Sip a martini or two at The Press Club – a modern spin on traditional Hellenic Cuisine
Enter The Press Club and you can smell the aroma of cooking floating through the air from the open theatre kitchen. The ambience is warm and comfortable. I am seated at the head of a long row of white tables looking down the length of the room. At the very far end I can see a man sitting at the opposite head and I feel like a queen hosting her banquet. Greek fare is laid out before us.
Most of us take food for granted. However, this is not the case for George Calombaris who has been dedicated to the kitchen since he was 18. Whilst we were discovering our ripest teenage years, Calombaris barely saw daylight as he slaved under London’s top chefs. But the egocentric competition in the kitchen finally encouraged him to return home to Australia and start his own venture based on strong family values, loyalty, inspiration and most importantly, The Customer. Opening in 2006 The Press Club immediately became one of Melbourne’s most innovative restaurants and the benchmark for fine Greek cuisine.
After dining with The Press Club you will start to understand the meaning of family as it is strongly imbedded into Greek tradition. Calombaris, who is an Australian of Greek/Cypriot origin, takes pride not only in his kitchen but also his staff. Many of The Press Club team have been together from the beginning and you can see this in the way they work the floor. I might have suggested bringing a translation dictionary for the menu had the staff not been so well informed. Not only did they have the background knowledge of each dish but they used the correct pronunciation. I was impressed.
When speaking with Calombaris on the topic of family, I discover that even his mother (who continues to live in Cyprus) has a role in the kitchen making the ‘Soup of Trahana and Mastic’. The base of the soup is made from wheat that his mother dips in sour milk and leaves out to dry. The wheat is then sent back to Australia to be boiled into the stock of Trahana. Oil from the mastic plant found only in Chios is added to the stock along with yoghurt, which is then whipped into a light foamy soup that, in part, resembles Greek lemon chicken soup, but without actually containing any chicken or lemon. The Press Club is a restaurant of passion that brings only the finest ingredients from across the world to delight our tastebuds with a truly Hellenic experience. The soup was accompanied by a soft, dry, and slightly earthy French white from Jura, Jacques Puffeney Arbois 2004.
As consumers we don’t realise the genius that lies behind the development of a great culinary experience. The effort that goes into making a meal – which we simply slosh down in a matter of minutes – is truly amazing. When you realise this your appreciation of food will change forever. Calombaris’ Calamari Makaronatha with cauliflower cream and shaved avgotaraho is a dish of thought and consideration (avgotaraho is dried fish roe that is rolled flat and shaved to a thin paper). Like a science class full of trial and tribulation before achieving perfection, the dish took time and patience to correct. The calamari has been placed inside a vacuum-sealed bag, and then into a steaming bain-marie where it is left to simmer for 6 hours undisturbed until perfectly tender. Once cooked, the calamari is shaved into thin strips to resemble pasta, otherwise known as macaroni or ‘makaronia’. The accompanying wine was a white from Greece, Skouras Moschofilero 2007.
‘Inspired by mum’ was an interesting dish that offered clean earthy flavours of mountain tea smoked beef matched against the richness of a coddled egg and hand-cut chips fried in olive oil. Perfectly crispy on the outside, yet fluffy on the inside, the chips are a revelation to the world of potatoes. The fun part is that if you’re keen you can dip your chips in the soft yolk of the egg, just like the toast soldiers mum used to make. The wine: Yves Cuilleron ‘Sybel’ Syrah Rosé 2007, Rhone Valley, France.
Of the main dishes, the Roasted Barramundi was the shining star, accompanied by a glass of Curly Flat Chardonnay 2006, from the Macedon Ranges, in Victoria, Australia. The wine was chosen for it’s fine example of a common Australian drink ‘the chardy’, accompanying a typically Australian fish ‘the Barra’. The flesh of the Barramundi was perfectly tender under a crispy skin. The fillet was drizzled with in a warm olive and cherry tomato vinaigrette. A small jar of fresh taramasalata came as a condiment to the fish. The taramasalata is white in colour as it should be naturally – none of that pink coloured stuff you’ll find on the supermarket selves – and is made using a mix of fish roe and potato as opposed to bread.
The last dish before dessert was a Pikilia of Rabbit, which literally translates to an assortment or inclusion of every part of the rabbit, from the crispy belly, roasted ribs, and tender liver, to the loin – stuffed with ouzo and wrapped in a honeydew jelly. The loin was bursting with a familiar flavour that I was unable to put a hand on. I believe the ouzo had something to do with it. I am fond of dishes cooked in ouzo as the liquor infuses a unique essence that is not exactly aniseed as we think it should be. The ouzo imparts a slight sweetness, it is a flavour that to me still remains indescribable. We drank a delicious Cos “Cerasolo di Vittoria” Nero D’avolo Frappato 2007 with the rabbit, one of my favourite red grape varieties from Italy.
The wine list proved to be excellent, as did both the food and the service. I must add, that if you choose to visit The Press Club only for the dessert I think you will find yourself sufficiently satisfied as a burst of textures and flavours play across your tastebuds. The Chocolate, Tarragon and Raspberry Cloud is a combination of hot and cold, mousse and foam, cake and chocolate, it is all there in correct proportion. The drink: Alvear Soiera 1927 Pedro Ximenez, San Emilio, a dark sherry, which to me had the taste and aroma of a rich Port.
After the meal a round of Mastica was sent around the table as a digestive. It took me back to my time spent in Greece sitting around a Taverna table late into the evening after a long boozy lunch. Celebrating life with only the best food and drink. It was tonight that we dined on the Symposium menu. The technical efficiency of the kitchen and quality of produce are exceptional, creating taste sensations worthy of dreams.
Now 30, Calombaris has numerous awards (Best New Restaurant in Victoria 2008, Best New Restaurant, and Chef of the Year) and three restaurants to his name (The Press Club, Maha and the recently opened Hellenic Republic on Melbourne’s Lygon St, Brunswick). This year The Press club was awarded two chefs hats and while we speak Calombaris is on his way to Canberra to claim yet another award. The young chef has become so talked about in such a small space of time that Global Food and Wine Magazine voted him as one of the top 40 chefs of influence in the world. The competency and excellence of the award winning head chef is evident in every dish and I am already planning my return to eat a la carte. Kali Orexi.
Written by Martyn-Zyznikow
The Press Club Restaurant & Bar
72 Flinders St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia Tel 03 9677 9677