202 Lygon St Brunswick East, VIC 3057
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri 10am-9pm; Sat 9am-9pm; Sun 9am-3pm|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, Events, Private dining, Groups, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 03 9191 7206|
Philhellene has been a stalwart of the Moonee Ponds dining scene for almost a decade, and owners John and Susie Rerakis are much beloved for their family-friendly restaurant, which serves lovely takes on provincial Greek and Cretan classics.
Last December, the couple branched out into Brunswick East, opening a sister restaurant that has much in common with Philhellene, but rocks its own distinct Brunswick personality.
Named after the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, Xenia Food Store operates during the daytime as a good old-fashioned Melbourne cafe, smashed avo and all. After noon, you can order from the mezze menu, but the daytime vibe here is all about the groan and grind of the espresso machine and the fat Greek omelettes served with rustic sourdough bread.
At night, the menu broadens to include more of the Greek specialities and comfort food that Philhellene is known for. But the Rerakises know that the audience is a little different on this side of town, and have geared some of their efforts accordingly.
They offer a seasonally changing vegan banquet menu that includes a huge array of mezze and mains using produce from a nearby community garden. There's even vegan feta, and the meal concludes with loukoumades and baked figs. The vegan banquet is $40 a head, but on Tuesday and Wednesday nights it is offered at $30 a head, which undoubtedly counts as one of the best meal deals in town.
There are plenty of great options for the omnivorous, too. The regular mezze plate for two features beautifully meaty pickled octopus, a choice of dips, loukanikos sausages, koupes (the Greek version of kibbe) and more – it makes for a great light dinner.
A bowl of slow-roasted kid offers some of the most tender goat meat I've had anywhere, served with dill potatoes and a comforting warm salad of broad beans and peas stewed in spices.
Seafood thalassa is a gorgeously flavourful heap of rice, spiked with lemon and saffron and feta and brimming with prawns, scallops and calamari. There's roasted lamb, which you can get as a larger main or with pita and tzatziki.
The intensely comforting moussaka is available with or without ground beef, and comes with a large Greek salad on the side. It's enough food for dinner tonight, and lunch tomorrow as well.
The cheery medium-sized room is rarely full in the evenings, though I predict that will change shortly. But if you don't have time for a sit-down dinner, Xenia offers meals pre-packaged to go.
Do I really need to tell you that you absolutely should not leave without a sticky slice of baklava in your purse for later? I didn't think so.
Go-to Dish: Mezze plate for two ($32); vegan banquet ($40 a head; $30 Tue-Wed)