Hellenic Republic

My parents were recently approaching their 50th wedding anniversary, and when asked how they would like to  celebrate they replied simply, ‘all together’.

Mum quite eloquently (if not with a little soap-opera-like embellishment) waxed lyrical about the ‘greatest achievements’ of their married life being their two children, and by extension, their childrens’ four children.

So, they concluded, we just want to be with all of you, and “perhaps have a meal or do something nice”.

Now I could muster all sorts of snide, chuckle-drawing comments about the breadth of the stint.  And it would be no less than I’ve heard them utter myself in the last few months (my favourite being: ‘You get less for murder, don’t you?’) by way of  explanation for their rather lacklustre sense of occasion.  I mean, it was a rather simple request to mark such an auspicious milestone.

But the truth of it is I just think they really don’t get what a big deal it is.  (Well, they did seem slightly more enthusiastic when a hand-written card of congratulations arrived from Prime Minister John Key, and three days after the national election, no less!)

I suppose when you marry at the- let’s face it, for most of us, especially post-Baby-Boomers- UNTHINKABLE age of 19, recognising 50 years of marriage is actually just giving a nod to an extension of your very existence.

(Perhaps it feels a bit like throwing a ticker-tape parade for the 6,000th time you put a load of washing on.  Well done and all, but really, it’s just another load of washing, isn’t it?!)

This particular throw-a-party-at-the-drop-of-a-hat family member wasn’t going to let it go without ANY fuss at all though.  So the skinnier side of the family (er, strictly in the sense of head-count, not dress-size) boarded a plane bound for Melbourne where the heftier side of the clan reside (again, strictly head-count-wise of course…)

The location of our celebration meal- after some deliberation- was to be Hellenic Republic, the casual family-focussed eatery in Masterchef judge’s George Calombaris‘ stable of restaurants.

We chose the Trapezi Dexiosis (banquet) which looked suitably celebratory and included the distinct additional bonus that under-12s (of which we had 4) would be charged at half the full adult price of AUD$58 per person.

A super-early booking meant the restaurant was barely open when we arrived, but we were ushered right to the back to a glassed-in private banquet area effusively enough.

The dining room’s décor is a subtly designed modern beach-Grecian arrangement; a focus on white and Greek-flag blue with statement fishing-basket light shades and a picnicky furniture feel.  The vast open kitchen runs along the side wall; a veritable herd of fresh-faced and friendly-looking staff and the air of anticipatory bustle spoke of the efficiency of service and meal delivery that was to follow.

And unfortunately it was this efficiency that dulled the shine of the experience for me a little.  While it was pleasing to have plenty of food available for hungry little mouths, the dishes seemed to catapult out of the kitchen towards us at such a pace, within twenty minutes of our arrival we had to ask them to slow down.  Efficiency quickly started to feel like a cattle-through-the-shute policy.

The ‘small tastes’ starters (mezethakia) were delicious.  Chewy, toasted pita with a salty, fresh taramosalata and a sweet, textural pumpkin salad arrived first, followed by delightful potato croquettes- elevated with a generous hand of cheese and seasoning, and finally saganaki- fried cheese with figs.

(I’ve always felt an association between Greek food and the very origins of socialised dining, and these dishes did nothing to dispel that happy picture of a rough-hewn stone table, clay wine cups and a toga-clad family feasting on delights from the cooking hearth.)

The thalassina (seafood course) was next.  We were treated to delightful chunks of perfectly seasoned grilled blue cod, delicate scallops in the shell dressed with aioli and crumbs, and a Cypriot grain salad of freekah, Puy lentils, capers and herbs dressed gorgeously with yoghurt and pomegranate seeds.

It was at this point we asked for an extension on our break-between-courses, and maybe it was for this reason the next course fell short for me; perhaps I was just too full of the joys of the first two to wholly appreciate the third.

Not so for my fellow diners however, who fell upon and exclaimed paroxysmally about the meats and sides (kreatika course).  Slow roasted lamb shoulder was pronounced succulent, and the chicken from the spit, though a touch on the dry side, was lemony and generous.  Crisp, fluffy oven-roasted potatoes (patates), garlicky cabbage salad (lahanosalata) and the classic, fresh tzatziki worked happily in concert with the meats.

Finally, the epithorpio (dessert course) was a simple and attractively presented glass filled with chilled rice pudding, salted caramel, almond shortbread crumble and pistachio.  Kids and adults alike were enthusiastic about this light, tasty ending to the meal.

(Personally I’m not a big fan of rice pudding, but I did appreciate its pretty presentation, the delicate salted caramel and the triumph of textures wrought from smooth-but-nutty rice, silky caramel, shortbread biscuit and pistachio nuts.)

With four under-12s in tow (who had already had a Big Weekend thus far) we were not likely to linger very long beyond the conclusion of the feast; nonetheless the staff’s reminder that our booking was only guaranteed for two hours- issued as it was just minutes before the deadline was to fall- was obtrusive and a little inconsiderate, given the occasion.

The swift ejection we then experienced would mirror the speed with which the dishes were delivered to us during our banquet, and leave a bit of a sour note to an otherwise enjoyable evening.

I would go back to Hellenic Republic for a very tasty meal and to inspire fond memories of my travels in Greece, but only for a casual meal, and certainly not for a special occasion.

But the main thing was my parents got their wish; we were all together on the day they celebrated 50 long and adventurous years of marriage to each other.  Some of us more aware of the fact than others, but all of us there because of the legacy they have created, and will continue to create, for many more years to come- if God is good and willing, and if love remains as strong as it ever was.



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