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"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." – J.R.R. Tolkien

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Dion Greek Restaurant & Taverna

After the success of a recent work dinner at Aspro Ble, a few of the boys were craving another Greek Banquet. Not being ones to frequent the same joint twice on nights out, we eventually decided on Dion Greek Restaurant & Taverna. Situated in the middle of the Little Greek end of Lonsdale street (which is all lit up with shimmering blue lights during the night), I’ve walked past it many times yet have never peeked in.

Upon arriving, we were promptly seated at a very long table. It would perhaps have been nicer to have a little more space, but that may be asking for too much considering the size of our group. Nevertheless, they were relatively accommodating to our various requests, including ordering separate vegetarian meals for the two vegetarians in our group.

Up first on the food front was of course, the prerequisite dips and pita bread.

Homemade Dips

Pita Bread

Nothing here was particularly impressive, and I’ve certainly had better dips elsewhere. Still, it’s not like they were exactly disappointing so I won’t fault them too much for that.

The rest of the entrees came in a quick flurry of plates, including the delicately flavoured saganaki (grilled kefalograviera cheese, lemon & oregano dressing). Once again, I’ve had better versions of this dish elsewhere, and slowly, it appeared that this would be the tone for the rest of the night.

Saganaki

The hard-to-pronounce Oktapothi Xithato (Marinated pickled octopus) and Loukanika (Char-grilled Greek spicy sausages) were both quite good.

Oktapothi Xithato

Loukanika

I didn’t manage to try any of the Dolmades (Vine Leaves filled with rice & herbs). The first and only time I’ve ever had this dish was when a temporary housemate of Greek origin made it for us during a random Sunday cooking session, and I recall it being quite tasty. No-one at this dinner complained, so I’ll take it that Dion’s version was decent.

Dolmades

The main seafood courses were then served. Up first was Kalamari, which, you guessed it, were pieces of deep-fried calamari with lemon & basil.

Kalamari

Somewhat like the calamari that you would get a stock-standard fish & chips restaurant, I didn’t particularly feel like eating much of this. The second dish, Garides, consisting of char-grilled king size prawns with lemon, oregano & olive oil dressing was better.

Garides

After a lengthy wait (is this typical of all Greek banquets?) the meat mains were served.

Arni Lemonato and Mixed Souvlaki

While no-where near as enormous as Aspro Ble’s offering, this was still quite a sizeable amount of meat. The lamb was tender and juicy, and the chicken was well-flavoured and while not exactly juicy, wasn’t at all dry.

This was accompanied your standard Elleniki Salata (Greek Salad).

Elleniki Salata

My only comment is that the feta should perhaps be cut up into smaller pieces. It was hard to split the cheese evenly between everyone, and after all that Saganki, no one particularly felt like a large piece of cheese anyway.

The meal was finished off with baklava and a curious custard-like concoction.

Desserts

Once again, this wasn’t as impressive as other desserts I’ve had at Greek restaurants, but was probably a lot healthier for me.

If anything, the portion sizes here are much better controlled than at Apsro Ble, so we left satisfying-ly full, rather than bursting at the seams. A much nicer physical feeling, but unfortunately the food wasn’t as well done. Not the greatest restaurant, but definitely not the worst either. You win some and you lose some – that’s just life.

Dion Greek Restaurant & Taverna
207 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Lunch: Fri, Dinner: Mon-Sun

Dion Greek Restaurant & Taverna on Urbanspoon

Aspro Ble

If I’m remembering correctly, this is the third time I’ve been to Aspro Ble, but definitely the first time that I’ve been with such a large group of people (10+). When dining with a large group, it’s almost always more sensible to order the banquet menu to reduce the time taken to order, as well as (hopefully) the time for the food to come out. You’re forewarned though, the photos are quite terrible because someone forgot to bring their camera…moving on though!

As with any self-respecting Greek restaurant, the entrée of bread and dips (salmon, hommus and tsatziki) was fresh and tasty.

Bread and dips

What was a little surprising was that some of my dining companions had never had tsatziki before! They seemed to enjoy it, so I guess I get extra brownie points for introducing them to something new.

The bread and dips were followed by a few more vegetarian (but definitely not vegan) entrees:

Spinach and Ricotta Pastries

Deep Fried Cheese Balls

I realised that I have a strange attachment to both spinach and cheese (as you may have noticed from previous posts) and so loved the pastries. These tasted quite similar to the boreks you can buy at the Queen Victoria Markets, but in all honesty, you wouldn’t want anything too different.

As for the deep-fried cheese balls, they were as healthy as they sound. They were perhaps a little too oily for my taste, but I didn’t expect otherwise. From here on in, it was time for the meat-procession, starting with spicy prawns.

Spicy Prawns

Luckily for me, some of the others didn’t eat seafood so I had a few more of these tasty morsels than I was rightfully entitled too. This was probably a good thing, because it was much too long of a wait before the next few dishes came out. When they did come out though, there was a lot of meat on the table, just waiting for us to ravenously devour them.

Lamb

Chicken

Potatoes

Or rather, everyone else was quite civilized and I probably ate too much. A typical Greek salad was served too, but for some reason I don’t have a picture. Also, don’t ask me what the dishes were called exactly as I didn’t get to see the menu. The waiter was indeed very helpful in describing each dish to us, so it’s my fault for not taking down notes/remembering. The lamb and chicken were quite good, but I particularly loved the potatoes which were slightly crisp on the outside, but oh-so soft on the inside. Perfection.

The food feast wasn’t over yet, because no banquet is complete without dessert. Or desserts rather.

Baklava

(What a terrible image!)

Greek Donuts with Raspberry Coulis and Greek Yogurt

The baklava was fairly standard, with lots of nuts and honey but I really loved the Greek donuts. So much so that I had two (don’t worry, I worked extra hard at the gym to make up for it). They’re much tastier than your usual donuts, and the slight sourness of the yogurt offsets them perfectly.

All in all, the banquet was delicious and the bill wasn’t ridiculously expensive. The service was attentive and friendly, I just wish they’d been a little a quicker in serving the mains. I’ll have to make a point of dining here again and taking better pictures, though I’m not sure the banquet is available for small groups. Anyone up for a large-group dinner catch-up sometime soon?

Apsro Ble
389 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Tue-Fri 11am-11pm. Sat 530pm-11pm

Aspro Ble on Urbanspoon

Hellenic Republic

Doesn’t it feel great to be back. After a few hectic months, I finally have both time (and access to internet) to finally post again. The template for this review has been sitting in my drafts folder for two months, just waiting to be written.

What an amazing place this restaurant is though, and certainly lives up to its hype. It wasn’t too hard to get a reservation a day in advance for a quiet Tuesday night (though I wouldn’t recommend it seeing how busy it actually ended up being). Warm and cosy, the emphasis here is definitely on being family oriented, both in the menu and the atmosphere of the restaurant. That of course meant pretty terrible lighting for photos, but you get the picture.

Hellenic Republic

The waitress was helpful in recommending dishes, and the correct number of dishes so we ended up feeling satisfied yet not gorged. The entrees were for the most part, quite simple but certainly delicious.

Melitzanosalata

Melitzanosalata – roasted eggplant, miso with fresh pita bread. So much better than the crusty bread and olive oil that they have at other restaurants in my opinion. The dip was nice and smooth in consistency and full of flavour. We also ordered a serve of Tyri saganaki comprised of Kefalograviera (a hard sheep milk cheese) with peppered figs. This stuff was addictive. The salty cheese was offset perfectly by the tart sweetness of the figs and left us wanting so much more of it. Pity the photographs came out terrible – there’s no way that I’m going to spoil the memory of this dish with an ugly photograph! There’s a much nicer picture on the Hellenic Republic website with the caption “Classic Greek Delicacy”.

The centerpiece of the meal though was, of course, the meat. We ordered the Arni sto fourno, slow roasted shoulder of lamb, garlic, oregano, accompanied by a serve of Kalamboki (sweet corn, spiced butter, smoked almonds, kefalograviera).

Arni sto fourno

Kalamboki

The lamb was tender and full of flavour, but as the waitress had recommended, one serve of meat was more than enough when shared between two. Any more, even with the corn to offset the oils in the dish, and I think we wouldn’t have managed to finish the dish. Not to say that we didn’t have any room left for dessert though – both of us were smiling like kids when the dessert menu was brought out. Greek donuts, brownies, pastries and meringues, we were spoilt for choice. Obviously we couldn’t just settle for one dish!

Hellenic Mess

Curiously titled, the Hellenic Mess, well, was a bit of a mess. With rose-water meringue, orange blossom jelly, vanilla crema, strawberry ouzo sauce, you really couldn’t complain though. The meringue was sweet but light with the faintest hint of rose, the jelly slightly refreshing, the vanilla creamy, and the strawberry sauce indulgent, but the dessert tasted so much better when you just took a big mouthful of everything in one go. Probably fairly easy to concoct at home, but I doubt that you could do better at home. They’ve got this down to an art.

I must admit though, I preferred the second dessert a lot more.

Ekmek kataifi pagoto

My weakness for pastries and cakes is well-known, but this was quite simply breathtaking. Complex in both construction and taste (you’re unlikely to be making this at home, but if you do, invite me over, please?), the Ekmek kataifi pagoto dish, of kataifi pastry filled with custard and topped with cherries and mastic ice cream was alternatively sweet, crispy and creamy. Certainly indulgent, but no better way to finish up an amazing meal. Seeing as there’s still so many dishes to try, if I’m ever planning to head up in East Brunswick again, I know where I’m going for dinner, or maybe their impressive sounding Sunday lunches.

Hellenic Republic
434 Lygon St, Brunswick East
Breakfast: Sat-Sun 9-1130am, Lunch: Fri-Sun 12-4pm, Dinner: Mon-Sun 530pm-late

Hellenic Republic on Urbanspoon

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