2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne, VIC

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Gazi's duck souvlaki.
Gazi's duck souvlaki. Photo: Eddie Jim

Larissa Dubecki

Consider the souvlaki. The lowliest of fast foods; a known criminal associate of mystery meat, grease and regret. Then consider the Gazi souvlaki, composed of things such as marinated beef brisket, roasted and glazed and rolled in springy, charred flatbread with red onion and flat-leaf parsley, two types of mustard and garlicky aioli and - this is the evil clincher - fries.

I think it's destined to be the Huxtaburger of souvlaki, doing for the archetypal 3am booze sopper what the Huxtable crew did for the burger. The joy doesn't stop at the brisket. You want soft-shell crab, or lambs' brains, or the excellent spicy-battered confit duck with poached quince? Gosh, it's good. This is souvlaki worth staying sober for.

And that, in a nutshell, is Gazi. The post-GFC response to Press Club, George Calombaris' latest offering is fun and grounded, a little bit wrong and plenty of right.

Herculean lift: Gazi redefines the taverna.
Herculean lift: Gazi redefines the taverna. Photo: Eddie Jim

The Made Establishment's cultural pulse-taking has mothballed its haute-flying flagship, due to be reborn later in the year as an adjacent 30-seater. Gazi slots into the stable as the city sibling of Hellenic Republic's modern taverna - bolder and brasher but with similarly immersive tendencies. This is a restaurant as a curated event, with a Eurotrash mirrored bar, a Eurovision soundtrack of Greek club music and closely packed diners making a din beneath an undulating ceiling of terracotta pots.

Just like Hellenic Republic, it has a healthy showing of Greek faces among the crowd. It's an appropriate display of patriotic gratitude towards the MasterChef celeb, who has performed the Herculean task of rescuing Greek food from the ghetto, where once it huddled for company next to Indian.

The upwardly mobile trajectory continues. The food here is utterly enjoyable in its unproblematic, forthright way - but then subtlety has never been the group's forte, which nails Gazi's streetwise Greek message then whacks you over the head with the ''doing it Greek style'' sharing menu and the ''bend over box''. Enough, already.

Chip-stuffed souvlakis aside, I'll take it on notice that this is authentic street food. There's obvious cheffy style to the raw fennel, tarama butter with a haunting lick of caramelised salty roe, and garlicky toasted breadcrumbs. You dip, you roll, you enjoy the contrast of crisp, creamy and earthy. The saganaki is a modern classic with its bold salt-sweet balance of a toasty wedge of kefalograviera and tangy, jammified cumquats. Smoke-edged sweetcorn dip with chicken-skin chips is less Athenian street stall, more Melbourne menu du jour, epitomising the masculine devil-may-care ethos trending across town.

Some are the rustic village-style dishes Hellenic does so well. Chewy swatches of cuttlefish with white beans, radicchio, bitter greens and garlic dressing fly a flag for virtue. Rugged authenticity gets a remix with the moussaka omelet, the bechamel-layered lamb mince comfort classic gussied up with mayo and pickled eggplant. It's a muddy concept, but at $14.50 I can absorb that disappointment.

The wood chargrill is important. The whole prawns are a little woolly, but ox heart is cooked to perfect, crisp-edged springiness - it's crusted in quinoa and comes on lemon-vinegary lentils and onion rings.

From the spit, two fat rolls of pork have crackle of the sort that develops only with technique and time. White beans, roasted walnuts and apple skordalia - garlicky apple puree - are excellent sidekicks.

Retsina - pine resin - in wine is an abomination, and you'll find a few examples to test the theory on the Greek-Aussie wine list with prices that quickly go from street to serious outlay. A minty lilt is much better confined to the mastic and dehydrated raspberry decorating the pavlova, really a meringue dome you smash - opa! - to reveal red grapefruit sorbet and pomegranate seeds, lemon curd and a flutter of musk. Great fun. The loukoumades - what country doesn't have its version of the doughnut? - are dull despite their cocoa-nib confetti.

A few misfires don't matter. Gazi's a great example of the X-factor that can make or break a restaurant. Sure, you could pinpoint its fun and easygoing nature, its fun and easygoing staff. But even though it's followed the year's biggest trend down to street level it's also a risk-taker, spinning Greek food's familiar flavours into new forms. This is the postmodern taverna, and the future looks fine.

Twitter: @LarissaDubecki or ldubecki@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Wine list Evenly split between Greek and Australian, with a side order of ouzo
Service Informal, informed
Value Good
Noise Nightclubby
Outdoors No

The best bit Fun dining
The worst bit The dirty-bend-over-street-food oversell
Go-to dish Any souvlaki (seen here: duck souvlaki, $10)

How we score
Of 20 points, 10 are awarded for food, five for service, three for ambience, two for wow factor.

12 Reasonable 13 Good if not great 14 Solid and enjoyable 15 Very good 16 Capable of greatness 17 Special 18 Exceptional 19 Extraordinary 20 Perfection

Restaurants are reviewed again for The Age Good Food Guide and scores may vary.

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2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne, VIC

  • Cuisine - Greek
  • Prices - Typical starter, $14; main, $24; dessert, $12
  • Features - Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options
  • Chef(s) - George Calombaris and Luke Croston
  • Owners - Made Establishment
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, Diners Club, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Daily noon-late
  • Author - Larissa Dubecki
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12 reviews so far

  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

    Souvlaki is lowly food? Pfft. It's delicious when done right.

    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 12:12PM
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

    $10 dollars for the duck souvlaki in the photo! Are you joking. It looks tiny and deep fried. Where are the restaurants with real food that wont kill you??

    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 12:27PM
  • Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

    Souvlaki "The lowliest of fast foods"?? and Gazi is the "postmodern taverna"???? poor article I say..

    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 12:55PM
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

    Are you kidding me. "souvlaki. The lowliest of fast foods".
    A Souvlaki is the jewel in the crown of fast food. Carved from spit roasted lamb it's anything but mystery meat.
    I think the author might be thinking of Kebab meat. But even a Kebab if a thing of beauty at 3am on a Saturday night.

    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 1:56PM
    • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

      She is confusing a real souvlaki with a doner kebab and in Greece, you will struggle to find a lamb souvlaki, as they are mainly pork. We went on Tuesday, food was very good, tasty, filling but just over priced.

      Date and time
      September 08, 2013, 9:01AM
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

    More greek from George!
    Good work George......

    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 2:05PM
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Never been to Greece then, n or Larissa? Real souvlaki are small enough to hold in one hand, and yes, chips inside not on the side. Big enough for lunch or a late afternoon snack. Not intended to fill you up after a night on the grog. About 3 euros, including table service and a glass of iced water. Simple, clean food, I hope George keeps it that way.

    Souvlaki queen
    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 2:07PM
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

    "rescuing Greek food from the ghetto" I don't know if this is a failed attempt at literary genius or simply as it appears, patronizing, condescending and offensive.

    a greek face amongst the crowd
    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 4:54PM
  • Rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

    And the sous chef Alex is one great chef! Check him out, he is the best.

    Gypsy Jen
    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 5:25PM
  • Rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

    How long do we have to wait for a food outlet that does proper street food, instead of one that claims to do it in order to hoodwink a sector of it's sought market.
    $10 for an under half sized souvlaki cooked in a restaurant, aint street food and sure as night follows day, isn't cheap.
    Street food is cheap, sometimes dodgy food cooked generally by people with no formal training nor professional instruments to prepare it. That is what makes it so good.

    Date and time
    July 05, 2013, 8:31AM

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