1821 review

The custard filo pie is a remix of the traditional Greek bougatsa.
The custard filo pie is a remix of the traditional Greek bougatsa. Photo: Daniel Munoz

122 Pitt St Sydney, NSW 2000

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Features Licensed, Groups, Accepts bookings
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 8080 7070

The steps of Martin Place are littered with office serfs eating with plastic forks; others walk the streets at lunchtime, munching as they go. Their food is foraged from basement food courts – ancient grain salads; grilled meats wrapped in flat bread – simple, fast dishes pulled from the great pantheon of Greek, Lebanese, Middle Eastern and Turkish cuisines.

I'm not sure why some of the world's most delicious cooking has been relegated to the basement for so long, but CBD dining finally seems to be turning away from the hegemony of the French bistro and Italian tratt. See Mercado in Angel Place, Alpha and Beta in Castlereagh Street; Anason in Barangaroo – and now 1821, from gifted Greek chef David Tsirekas and seasoned hospitality entrepreneur Jim Kospetas.

It's an ambitious concept, a three-level fit out shipped over from Athens-based designer Dimitris Economou that pays homage to the 1821 Greek revolution against the Ottomans. The room is a meze of motifs, from plaster art of the Greek flag to a forest of shepherds' walking crooks and a gorgeous island bar lit by glowing red lamps with black tassels, like the traditional caps of the Greek presidential guards.

Athens-based designer Dimitris Economou has created a "meze of motifs" to suit the ambitious three-level Greek restaurant.
Athens-based designer Dimitris Economou has created a "meze of motifs" to suit the ambitious three-level Greek restaurant. Photo: Daniel Munoz

The vast windows, high ceilings, and towering columns are brought down to earth by two levels of dining and mixed-height seating. It feels like you're sitting up in the hills of Kolonaki in a converted Athenian bank, drinking cafe frappe with the beautiful people.

The revolution continues in the kitchen, as Tsirekas, much loved in Sydney from his times at Perama and Xanthi, turns out "Greekslaw", "san choy bau" and a signature baklava of pork belly. He's a lovely bloke and it's great to see him back on the pans.

His blonde-not-pink taramasalata ($14) is made not from the usual mullet or cod roe, but from swordfish roe imported from the Greek island of Kalymnos, whipped with garlic, oil and lemon juice into a soft, creamy thing of beauty.

Prawn manti with candied walnuts and fried mint leaves at 1821.
Prawn manti with candied walnuts and fried mint leaves at 1821. Photo: Daniel Munoz

The "baklava" ($28) is served as a small course, the four flaky cubes of golden filo pastry interleaved with soft sweet pork and nuts. It's good fun, if a bit weird, and might be better with a tangy syrup dressing than a dark and heavy date and mastic paste.

Chicken avgolemono ($34) makes a hero of both Greece's lush, lemony custard and the Bannockburn bird, the meaty breast rolled around a rich, warm, nutty stuffing of chestnut, golden raisins and barley, slow-cooked then roasted.

A mostly Greek wine list is a drawcard in its own right, including an Alpha Hedgehog 2011 xinomavro ($78), a robustly juicy red with more than a passing resemblance to nebbiolo.

Go-to dish: Chicken avgolemono.
Go-to dish: Chicken avgolemono. Photo: Daniel Munoz

For dessert, custard filo pie ($15) is a made-to-order take on traditional Greek bougatsa, layers of flaky filo pastry wrapped around a sweet semolina custard. It's also dead on brief, being a much-loved icon of Greek cooking taken to a new level. 

The dishes that shine here are those that still have their Greek souls – the taramasalata, wild greens pie, chicken, barbecue lamb shoulder and a brilliant village salad – while others feel more Europeanised and embellished. 

But the best thing is the real revolution on our streets – seeing Greek food and hospitality treated with love, technique and respect; not so much elevated, as restored.

The restaurant is named after the 1821 Greek revolution against the Ottomans.
The restaurant is named after the 1821 Greek revolution against the Ottomans.  Photo: Daniel Munoz

THE LOWDOWN
Best bit:
Tall ceilings.
Worst bit: Tall menus.

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.

Go-to Dish: Chicken avgolemono, $34.

http://www.universalhotels.com.au/1821restaurant