While Greece is still grappling with its economic woes, Hellenic restaurants have boomed across Sydney. Here are a few of the city's most popular Greek eateries and their go-to dishes - with prices that scream austerity.
The Apollo, Potts Point
The Apollo is named after the Greek god of poetry, light and music and there is a certain romanticism attached to this modern-day temple of wood, exposed concrete and brass, awarded Best Restaurant Design at the 2012 Eat-Drink-Design Awards. The menu draws on the shared Greek-Australian heritage of chef Jonathan Barthelmess and co-owner Sam Christie (Longrain), who take their diners for a dunk in the Aegean sea with the Full Greek option ($55pp for whole tables only), which includes starters served with warm pita bread and oven-baked lamb shoulder with lemon-Greek yoghurt.
44 Macleay Street, Potts Point, (02) 8354 0888, theapollo.com.au
The restaurant named after the first letter of the Greek alphabet has muscled in on the CBD, pleasing everyone from men in black to families who resemble extras from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It must be a point of pride for chef Peter Conistis to hear the dining room reverberate with the whoops and shouts of happy people. Choose from the mezzes or order Greek-spiced, slow-roasted lamb shoulder to share, which is hoisted to the table on a board. For those craving a feast like yia yia used to make, the new Sunday lunch offering represents great value at $55 a head.
238 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, (02) 9098 1111, alpharestaurant.com.au
Forget blue-and-white checked tablecloths and trellises festooned with plastic grapes; think wheelbarrows of herbs and a white-on-wood interior filled with the aroma of frizzled rosemary. Yes the mood is still casual, but the sleek space also invites you to idle over pliable pita filled with beautifully blackened hunks of meat cut with herbs and slaw. Those in a parsimonious mood should opt for the Spartan Lunch Box ($14.50) of signature roast chicken served with Aegean slaw and rice pilaf. Zeus Street Greek is also set to open in Cronulla, Rosebery and Dulwich Hill.
187-189 Lyons Road, Drummoyne, (02) 9181 4646, zeusstreetgreek.com.au
HAM Cafe, Cronulla
This sunny corner cafe, named after Harry and Mario (HAM) Kapoulas, attracts everyone from fun-employed mums to high-vis-vest boys and the local bearded, bewhiskered brigade. Talk to Mum Kitty - you will find the matriarch herself in the open kitchen - about her fab Greek-inspired fare. Kitty's old-school porridge ($9.90) has a Greek accent when served with pistachios and seasonal fruit, and the spanakopita ($12.90), baklava ($5.50) and melomakarona (walnut syrup biscuits, $3.50) are enough to deflect your woes about the motherland's debt crisis.
3/17 Gerrale Street, Cronulla, (02) 8521 7219, hamharryandmario.com
Parea Greek Tavern, Kogarah
In Greek culture, a "parea" is a group of friends who gather to share ideas. When you're done philosophising, indulge in gyros served open on a plate piled with lamb off the spit, tomato, red onion, chips and tzatziki ($15.90) or a mattress of moussaka ($17.90). Do as the locals do in this brightly lit eatery and BYO retsina to go with the set menu ($40 pp for four people and more) of pita bread, dips, Greek salad, dolmades, octopus, calamari and souvlaki.
46-48 Rocky Point Road, Kogarah, (02) 9588 7887, parea.com.au
EAT GRK, Beverly Hills
If you can't afford your annual holiday to Ithaka, why not satisfy your accountant and settle for the sunny courtyard outside this Beverly Hills beauty instead. On Sundays, it's all about the souvla - lamb or pork marinated for 30 hours with 15 fresh herbs and spices before being slow-cooked over charcoal and carved off the spit. Hunks of grilled haloumi ($3) are also heavenly, while a pita wrap meal is given whip-cracks of flavour from red onion, tomato, capsicum, olive spread, cucumber and creamy feta sauce ($13.50). Bring out your bazoukis and dance like Zorba until you are transported to the azure seas of the Mediterranean.
437-441 King Georges Road, Beverly Hills, (02) 8041 7047, eatgrk.com.au
Xenos, Crows Nest
Peter and Kathy Xenos opened the doors to their eponymous eatery in Crows Nest 46 years ago. What began life as a milk bar in 1969 has evolved into an eatery so unencumbered by tradition that it could be considered classically Greek-Australian. As well as the requisite big butch haunches of meat, souvlakis and feta-studded Greek salads for lunch and dinner, the Greek-style scrambled eggs ($15) are a great example of the sort of uncomplicated brekkie fare that has helped Xenos survive through the decades. Although Peter and Kathy still have a hand in running the business, sons Tim and Dennis are now at the helm to wish you kali sas oreksi (good appetite).
7 Burlington Street, Crows Nest, (02) 9439 1748, xenosrestaurant.com.au
Athenian Greek Restaurant, CBD
When you're talking to the Greek-Australian community about recommendations for restaurants serving food from the old country, the Athenian is up there on the list. Nick and Angela Tressos have been in the game since 1973 and moved the family business - now managed by sons Nick and Manoli - to this heritage-listed space 11 years ago. Here you will find good Greek families enjoying gatherings that span three or four generations. Start with a medley of dips ($9 each) followed by moussaka ($21) and the traditional rice pudding, rizogalo ($7). Best of all is the Athenian special, a combination of lamb, stuffed capsicum, cabbage and mixed vegetables ($23.50).
11 Barrack Street, Sydney, (02) 9262 2624, athenian.com.au
Piato, McMahons Point
Piato oozes cool, with dudes with beards rubbing shoulders with old-school locals sipping ouzo and eating fish a stone's throw from Sydney Harbour. Piato is owned by actor George Houvardas (best known for his role as Carbo on Packed to the Rafters) and his family, The menu is mainly Mediterranean fare with Greek influences. Sit under the awning and order the signature slow-roasted Greek lamb shoulder for two ($75) or inject some serious cash into the economy with a shared sea piato for two ($110) laden with fish, prawns, octopus, calamari, oysters, chips and salad.
123 Blues Point Road, McMahons Point, (02) 9922 5601, piatorestaurant.com.au
Kefi Greek Tavern, Kingsgrove
While Kingsgrove Road is as far from the sun-dappled sea and blindingly white houses of Greece's Ionian islands as can be, the food at Kefi is upbeat Greek street food at its finest. Kefi means "joy", "fun" or "feeling good", and your life will be full of kefi when you grab a gyros of pork neck spiked with mustard, sage and rosemary ($24.50) and served with celeriac skordalia. Grab a gyros (pronounced year-ohs) to go from the Kefi Souvlaki and Pizza Bar next door. Austerity has never been so palatable.
1/231 Kingsgrove Road, Kingsgrove, (02) 9554 4442, kefigreektavern.com.au