203-207 Ramsgate Rd Ramsgate Beach, NSW 2217
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun 11.30am-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9529 4335|
There are frypans going out left, right and centre at Ble, the newly opened Greek restaurant in Ramsgate. It's a good sign. You can't do saganaki, for instance, without a sagani, the heavy cast iron skillet that brings the sizzle and scorch of the kitchen to the table.
Other skillets are filled with spanakopita, the fine sheets of house-made pastry wrapped around a feisty, lemony, feta-and-greens filling and tanned to a burnished bronze in the oven.
In its own humble way, the frypan is as important to Greek cooking as the charcoal grill, and Ble, which is Greek for blue, has a mighty one of those too. So if your food isn't out of the frying pan, it's out of the fire.
Natalia Gaspari, formerly sous chef to Peter Conistis at Alpha, and head chef of Alpha's bar, Beta, and co-owner Arthur Balayannis, have set the stage with bare wooden tables and pale bentwood chairs, the walls painted the palest shade of ble and lined with wine bottles and pots of greenery. Designed by DS17 (Bel & Brio, Nour), it's a light and airy space, the Grecian cliches thin on the ground.
Gaspari comes from the Ionian island of Kefalonia (the setting for Captain Corelli's Mandolin) and references it constantly with the use of the island's wild herbs, especially a floral, peppery marjoram known as sampsiho.
Her taramosalata ($12) is terrific, dotted with avruga roe, not least because it means you have to order smoky, warm, char-grilled pita ($3).
Of the Kefalonian dishes, a kakavia shellfish stew ($32) gets upgraded to restaurant class with its smooth, round lobster and halloumi ravioli lurking in a rockpool of shellfish stock; the clutch of fleshy mussels, vongole and diamond clams caught just as they open their shells and release their juices.
There's lamb, of course, from whole, pre-ordered lambs done over the charcoal grill to keftedes ($25) – small and light meatballs anchored by a tangy, yoghurty skordalia and topped with a drizzle of tomato sugo and a shower of tiny red sorrel leaves. They're a touch crumbly, which suggests a deliberate attempt to lower the fat quotient.
Staff are still finding their feet, but their pride in the kitchen radiates like white-ashed charcoal. Cocktails are Greek-inspired, and wines reasonably priced, such as the 2016 Tetramythos Agiorgitiko organic red ($62).
A chop-chop of horiatiki Greek salad ($15) is fresh and bright with tomato, red onion, cucumber, olives, feta and the mandatory dried oregano, brought to the table to pick from while we wait for the lamb shoulder ($34 half/$58 whole).
Slow-braised for 12 hours with lemon, garlic and sumac and finished with a blast in the oven to give it a crust, it's as giving as a memory-foam mattress, and lusciously, fattily, lamby.
Desserts are generous reinventions of old faithfuls such as loukoumades (honey doughnuts) and galaktoboureko (mastic custard), with a lemoni pagoto ($15) of zesty lemon ice-cream sandwiched between crisp wafers of chocolate kataifi pastry tasting disconcertingly like a Greek chocolate ripple cake.
But it's the simpler things – the whole grilled fish, the house-made olive bread, the making everything from scratch that say so much about Ble's heartfelt commitment to taking Greek food back to the kitchen, from whence it came. And the frying pans, of course.
Vegetarian 6 mezedes, 1 main course, 4 sides
Drinks Greek beers, ouzo, mastika and a Greek-laden wine list.
Go-to dish Slow-roasted lamb shoulder with wild thyme and tzatziki, $34/$58
Pro tip Try the "Greek salad" dry martini
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.