Lambs brains. Until recently, they made me shudder. My earliest encounter with them had repulsion, my eight-year-old stomach churning as I watched my Mother and sister enthusiastically chomp down a plate of them together. The brains had been steamed as is, a morbid haul of creamy-grey cooked cerebellums.
But then a lot of things are disgusting when you're a child. Hated oysters; now I love them. Hated blue cheese; now, the stinkier, the better. Hated ginger; now I just can't get enough.
On a cool winter-like evening, we headed to Diethnes in Pitt Street, a sentimental favourite amongst many Sydneysiders, and proudly lauded as one of the longest-running Greek restaurants in Sydney.
Tucked down in a basement, Diethnes is a timewarp back to the 1970s. Mustard yellow tablecloths with matching vinyl chairs, floral bulb light fittings and mock Corinthian columns set the flashback scene.
After some deliberation and debate, we eventually give in and order the $39 set menu. It's a collection of offerings that seems to satisfy most of our Mediterranean cravings:
Set Menu: $39.00 per person
Sweet served with coffee or tea
Tzatziki, dolmades stuffed vine leaves and taramosolata dip
Dolmades are plump cigars of lemony rice, not as sour as some, which is just the way I like it. The tzatziki dip of cucumber, yoghurt and garlic is light but somewhat punchy, the taramosalata is fragrant with the delightful saltiness of fish roe.
The Greek salad is generously scattered with fetta and littered with shiny black Kalamata olives.
Avgolemono homemade chicken, egg and lemon soup $5.50
One person in our group of hungry foodies can't resist the avgolemono, that traditional Greek favourite of chicken soup mixed with beaten egg yolks and generous squeezes of lemon. It's a mild version that is not as lemony as I've had before, but it's simple and nourishing in a wholesome homemade way.
Lambs brains fried served with salad $16.90
I, of course, have to put in a special request for the lambs brains, which are battered and deep-fried to a tempting golden brown. There is some trepidation by more than a few people in our group and I dissect mine for a photo shoot before I take my first adult bite.
I like it. Perhaps the batter helps, but the brains themselves are creamy, smooth and remind me of cooked oysters with their butteriness and richness of flavour.
So now I can add crumbed lambs brains to my list of late night cravings.
We continue our set banquet with a square of spanakopita, a disappointing soggy mouthful, especially with my recent homemade effort still fresh in my palate memory. This is followed by cheese triangles in flaky golden baked filo pastry, and pan-fried slabs of haloumi that squeak unrelentingly against your teeth.
Fried eggplant with garlic sauce
The kitchen has run out of moussaka so we are offered an alternative of fried eggplant slices with a pasta dish to follow later on. The discs of eggplant are sensational: lightly floured and fried so they are crisp on the surface, but soft, sweet and squishy within. The garlic sauce that accompanies them is positively potent. It is intense with the heat of garlic and matches the flavour of eggplant well.
The calamari is another winner. It's lightly dusted with flour and deep-fried, in the style of the salt-and-pepper calamari at your favourite Chinese restaurant. The calamari is tender and the golden crunch of batter... ahhh... who can resist.
Octopus can be a tricky beast when it comes to the kitchen, but these tentacles are super tender. By this point, we are already struggling and counting down the number of dishes waiting to emerge.
Home made pasticcio
Tubular spaghetti mixed with bolognaise and topped with bechamel
I'm not a fan of the pasticcio, which is heavy with pasta tubes and what tastes like a watery bolognaise sauce. However by this point we can't eat much anyway as our stomachs bloat to new levels of buoyancy.
Tender baked lamb with lemon and oregano jus
Our final main is roast lamb Greek-style, the banquet's climatic slow-cooked masterpiece. The meat is dark, aromatic with the scent of oregano, and it flakes away with melting succulency. There are groans around the table that fluctuate between delight and gastric pain. I groan that that I foolishly ate anything for the entire week prior.
Galaktoboureko custard slice
Dessert is for a separate stomach though, however the slice of galaktoboureko--one of my favourite Greek desserts--is soggy, bland and devoid of the magic that comes with eggy custard, flaky filo and sticky sweet syrup.
An espresso cup of gritty Greek-style coffee completes the evening, and we roll out the door replete but happy.
Hearty taverna-style food that always pleases. And you don't even need a lambs brain to tell you that.
Diethnes Greek Restaurant
336 Pitt Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9267 8956
Lunch Mon - Sat 12pm to 3pm
Dinner Mon - Wed 5.30pm to 9.30pm
Dinner Thu - Sat 5.30pm to 10.00pm
$3 surcharge per person on public holidays
Licensed (no BYO)
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9/15/2006 11:52:00 pm