2 Exhibition St, CBD
03 9207 7444
Hours: Monday- Sunday 1130am-12am
Gazi. Well-known in Melbourne as one of Masterchef judge George Columbaris’s restaurants (see also Hellenic Republic, The Press Club, Jimmy Grants, Mastic…), Gazi offers a contemporary, casual take on Greek street-food. I had known it to be a must-try for a long time before finally getting there last weekend with Dad, and am I glad I did. Although initially slightly hesitant due to its tourist popularity and some not-so-kind reviews on urbanspoon (though always way of random opinion), Gazi proved my fears unfounded. Giving off a loud, modern vibe with a dark, red-tinged lighting, bar seating, the famous terracotta potted ceiling and the open kitchen a frenzy of activity, Gazi was absolutely pumping the night we visited, with our waiter estimating that they would turn over 250 covers that night. However, unlike many Melbourne restaurants which use the commercial profitability of a ‘no bookings’ model to enable continual table turn over, Gazi does allow limited bookings for lunch and dinner – an absolute win for us to avoid waiting outside in the wintery evening, cold and hungry. [though the lighting did not make for good photos – please excuse them!]
We sat at the bar, affording us a perfect view of the buzzing kitchen atmosphere – as a lover of cooking as well as eating out, being able to see the chefs at work is always a fascinating experience. Large sticks of rotisserie chicken rotated over burning coals; someone continually fried chips, tossing them with oregano, feta and garlic oil; another appeared in charge of souvlakakia construction: all pirouetting around one another as they raced from station to station around the kitchen while the head chef directed from the other side of the bench, sending precisely timed orders quickly out to waiting tables of hungry Melbournites.
Although tempted by the “Doing it Greek Style” 10 dish sharing menu ($69pp), I decided to order myself, having spotted particular items on the menu I was eager to try and reluctant to relinquish control! We started with dips, choosing the beetroot, feta, and walnut praline, as well as the babaganoush, tahini, and crispy shallots ($9.5 each). Arriving with warm, fluffy pita bread, the eggplant babaganoush is thick and chunky, smoky in flavour with extra nuttiness from the tahini, with the crunch of sweet fried shallots and a drizzle of olive oil to finish. Neither Dad or I could pick a favourite between it and the second dip, earthy, smooth beetroot with crumbled sharp and salty feta. Though totally different, both worked together perfectly and motivated me to try more dip-construction next time I am home.
Onto the mushrooms: one of the best dishes of the night. Part of the “hellenic dirty food”, or Ethnika Vromika section of the menu, this was Manitari: wild mushrooms, parsnip crisp, feta and yogurt whip, truffle butter ($14.5). Juicy and earthy mushroom varieties are plated artfully with dollops of smooth, creamy and tangy feta whip, spears of crunchy parsnip, and what looked a little like fried kale: combinations of flavour and texture that create a knock-out dish.
Having experienced Columbaris’s souva at Jimmy Grant’s, the slightly more upmarket version at Gazi was an essential. The soft-shell crab ($12) was a flavour explosion of puffy, pillowy bread, crunchy sweet crab, swirls of honey mayo and the bite of mint and coriander, while the chicken souvlakakia (knowing we needed to try the spit roasted chicken in full view in the kitchen) pleased with chunks of tender chicken, salty chips, onion, parsley and mustard mayo. Both were filled generously, lending to blissfully messy eating – prepare for greasy fingers.
Next were the salads: though I would have liked to order all, I was limited by the stomach capacity of us two diners and stuck to two – the brussel sprouts ($13.5) and grains ($12.5), though the Lahonosalata of cabbage, carrot, currants, yogurt, sumac mayo, pickled onion and kefalograveria was next choice. Big claim coming up: these brussel sprouts were the best I have ever tasted. Fried and flaking with crispy edges and served with chestnuts, crispy jamon, whipped feta and oregano – they make you question how brussel sprouts ever became a hated vegetable. Impossible not to like. The grain salad, made up of barley, lentils, quinoa and cauliflower with juicy, bursting pearls of pomegranate and topped with cumin yogurt and puffed grains, was similarly addictive, though pretty sizeable to eat on its own: would recommend ordering it with one of the meat or fish options as a filling side.
Not quite ready to finish our evening yet and having saved room for something sweet, the dessert menu became the next dilemma. Encompassing larger options with greek influence, such as Loukomathes (honey nutella donuts with crushed hazelnuts $10.5) and crema kataifi (creme brulee, crispy kataifi, pistachio, cinnamon, honey syrup – $12.5) as well as a periptero trolley, or greek milk bar, peddling smaller ready made options of baklava, Loukoumi, marshmallow, rocher, and chocolate bars and more, the menu has something for everyone. Eventually we took the plunge and went for the largest, most lavish dish: the Bombe Metaxa: a globe of chocolate ice cream with an inner of tsoureki (a greek brioche style bread), surrounded by meringue ($18.5). On arrival, the meringue is lit on fire, giving it a light blue halo which I tried desperately to capture by photo before it burnt out. The thick layer of gooey, sweet torched meringue blended with the rich, dark chocolate gelato and the honey-like flavours of the small centre of tsoureki to create an impressive, melt-in-your-mouth dessert: one of my all time restaurant favourites, sort of like a grown up, greek-style interpretation of s’mores. Though meant for two, it could really serve three: we happily polished it off, but only just – and we have pretty sizable appetites!
The service we experienced was spot on: unlike some share plate restaurants, it didn’t feel like everything landed on our table at once, giving us time to enjoy each round separately. Overall, Gazi feels like the greek version of Chin Chin (though if I had been here first, maybe I would be saying the Chin Chin feels like the asian fusion version of Gazi): an innovative take on traditional street food style with a energetic, informal vibe and sophisticated palate – clearly a winning combination in the restaurant business.
Do: try to get a booking to avoid the wait, and sitting at the bar is great for 2
Don’t miss: the soft shell crab souvlakakia or Bombe Metaxa dessert
Features: limited bookings, open kitchen, share plates, loud atmosphere