“I want to know, what is most important to you, Mel? Like, what’s important to you, deeply?” That’s how Greek restaurateur Angie Giannakodakis opens when you pick up the phone to her calling. “I’m Greek, so getting philosophical is who I am,” she proclaims, before I have a chance to answer.
If you haven’t already gathered, Giannakodakis isn’t short of a deep thought or a provoking question. A seasoned campaigner of the Melbourne restaurant industry for nearly three decades, she spent her early days at Melbourne institution The Press Club, and now owns another Melbourne classic, Epocha in Carlton, as well as Cretan gem Elyros in Camberwell. The latter showcases a fresh, wild side of Greek cuisine many Australians may not be familiar with, and Angie, along with her business partners Guy Holder and Disa Dimitrakakis (herself, a proud Cretan woman), are proud to be a part of the progressive wave of Greek cuisine champions, changing the way we think of Greek food.
Elyros in Camberwell showcases a fresh, wild side of Greek cuisine many Australians may not be familiar with.
“Crete is one the Greek islands that has really held its own for a long time. Living on an island means it has developed its own very regional style of food and it’s heavily reliant on what grows around and in front of you. In that way, it’s quite Melburnian!” Giannakodakis laughs. When deciding to open a regionally obscure Greek restaurant in the heart of Melbourne’s suburbs, her logic in connecting the very Melbourne way of living and supporting local, felt completely natural. “We get local. We get regional. We have a very ‘I’ve got what I have right now, so I’ll make the most of this’ mentality, so we decided to bring this restaurant to life,” she shares.
Far from chunky blocks of hard fetta tossed with Kalamata olives and a bit of iceberg or even lamb on the spit, Elyros is far from any Greek food stereotype. Elegant in its simplicity, it’s about showcasing the beauty of a vegetable-driven menu that makes you feel as good the next day as you do when you’re eating it. “We [Greeks] don’t eat lamb every day! We honour it by eating it maybe twice a year whole, the day to day is very different. If you want to feel good, eat like a Cretan. It’s fresh, healthy, a lot like what Vietnamese food is in the scheme of Asian cuisines.”
Elegant in its simplicity, it’s about showcasing the beauty of a vegetable-driven menu that makes you feel as good the next day as you do when you’re eating it.
Like many choices, Giannakodakis has made that don’t initially make sense but in the end reveal a logic equally both wise and intelligent, choosing to work with non-Greek head chef Jarad Smith has been, in her eyes, a huge asset. “Having an Australian chef is awesome! Jarad was an apprentice with us at The Press Club and went onto the Hellenic Republic; I’ve seen him grow. He has fantastic technique, but what I admire most is that he has an amazing relationship with his grandmother. Relationships with family are so important if you’re Greek, and it makes you see things a certain way. Jarad has a respect for the cuisine, his understanding and concern for keeping things pure, is key,” she reasons.
The passion with which Giannakodakis speaks of Greek food and culture is unrelenting and undeniable. “It’s an underlying, ferocious bubbling passion. The bittersweet flavour in our culture, it’s live or die. It’s built with a lot of bravery and pride and everything that goes on the plate has a story that says, ‘This is where we come from.’ Be good to your produce and it will support you in your life. And, of course, it has to be delicious, because you need to want to eat it!”
As Australian palates continue to be curious and enquiring, so does the variety and regional specificity of cuisine options. “If you believe in Australia becoming a better, more multicultural place, you should try Elyros,” says Giannakodakis. Now that’s a logic we can understand.
Elyros Restaurant & Wine Bar
871 Burke Road, Camberwell
Open for lunch, Tuesday to Sunday, and for dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
(03) 9882 8877