The Tarama Effect works a charm at the reopened Apollo

Light, tangy and rich: Taramasalata mullet roe dip.
Light, tangy and rich: Taramasalata mullet roe dip.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

No handshakes, kisses or high fives. Temperatures must be taken. Face masks must be worn. Hands must be sanitised. It takes more than 3300 words to run through the new COVID-safe protocols on The Apollo website. And that's just for the staff.

For the diner at this eight-year-old Greek Potts Pointer, it's all about turning up punctually, scanning the QR code (average time taken for punter to find phone, scan, put specs on, fill in the form and press done = two minutes), sanitising hands, using individual serving tongs instead of shared serving spoons, and downloading the wine list.

Also – no mingling, nor any standing over other tables chatting. This must be the safest restaurant in Sydney right now.

Kritharaki pasta, braised oxtail and tomato skordalia.
Kritharaki pasta, braised oxtail and tomato skordalia.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

Having reopened after their COVID-forced month's closure, co-owners Sam Christie and Jonathan Barthelmess are doing everything possible to keep their employees and diners safe.

But even when the restaurant was given a clean bill of health and granted its COVID-19 clearance certificate, would the crowd rush back? Yes, it would. On reopening night, with TV news cameras outside and journalists peering in the windows, all socially distanced seats were filled.

I call it The Tarama Effect. For many Apollo regulars, going even a month without their taramasalata and toasty pita bread, slow-roast lamb and grilled sardines, was harder than home-schooling. Harder, even, than coping with their gyms being closed.

Baked snapper with burnt butter vine leaves.
Baked snapper with burnt butter vine leaves.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

But back to the tarama. Every table in sight has ordered the creamy taramasalata mullet roe dip ($14), topped with a splosh of good Greek olive oil and bright orange Yarra Valley salmon caviar. 

It's as light, tangy and rich as I remember it, and the stack of warm, cushiony, Cypriot pita bread triggers memories of all the great, simple, wood-fired Greek meals I've had, going back to ancient times.

In this newly transparent age, nobody's pretending that exec chef Barthelmess is out the back grilling sardines, when he's actually in Queensland tending to his restaurants Greca and Yoko. So who is at the stoves? Long-term head chef (and side-hustle potter) Stefano Marano, step out from behind.

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When I ask what's new to the menu, I'm steered towards his deeply pleasing and non-mucilaginous take on okra ($15), tossed with barbecued grapes and macadamias in a roasted tomato dressing.

Another Marano touch is the whole baked snapper ($40), cleverly boned and cut lengthwise in half, doused in a nutty, lemony, capery, brown butter dressing that's aflutter with the briny crunch of crisped vine leaves.

Things are going so swimmingly I forget about COVID, until a group of six up the back starts singing happy birthday. Singing? Is that allowed? The restaurant hushes, pauses a beat, then moves on.

The Potts Point venue has reopened its doors.
The Potts Point venue has reopened its doors. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Then I have to ask for the menu so I can scan the code for the wine list again, and everyone decides it's easier to bring me the single-use printed page instead.

The 2017 Thymiopoulos Young Vines xinomavro ($74), an easy, spicy red from the Naoussa region of northern Greece, pairs well with kritharaki, a Barthelmess original.

The swollen, rice-shaped pasta ($26) is streaked with tomato-and-cinnamon braised oxtail under a crust of sourdough crumbs and a gloopy splodge of almond skordalia; all rich, smooth and slippery. Loukoumades ($14), better known as Greek honey doughnuts, are a yeasty, honey-drizzled treat.

Loukoumades (honey doughnuts).
Loukoumades (honey doughnuts). Photo: Edwina Pickles

Some will miss the heady buzz of what was always a heavily populated restaurant, but even with masks and gloves, the dining experience is still bright, warm and professional. 

It's a great example of how to survive a COVID encounter with goodwill, and regulars, intact. The Apollo is back. Long live The Apollo.

The low-down

The Apollo

Address: 44 Macleay Street, Potts Point, 02 8354 0888, theapollo.com.au

Open: Mon-Fri 5pm-late; Sat and Sun noon-late

Dining window: 1 hour 45 minutes

Protocols: Contact tracing, temperature checks, staff in facemasks, single-use menus, contactless payment.

Takeaway: The full menu is available for pre-order online

Vegetarian: Plenty of choices

Drinks: Greek-inspired cocktails, Greek and local beers and a solid list of Australian and old world wines with some interesting Greek varietals.

Cost: About $100 for two plus drinks

Score: Scoring is paused while the industry gets back on its feet