Classic with a twist: Spanner crab moussaka. Photo: Chris Hyde
Atalanta bills itself as a Greek restaurant, but forget the traditional moussaka and bouzouki. Hamilton's newest restaurant substitutes ingredients and uses modern cooking techniques to spin Greek standards into something lighter and more interesting.
Octopus, for example is cooked sous vide, rendering it butter-soft, before being grilled over charcoal. It can be cut with a spoon, but still retains that Greek-taverna-by-the-sea rustic chariness. Dressed with a little grapefruit and chilli, with a sweet, waxy pickled chilli as garnish, it certainly couldn't be called traditional or authentic, yet it stays true to the Greek ethos of simplicity and bold flavours.
What the yia yias would think of Atlalanta's moussaka, served in an individual dish with spanner crab instead of lamb and topped with a tomato concasse, remains to be seen. Ditto the reworking of a classic baklava, but more on that later.
Go-to dish: Goat croquettes. Photo: Chris Hyde
Portside is an unusual choice of location for this new venture by the owner of Ahmet's, Next Door Kitchen and South Side Diner in South Bank. There was a time when venues like Paul McGivern's Manx and fine Japanese diner Sono drew food lovers here, but then chains moved in and dulled Portside's shine as a food destination somewhat. Perhaps things are on the up again.
Contemporary, sleek and light-filled, the fit-out hints at its Hellenic background rather than hitting diners in the face with themed Greek decor – there's no blue and white colour scheme, Greek flags or the standard print of the village of Oia in Santorini.
To one side is a bar, with tall copper stools and potted rosemary wrapped in brown paper on the tables. On the other side, the restaurant has comfortable blond wood chairs and padded booths, while above an intricate geometric brass lighting system criss-crosses the ceiling. The tables are set with sleek stainless steel containers of olive oil, real cloth napkins in copper rings and crackle-glazed flatware.
Modern Greek: Lights criss-cross the ceiling at Atalanta. Photo: Chris Hyde
It's early days for sure, but right now everything just works at Atalanta. The decor encourages long sociable dining, the staff are switched on and the food, under chef Dean Brewer, who seems to have really hit his stride here after working as executive chef at Next Door Kitchen and South Side Diner, is faultless.
The menu is divided into "mezze", "gathered" and "hunted", which is less pretentious than it sounds as it references the restaurant's name, Atalanta - the goddess of the hunt.
This is food that's ideal for sharing and generous in size, so bring a crowd and pace yourself. If you have trouble deciding, order some goat croquettes while you do. Crisp on the outside, with tasty shreds of well-seasoned meat inside and served with a subtle ouzo mayonnaise so good you want to dip your finger in and lick it off, I'd come for these alone.
Char-grilled octopus with pickled chilli. Photo: Robert Shakespeare
Skewers of meat and chicken are tender and smoked infused thanks to their charcoal grilling, served with a punchy caper and olive salsa. Order a side of lemony potatoes tossed in oregano with small nuggets of soft feta, too.
It wouldn't be a Greek restaurant without lamb; a leg slow-cooked with hummus, olives and rosemary for two.
I'm sure on one of my trips to Greece I must have eaten dessert, but I can't remember a single one. Whatever. Here there's the white chocolate baklava with freeze-dried raspberries, salted caramel, mixed nuts and a scatter of petals; crumbled halva piled around a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and topped with a cloud of rose Persian fairy floss and flutter of gold leaf; and a fig trifle served in a glass with crumbs of hazelnut shortbread and a mound of honey ricotta. All beautifully photo-ready and worthy of the calorie sacrifice.
Lemon and fig trifle. Photo: Chris Hyde
The only small criticism I can make of Atalanta is that there should be more Greek wines on the list. There's a growing interest in Greek wines but it's rare to see them on a list and this would seem to be the perfect place for them. Sadly, among the Australian, Spanish and Italians there are just two Hellenic wines - a red agiorgitiko from Nemea in the Peloponnese, and a malagousia from Santorini.
Depending on your feelings when it comes to the simple, hearty flavours of home-style Greek food, Atalanta may be even better than the real thing.
- 07 3868 4449
- Cuisine - Greek
- Prices - Typical mezze $16.50; Vegetable dishes $10.50-$12.50; Meat and fish $28.50; Dishes to share $52.50; Desserts $14.50
- Features - Outdoor seating, Licensed
- Chef(s) - Dean Brewer
- Opening Hours - Mon-Fri 11.30am-11.30pm; Sat-Sun 7.30am-11.30pm
- Author - Natascha Mirosch