37 Dukes Walk South Wharf, VIC 3006
|Opening hours||Tues, 6pm-late; Wed-Sat, noon-3pm, 6pm-late; Sunday, noon-3pm|
|Features||Licensed, Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||AMEX, eftpos, Mastercard, Visa|
|Phone||(03) 9686 1122|
YOU CAN TELL A LOT ABOUT A people by their food. The Greeks, for instance. An ebullient culture, an ebullient cuisine. Not intending to imply the usual cliches about the wanton destruction of innocent crockery. I'm talking about the big-flavoured nature of what remains a solid peasant cuisine.
Beyond that? We share a passion for lamb, but Australia's perspective on Greek food is restricted to the taverna. You only have to look at their genius with the humble octopus to see their talents lie in making do with the unwieldy. Maybe it's the dominance of those alpha ingredients - feta and olives and all their salty bed-mates - that relegate it to the list of something we tend to eat only occasionally.
So where is the second wave of Greek restaurants? The Press Club has the full reinvention all sewn up. But there's a gap in the market for middle tier places that give the food a good smartening up.
And hence to South Wharf. Our seafaring Hellenic friends slot nicely into the new precinct on the water's edge, and while Shed 5 doesn't exactly ignore the bylaw requiring all Greek restaurants to sport a nautical theme, it interprets it loosely. Owner Stan Sarris (best known for Sydney's Banc) is responsible for a bold, fresh blue and white-tiled wall and light fittings that look like something off a squid boat. The combination of a big, broad bar decorated with tins and jars of preserves, the whole chefs-on-show business with the hardworking wood oven and the weathered timbers of the reclaimed cargo shed ends in a result that's smart rather than boring.
It originally had a broader Mediterranean brief, but Shed 5 seized an opportunity with the hiring of chef Vasilios Donoudis. He writes a good menu that effortlessly sells the intelligent Greek message. Crumbed ox tongue, braised okra and horseradish crema. Cigars of slow-roasted duck, pistachio and amarene cherries. Half-shell scallops, fennel and ouzo puree, lemon crumbs.
Donoudis has been professionally moonlighting as an Italian for most of his working life - Pendolino in Sydney, Church Street Enoteca here - and you could characterise a lot of his menu as Greek food with an Italian soul. Fat mozzarella croquettes with a fiery seam of 'nduja (soft Calabrian salami) threading the middle get their Greek on with oregano and rosemary aioli, and a pretty beetroot terrine unabashedly saddles up with burrata. There's more of a Gallic intent to the smoked eel and ocean trout rillettes, although the sharply pickled eggplant to cut through the richness is unimpeachably authentic. The lamb ribs are truest to the Hellenic ideal, interspersed with golden fried sweetbreads alongside a dill-herby puddle of tzatziki dotted with roasted pumpkin seeds and pine nuts.
It's the sheer exuberance of the flavours that just occasionally gets the food into choppy waters - baby calamari stuffed with a bold mixture of feta, orange zest and mint, for example, that arrive on a salty taramasalata base. This is a tarama to fall in love with - smooth and silky, tangy with roe, textured with slivered almonds and fresh peas - but it ends up hijacking the party. It's one of a few dishes that could take things down a few degrees. A slow-roasted hunk of pork shoulder treads a similar path - the big-flavoured meat can handle it, but the palate becomes jaded with the unabashed ka-pow of a celery and leek fricassee bedded in lemony cooking juices, although I loved the addition of cabbage dolmades and smoked almonds.
Better realised is a fillet of Spanish mackerel peppered with smashed coriander and fennel seeds and pollen, the dry spicing nicely opposed to a slippery risotto-like base of saffron-tinged kritharaki pasta fleshed out with white and green asparagus, artichoke, red onion and dill.
Desserts also have a modern Greek appeal without devolving into novelty acts. Revani- a sweet semolina sponge cake - with halva ice-cream, a poached fig, a liberal scattering of pistachios and a slick of salted caramel ticks a lot of boxes for all its simplicity.
Shed 5 is the practical answer to the way forward for Greek food. It doesn't betray its rustic heart but adds a fresh contemporary layer that carries it a long way from the taverna. There ought to be more like this.
Wine list Short list of Victorian boutique labels with a handful of Greek offerings; several choices in the sub-$40 bracket
Vegetarian Four starters
The best bit A fresh update of Greek food
The worst bit Finding it - more signs, please
Go-to dish Lamb ribs with sweetbreads
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.