17-21 Eaton Street Oakleigh, Victoria 3166
|Opening hours||Daily 6am-1am|
|Features||Licensed, Outdoor seating, Family friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, eftpos|
|Phone||03 9568 3358|
It's a warm spring night and Oakleigh's Eaton Mall is pumping. Chatty lines spill from tricked-up souvlaki joints. Kids zoom around the pedestrian concourse. Teens in clean jeans preen. Toddlers coat themselves in ice-cream. Hotted up hoon-mobiles prowl the cross streets. I love it all.
Melbourne is a city of neighbourhoods and this Greek hub is a beauty.
The biggest, shiniest entity on the strip is Vanilla, a two-level 500-seat ever-expanding megalopolis run by Helen and Arthur Spanos, their four children and their children's partners.
The food is Mediterranean with a skew to Greek and a sideline in pub classics. You can eat downstairs, outside or upstairs: expect queues for all areas.
You may be approached by the restaurant's photographer to be snapped for Vanilla's own glossy magazine. Yes, a restaurant with on-site paparazzi and a publication arm: it's an amazing place.
The food is honest, generous and pleasing. Saganaki is drizzled with honey and scattered with black sesame seeds. Succulent octopus is cooked over coals and drowned in lemon juice and olive oil. Tasty, tender beef skewers are the highlight of a grilled meat platter.
Comforting moussaka (minced beef and bechamel layered bake) is laced with nutmeg. Yemista - tomatoes and capsicum stuffed with sweet, soupy rice – is full of flavour.
Cakes are compulsory. I got a sugar rush merely browsing the cake cabinet downstairs, and I was glazed and happy after sampling the karidopita (walnut syrup cake with cinnamon and cloves) and portokalopita (orange syrup cake made with crushed filo pastry).
Vanilla is a phenomenon, a feat of logistics run at a clip by the Spanos family and their flotilla of cheerful, well-drilled staff. Whether you want pastitsio or parmigiana, Greek coffee or alcoholic granita, a highchair or help with a walking frame, you'll be welcome.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)