The best part about Xanthi? For me, it's the view into the kitchen. The three windows at the entrance to this slick new eatery may all be square, but it's just as fun as Play School, with an equally fascinating scene unrolling within each one.
Xanthi is the big budget move by David Tsirekas, head chef and owner of the now-closed Perama, a Greek standout and locals' favourite in the Portuguese enclave of Petersham. He's now the proud owner of Xanthi, located in the recently launched level six dining precinct at Westfield Sydney.
The old Perama was small and noisy, filled with a ruckus of patrons who would clunk their way up and down the steep wooden stairs. Xanthi is plush and sumptuously elegant by comparison. Hanging lanterns, tapestry bench coverings and mosaic tiles add a Byzantine air. Draped silk curtains create intimacy, gathered toward a large white column so it feels like we're sitting beneath a gigantic mushroom. It's remarkably quiet too, despite the restaurant being almost full.
Xanthi's location in Greece
Windows into the kitchen at Xanthi
While David has kept several mainstay dishes from Perama, Xanthi represents an opportunity for him to offer more than what you'd get at your local Greek restaurant.
Making pork belly baklava with fresh filo pastry
Freshly made filo pastry is a big part of the new menu, handrolled and baked fresh to order. The pastry is stretched until paper-thin, then filled with seven different savoury variations or turned into five types of dessert.
The spit is another drawcard. David promises a full lamb, goat or pig roasted on the spit each day. The vertical spit spins in lazy circles with portions available in 250g or 500g serves.
And you can't have a Greek restaurant without ouzo. The ouzo trolley boasts twenty types of ouzo, all available by the glass.
The idea is that patrons can order ouzo with a full meal, or share a few plates of ouzomezedakia, the Greek equivalent of tapas.
Makedonikos Tsipouro $36.50
After farewelling the old Perama with a final group hurrah, we were keen to find out what the new Xanthi offered, which is how a party of seventeen assorted food bloggers came together for a triple birthday celebration.
Groups of ten or more must order the $55 banquet, a set menu that includes:
- three dips
- greek salad
- your choice of three ouzomezedakia sharing plates
- one apo tin plastira savoury pastry
- lamb skaras
- caramel baklava ice cream
- sweet bougatsa.
Tsipouro mixed with ice and water
David was quick to kick off the party with complimentary bottles of tsipouro for the table, assuring us that drinking it would stimulate our appetites. At about 45%, tsipouro is potent stuff, best mixed with ice and diluted with water. When water is added, the tsipouro takes on a cloudy appearance. Even then it still tastes like lighter fluid.
And of course there's always someone who will order a drink purely based on the name and a couple of suggestive winks.
Our food arrived as a staggered banquet, starting with a vibrant Greek salad -- punchy with bursts of salted feta and glossy Kalamata olives -- and creamy dips of tarama smoked cod roe and tangy tzatziki yoghurt.
Tarama salted and cured cod roe dip
Honey peppered figs
Honey peppered figs are plump and syrupy with balsamic vinegar and spices, although a touch too sickly sweet for me.
Hot smoked eggplant dip
Much more of a winner is the hot smoked eggplant dip, a heartwarming muddle of smoky eggplant puree livened with coriander, cumin and a gentle squeeze of lemon. David also folds through bechamel and grated kasseri for extra richness.
Barbecued haloumi cheese
Locally produced Cypriot-style haloumi cheese barbecued and served with fresh lemon and oregano
David is channeling his inner Greek yaya, or grandma, as we find additional dishes sent through from the kitchen. Barbecued haloumi cheese is intensely salty, but the locally made Cypriot-style cheese has a softer texture than the squeaky ones you find in the supermarket. The cheese has been simply char-grilled and dusted with oregano. We annoint it generously with lemon.
David Tsirekas in the open kitchen
Herbed skordalia croquettes
Herbed skordalia croquettes are surprisingly light and delicate, each parcel filled with a garlicky mashed potato mixed with mint, dill and celery leaf, then rolled in polenta and breadcrumbs and deep-fried until golden.
Sheftalies barbecue Cypriot-style spiced pork meatballs
My favourite ouzomezedakia is the sheftalies, Cypriot-style pork meatballs that are chunky with meat, and littered with translucent squares of sweet onion. The meatballs have been wrapped in caul fat, quite a thick version so there's still a thin layer of skin on the surface after the meatball has cooked through.
Fried veal sweetbreads
Crumbed veal sweetbreads are my other weakness, these precious thymus glands fried quickly into addictive crunchy-versus-soft delights.
Prawn and scallop bougatsa
We're only supposed to have one bougatsa, but David sends out two. And two more for our nut-free diner. The prawn and scallop bougatsa contains almonds, we're told, a creamy sauce of coriander, lemon and cumin holding fat chunks of prawn and scallop. The handmade filo pastry is immediately noticeable -- flaky and crisp without any soggy or raw sections from something pre-made. It's also clean on the tongue, without any oily or fatty aftertaste.
Spinach and feta bougatsa (nut-free alternative)
Spinach and feta bougatsa is a pretty vegetarian scroll that I actually enjoy more than the prawn and scallop version.
Pork belly baklava
The signature pork belly baklava has been revised, a necessary adaptation with the use of fresh filo at Xanthi. David confesses that his wife is determined to set up a Facebook page to "Bring back the original pork belly baklava".
The original version looked more like a traditional baklava, with layers of pastry sandwiched around shredded pork belly and pistachio. On top rested a tile of crackling. Version 2.0 is more like a spring roll, a log filled with pork belly and date and pistachio that is served in thick slices.
There's more meat and less pastry in this adaptation, and while we found the crackling a little more chewy than crunchy, the date and mastic sauce is an interesting addition.
Lamb fricasse bougatsa (nut-free alternative)
The nut-free alternative is the lamb fricasse bougatsa, filled with tender shreds of lamb from the spit.
Lamb and pork from the spit
By the time our main arrives, we're struggling. The banquet menu lists lamb skaras as the set main but David swaps this with meat from the spit instead. We receive servings of both lamb and pork, a little dry in parts but easily fixed with a squeeze of lemon. The potatoes are perfect - not overly crisp but deliciously soft and fluffy inside.
Garden of Aphrodite $13.50
We're spoilt with two extra desserts, the arrival of the Garden of Aphrodite eliciting a chorus of approving coos. It's extraordinarily pretty to look at, an assortment of flower petals nestled around two two miniaure towers of sheep milk pudding. Thin slices of golden beetroot are an intriguing inclusion, supported by the thick brushstroke of raspberry and beetroot gel.
Sokolata Castania $14
Sokolata Castania is the bigger crowd-pleaser, a dome of chocolate mousse that is light and airy. Sour cherry sorbet provides a welcome tang and strands of chocolate pashmak add texture and fun.
Salted caramel peanut and banana sweet bougatsa
The banquet includes a sweet bougatsa and we're served the salted caramel peanut and banana version. It's not as sweet as you'd expect, filled with a thick puree of banana and whole peanuts that have gone a little soggy so they taste boiled.
Caramel baklava ice cream
Caramel baklava ice cream is another Perama favourite, layers of vanilla bean ice cream wrapped around a core of pistachio baklava filling and caramel sauce.
It's been a long night of feasting but surely yaya wouldn't want it any other way.
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9/12/2011 01:51:00 am