Giant octopus tentacles hanging in a backyard in Sydney's inner west? It's just a day in the life of Chef David Tsirekas, the creative force behind Greek restaurants, Perama in Petersham, Xanthi in Westfield Sydney and Kefi Greek Tavern and Souvlaki Bar in Kingsgrove. Looking at pics on Instagram on one thing, but knowing you'll soon be eating that very octopus, quietly soaking up the sun in Sydney's red brick suburbia, is another.
Dining room at Plunge No. 46
Tsirekas is in the final stages of his next big project - the 130-seater Greek restaurant 1821, opening up on the former Vault Hotel site on Pitt Street in the CBD. Until then, he's popping up at restaurants all over the place, reprising a few Perama and Xanthi classics, as well as testing out a few dishes for his upcoming restaurant. 1821 is a significant date. It's the year that the Greek War of Independence first began.
We booked in for his second-last dinner at Plunge No. 46 cafe in Summer Hills last weekend. We paid $65 per head for a five course dinner, with a single sitting starting at 7pm. The room fills quickly, a mix of locals, Tsirekas fans and a large table of family friends.
Taramasalata, tzatziki and bean dip
Arriving to a table already set with nibbles is a nice touch. It feels like we've arrived at a wedding reception as we discard coats, survey the room and then get distracted by the food.
On the table is a trio of dips. Taramasalata may only be blushing with the barest of pinks but there's a pungent kick of salted cod roe that is intensely satisfying. Milder on the palate is tzatziki, a zingy cucumber yoghurt spiked with garlic. The bean dip is soothing too, with a light and fluffy texture.
Warm flat bread
A board of warm flat bread provides the ideal carriage for dip consumption. The wedges of flat bread are soft in the middle with a slightly toasted surface. They're easily torn apart, bending at will to pick up as much dip as possible.
We also tuck into a Greek salad, simple and fresh with a bounty of tomato, cucumber, olives, capsicum, red onion and feta, dusted lightly with dried oregano.
Skouras moscofilero-roditis, Greece
There'd been a oversight of bookings that night and the day prior, my friend had been asked if we'd be happy to sit at the bar instead of a table. We'd agreed and on the night the three of us are led to a small floating table that would probably be more suitable for two. Plunge owner Hesham El Masry is warm and welcoming, immediately apologetic for the booking mishap and offers us a bottle of wine on the house. I've never met El Masry before, and Tsirekas doesn't know I'm dining tonight, so it's a genuine act of goodwill that takes us by surprise. We stick with the Greek theme for the night, choosing a Greek white that is unexpectedly light and fruity.
Loukaniko sausage, barley rusks, roasted red peppers, onions, tomato and egg
Vromiko means dirty in Greek, and the next mezze of spicy loukaniko sausage is a jumble of ingredients that Tsirekas lately confesses is the perfect cure for a hangover. The juicy seared slices of sausage play off against the sweetness of roasted red peppers and onion; the hunks of toasted bread soak up all the sausage fat and the puddle of tomato sauce at the bottom. It's the kind of dish you'd cheerfully eat for breakfast, lunch or tea.
Octopus drying in the sun in @dtsirekas' backyard
There's a reason why the Greeks dry octopus in the sun. It means that when the octopus finally hits the grill, there's less chance of water escaping and causing the flesh to steam rather than sear.
Barbecued octopus on an orange and capsicum sauce
It's quite surreal to have the barbecued octopus served to us, knowing it had been hanging in Tsirekas' backyard only two days before. There's are distinct crunchy kind of chewiness to it, no doubt a result of the sun drying. The smoky char on the tentacles is incredibly fragrant, and the bed of orange and capsicum sauce on the bottom is silky with a mellow sweetness.
Lentil and potato filo pie
The lentil and potato filo pie is so tasty I'm fooled into thinking this is meat-based at first. It's perhaps a little heavy on the salt, but its heartiness works well, lightened by a dollop of minted yoghurt. The layers of filo pastry are golden brown and flaky.
Seafood kokoretsi in the making, instagrammed by @dtsirekas
Instagram also gives us a preview of Tsirekas' seafood kokoretsi, his own twist on the traditional kokoretsi that wraps up lamb offal in lamb intestines.
Salmon, lobster, prawns, scallops and groper roll wrapped with octopus
The seafood kokoretsi is a luxurious feast of salmon, lobster, prawns, scallops and groper threaded onto a skewer and wrapped up with octopus legs. It's a bit like opening a Christmas present, as we uncover each disc of seafood. The octopus legs are incredibly tender too.
Lamb kleftiko buried in soil, instagrammed by @dtsirekas
Kleftiko means "to steal" in Greek. It's also the basis of the word kleptomaniac. The classic kleftiko lamb dish is so named because when the Greeks were fighting the Ottomans they'd hide in the mountains, steal lambs to eat and cook them in clay pots hidden in coals under soil so the smell wouldn't give their hiding place away.
Most chefs these days use an oven but Tsirekas keeps it old skool by burying his lamb stew in soil.
The result is a plateful of meltingly tender lamb, cooked in red wine, tomato paste, olive oil, celery, onion and tomato. It's ideal winter comfort food.
Tulumba with cinnamon and nutmeg custard
Dessert is a refined take on tulumba, usually piped into short lengths, deep fried and soaked in a sugar syrup. Tsirekas' version tonight is more like a donut ball, served with sour cherries, honeyed walnuts and a cinnamon and nutmeg custard.
Tsirekas does a generous lap of the dining room after service. He's surprised but delighted to see us in the room, and infectiously excited about opening 1821. The dining room will be on the first floor. Downstairs will be a dedicated vodka bar!
Tsirekas is completing his final run of pop-ups in Sydney before he heads to Orange and Melbourne. Limited seats may be available. Contact the restaurants directly below if you'd like to make a booking.
July 15 - Carmel's, Wareemba, Sydney - Pop Up Chef
July 16 - MUMU Grill, Crows Nest, Sydney - MUMU Goes to Greece
July 18 - Plunge No. 46, Summer Hill, Sydney - Perama at Plunge
July 24 - The Agrestic Grocer, Orange - The Winter Feast
July 25 - The Agrestic Grocer, Orange - The Winter Feast
July 27 - Hellenic Republic Kew, Melbourne - David in the Kitchen
July 28 - Hellenic Republic Kew, Melbourne - David in the Kitchen
July 29 - Hellenic Republic Kew, Melbourne - David in the Kitchen
July 30 - Hellenic Republic Kew, Melbourne - David with George Calombaris
And in Plunge No. 46 news, El Masry is about to open a falafel bar on Enmore Road across the road from Enmore Theatre. Can't wait to check that one out too!
Plunge No. 46
46 Lackey Street, Summer Hill, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9799 9666
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7/15/2015 12:10:00 am