399 King St Newtown, NSW 2042
|Opening hours||Wednesday-Friday 5pm-8pm, weekends noon-8pm (lockdown opening hours, takeaway only)|
I Should Be Souvlaki: it's the kind of restaurant name geniuses come up with. You can credit Emma Langley and Adam Papastathopoulos for creating the perfect thing to call their Greek-inspired vegan eatery in Newtown. But the couple swears it was an accident.
The name's origin story begins in 2017, when Langley and Papastathopoulos were more than three years into their relationship. "We were in the car and in a moment of loved-up bliss, I said to Adam, 'I'm so lucky', as in, 'I'm so lucky to have you in my life'," she says. "And Adam said, 'Souvlaki? Where, souvlaki?'"
His comical mishearing of her romantic gesture worked in their favour, when Kylie Minogue's I Should Be So Lucky came over the car radio. They realised her 1980s hit would translate into a brilliant food-related pun and used it for their first appearance at the Sydney Vegan Market in December 2017, where they sold plant-based versions of chicken souvlaki from their stall.
The story of I Should Be Souvlaki is also the story of the couple's relationship: Langley became a vegan a decade ago, with Papastathopoulos following her lead after their romance commenced.
For him, the toughest thing was giving up souvlaki: he knew he'd miss the ritual of wrapping fresh-grilled meat in pita bread and flavouring it with garlicky tzatziki and fresh salad. He'd grown up doing this at many gatherings with his Greek Australian family.
This inspired Langley to secretly create a vegan version to surprise him with: she experimented with many plant-based proteins and steeped them in various marinades for different durations, sometimes waking up at wildly unconventional times to check a 50-hour version or to cook the protein while her parents slept.
When she revealed her completed souvlaki experiment to Papastathopoulos, he was impressed by the vegan version she'd mastered. Each meaty, garlicky bite brought back childhood memories.
Her "chicken" souvlaki, made from a wheat-based protein, then became the basis of their business, which started as a market stall, morphed into a takeaway pop-up last year and became a proper restaurant this June – just before lockdown.
The bold, garlicky flavours of the chicken souvlaki (and the "lamb" version that's now on the line-up) now headline the eatery's takeaway menu, but don't overlook the cauliflower version. The soft, crisp florets have a punchy tang, thanks to 24 hours steeped in a citrus-based marinade.
You can opt to have this wrap "Santorini style", and should. "Instead of the lettuce, there's hot chips in there," Papastathopoulos says.
He admits this isn't a practice specific to the Greek island, just a cool name they've given it, but it's something they do across the country. "In Greece, they don't normally have lettuce in their souvlaki." A bonus hit of chips adds to the salty, carb-heavy appeal of your ingredient-loaded wrap.
You'll find other vegan versions of Greek staples on the Motherland part of the menu: there's a crisp spanakopita, a galaktoboureko that Papastathopoulos's grandmother mistook for the real thing and Greek salad made with convincing soy feta.
In the Otherland section there's not-so-Greek dishes, such as Caesar salad and southern fried "chicken" wraps. You'll find a baklava cheesecake that isn't so traditional. Its sweet pistachio-walnut topping, crumbled over a baked vanilla cheesecake and filo base is a welcome presence, though. We should be so lucky it's on the menu.
I Should Be Souvlaki
Main attraction: This isn't dainty vegan food, but a Greek-inspired menu that doesn't hold back on full-volumed flavours: expect a lot of garlic, herbal hits, citrus tang and salty punch.
Must-try dish: The signature souvlaki line-up. The "meaty" flavours are marinaded for 60 hours and made with wheat, soy and mushroom proteins, but the true star might actually be the cauliflower souvlaki – Santorini-style, of course.
Insta-worthy dish: Created as an attempt to make the cheesecake menu more "Greek", this baklava cheesecake has a subtle creamy filling and gets a sweet, nutty hit from the pistachio-walnut mix and maple glaze.