88 Audley St Petersham, NSW 204902 9560 7798
|Opening hours||Breakfast and lunch, Fri-Sun; dinner, Tues-Sat,|
It's a hard thing for a chef to move into somebody else's restaurant space. People imbue it with all sorts of special qualities, associating it with past experiences and touchstone dishes. They fill the room with ghosts, and hungry ones at that.
Seed Cuisine has planted itself in the empty space that was once Perama, the popular modern Greek restaurant run by David Tsirekas, who has since moved to the acclaimed Xanthi in Westfield Sydney. That's the good thing about it, and for new owner-chef Tim Vatsaklis, it's quite possibly the bad thing about it, too.
Vatsaklis has chosen to live with the ghosts - slow-cooked lamb, fried whitebait, grilled haloumi - rather than bust them, possibly because he, too, has fond memories of eating at Perama as a child. And yet there are the seeds of a new idea here too, as he brings in a broader sweep of Mediterranean cuisine, extending to a Moroccan-influenced chicken and fig tagine, and Turkish -style braised okra.
It's midweek in Petersham, and the Portuguese butchers, barbers and pastry shops are already shuttered. But here, at least, the lights are on, the tables are clothed, and fresh, warm pillows of Turkish bread arrive gratis, ready to dip into a little bowl of zaatar oil.
That great old Greek standby of grilled octopus ($12) kicks off the meal, a scorchy tangle of springy but tender tentacles accompanied by oily juices and a single wedge of lemon.
Spanakopita cheese and spinach pastries ($9) are more like triangle-shaped tiropites, somewhat de-Greeked by the use of puff pastry rather than the traditional filo. Likewise, spiced lamb meatballs ($13) are turned into small and nubbly little fried nuggets resembling party hors d'oeuvres, rather than the soft, juicy and voluptuous things they are capable of being. An accompanying splodge of softly creamy potato and garlic skordalia, however, is perfect swooshing material.
As with so much Mediterranean eating, the most joy is to be found in the small bites and first courses. A terrific meal can be had by just covering the table with such likeable dishes as dolmades (stuffed vine leaves with lemon and yoghurt), home-made taramasalata and pita bread, pan-fried baby squid and grilled haloumi.
Main courses are a bet each way - there's Angus sirloin for those who want steak no matter what, and the ''baked fish of the day'' is barramundi fillet rather than, say, a whole fish.
There is slow-cooked lamb shoulder, of course, which may or may not have been done in homage to Perama's legendary lamb skaros. It's good in its own right, the bones pulling out like knives from butter, alongside soft, stuffed zucchini and a slather of tangy tzatziki.
It's a simple enough room, freshened by flowers, with shelves of wine, white plastered walls, stock standard Mykonos windmill scenes on the wall, and a small service bar lined with polished glasses. Vatsaklis works with a young team in the brightly lit kitchen to the back, and food is ferried to tables inside and out on the street by two more youngies.
Generously, the restaurant offers the chance to BYO for $5 a bottle, an opportunity leapt upon by one couple who bring up with a celebratory bottle of Moet & Chandon, and another with a Barossa red. The list itself is limited, with no vintages listed, but there's good value in Greek offerings such as a perfectly decent, multi-tasking Kleoni rose´ ($7.50/$31). I can't remember the last time I saw a wine list with nothing more than $39, but I don't think it was this century.
Every time I relax into the Greekness of the place, along comes a shock to the system. The souffle of the evening, for instance, features that ancient Greek fruit, mango. And a dessert of randomly strewn cinnamon muesli crumble, banana cream, slivered strawberries and frozen yoghurt tries to be modern but ends up being incoherent.
Seed's heart is in the right place, although the mixed messages mean it may not easily carve out a place and a style of its own.
If you're looking for the next Perama, this may not be it. But as an unpretentious, neighbourly, Greek-inclined meal that keeps prices in line with the state of the Greek economy, it might just be the next best thing.
Best bit Good for summer dining, with tables inside and out.
Worst bit Lack of choice on the fish front.
Go-to dish Marinated grilled octopus, $12.