113 St David Street Fitzroy, VIC 306503 9416 0060
|Opening hours||Daily, 11am-10pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, eftpos|
Bust open the ouzo – we have a new title-holder for "Melbourne's best souvlaki bar". Am I exaggerating? Nah, I don't reckon.
It's opening night at Jimmy Grants, a cool, buzzy 36-seater by George Calombaris and George Sykiotis and partners, the Greek power-partnership that began eight restaurants ago, spawning the Press Club, Hellenic Republic, Gazi and more.
Jimmy's is jumping – with bloggers, reviewers, the social-media-savvy and locals who have watched the side-street warehouse transform from Peter Watson's spice shop into a reinvented souvlaki bar. There's the frisson of "celebrity". Diners' Instagram pics of "me and George" appear online. Calombaris and Sykiotis huddle in earnest discussion and look . . . is that nervous? "You're only as good as your last service," Sykiotis says.
As you would expect, Jimmy's nails it, drawing from Greek heritage and cherry-picking from its sibling restaurants – white stools and recycled oregon from St Katherine's and blue tiles typical of '70s kitchens in Greek kitchens.
On the white-painted brick walls, street artist Dan Wenn has drawn a DC-3 aircraft and the Greek-owned Patris, the ocean liner that transported "Jimmy Grants" – Australian's rhyming-slang nickname for first-wave "immi" "grants".
Two long counters flank the room, with food-truck-inspired flip-up windows at the end. Order anywhere – at the fully licensed bar stocked with Greek beer, or at the kitchen, run by Travis Mcauley of Hellenic Republic.
"Jimmy's dimmies" hark back to the early Greek milk bar dim sims, but these are pliant parcels of chicken, cabbage and lemon zest to dunk in soy and olive oil.
Lush, spongy, wholemeal pita is made from a yoghurt starter and heated on the oil-slicked stone base of a converted pizza oven. Swipe some through not-pink taramasalata.
"When Greeks come into the restaurants and say, 'It's not pink,' I cringe," Calombaris says. "Tarama was never meant to be pink."
This dip – the same recipe as in the other restaurants – is whippy and smooth, made with Greek salted cod roe, stale bread, olive and lemon juice. Calombaris calls it the "umami of Greece".
Lamb shoulder, slow-cooked for 12 hours, is sticky and caramelised – have it as a plate with a lemon cheek for squeezing and tzatziki, or stuffed in the Mr Papadopolous souva with onions soused in vinegar and sugar, Dijon mustard, a few chips and fresh parsley.
Then there's spit-roasted free-range chicken, perhaps just a touch dry, which is lemony and marinated in oregano and olive oil. Go for broke and get lamb and chicken together in the Bonegilla.
Lovers of Hellenic Republic's cult "grain salad" – it's here, along with a prawn souva and a falafel number. But what about the pork, the traditional souva meat of Greece? "Kim-chi is fermenting as we speak," Calombaris says. When it's done, expect it wrapped with roasted pork belly and Kewpie mayo. Traditional? Not really, and he says the Greeks "bag me all the time" for messing with the authenticity of the old ways.
Darren Purchese of Sweet Studio makes the sweets – the squishy, dark-chocolate Wagon Wheel ($6), and honey-yoghurt choc-tops.
"We're going back to our roots," Calombaris says. "I grew up in the back of dad's fish-and-chip shop in Noble Park, George was in Keysborough. It's like the good old days."
Well, sort of. It's the new good old days, anyway. Viva souvlakia!
Do ... Stay tuned for Jimmy Grants in Ormond and the city in the next few months.
Don't ... Want to get off the couch? Delivery is coming soon.
Dish ... The Bonegilla.
Vibe ... Modern-day Greek meets old-world souvlaki bar.
* Note: The original version of this review described the painting by Dan Wenn as a DC-10.