12 Merriman St Kyle Bay, NSW 2221
|Opening hours||Lunch Thu-Sat noon-3pm; Sun noon-4pm; Dinner Thu-Sat 6-9pm; Sun 5.30-8pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9546 5953|
Niceness is not something a restaurant can claim on its website – far better that someone else says it about them. So I'll say it about JAAKS. This 50-seat Greek restaurant and function centre facing the waters of Kyle Bay seems to be very good at acts of random niceness.
On the adjoining sports field, one bloke is teaching another how to cast a fly rod. Two kids from the birthday function happening next door take turns in chasing each other; the older one always allowing his little sister to catch him.
At one point, a taxi reverses up over the kerb and across the pristine lawn towards the restaurant's front door. It's all rather alarming, until I realise the driver is coming to pick up his extremely elderly passenger at the doorway. Nice.
Then there's the food. Sometimes you just want un-deconstructed Greek dishes on the table, especially when they are properly sourced and cooked to order. And it matters when somebody cares enough to freshly bake a soft slipper of fragrant, soft Cypriot pita bread to go with a mound of tarama ($15), tinted rose pink in the old-school way.
Especially when the haloumi – often so boring and bland – is caramelised in the pan and sent out dripping with Attiki honey ($16), immediately making it the hero of the day. Apparently the kitchen put Tilba Real Dairy's haloumi to the taste test against Greece's finest, and Tilba won the gig. It's lovely, tender, sweet and warm and ridiculously moreish.
But that's Greek food for you. What's not moreish about dips and flat bread, green olives, fried school prawns with cumin aioli, and eight-hour lamb shoulder with minted yoghurt?
Even the back story of the name JAAKS is nice. Brother and sister George Christodolou and Diana Valsamis grew up in the hospitality industry with parents in the biz, and JAAKS is an acronym for their combined five children Jordan, Alannah, Anya, Kosta and Sienna.
Chef Michael Cvetkoski comes after time at 1908 The Old Library in Cronulla and Kepos Street Kitchen, with some of the more structured dishes a legacy of talented former chef, Arman Uz, now executive chef of Somer Sovriglou's Efendy and Anason.
Probably the classiest dish is the just-grilled, scorched southern calamari: a tangle of legs and body parts on a swoop of bright green coriander and parsley tahini ($36). I like the lift it gets from a sunny glass of Lafazanis Geometria malagouzia, from the Peloponnese ($12.50)
With a menu cutely divided into Farmer, Fisherman and Butcher – you can go meaty, go fishy, go meat-free, or do the lot on the tasting mezedes, for a very reasonable $45 per person.
The spanakopita ($26) is all-flaky filo with a dense green filling of spinach, nettle, mint, dill and leek and feta that should be luscious, but feels a bit dry.
No such reservations with the classic horiatiki Greek salad ($13) of chunky cucumber, heirloom cherry tomatoes, good olives and obligatory slab of rigani-dusted feta. It's cigars for dessert – hand-rolled filo and brik bougatsa cigars ($16) filled with a comforting semolina custard, sweetly drizzled with house-made walnut syrup.
The food, like the restaurant itself, is very likeable, without making any statements or pushing any borders. If I were a local, I'd be a regular for the Cypriot beer, the dips, the beautiful flat breads, the freshness and the Greekness of it all. And the niceness.
Vegetarian: A dedicated "farmer" section lists 11 vegetarian dishes.
Drinks: Serviceable, well-priced, global-roaming wine list with some Greek labels; Nissos Pilsener, Mythos and the Cypriot Keo lager; and a dangerous selection of ouzo.
Go to dish: Tilba haloumi with honey and rosemary blossom, $16.
Pro tip: Look out for new outdoor seating overlooking the bay this summer.