a chewy dough-like texture reminiscent of the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. It was simply marvellous!
We were treated to three desserts served with watermelon and dried figs. The baklava was flaky and syrupy and beats any other I’ve had. The Turkish delight, of which I am not usually a massive fan, was far superior to the commercial version. The third dessert was my favourite, honey and walnut cake. The cake was very moist being infused with honey and remaining very light. The watermelon and figs were a refreshing way to finish.
Hellenika delivered pure flavours simply, and I look forward to my next Greek food adventure, hopefully back here!
P.S Did you know, there is debate about the purpose of plate smashing, some say it relieves your worries while others believe it helps ward off evil spirits!