A Greek chef I met many years ago in the Cyclades told me that the best method for tenderising octopus was to beat it on the ocean rocks. 'Then it's dried on a line in the sun, before being grilled over charcoal,' he said. I'm not sure if that's how Stavros the Greek treats this delicious denizen of the deep. All I know is that the charcoal grilled octopus I had there on the weekend was the most sublime seafood dish I've enjoyed in a long time. Tender, tasting of the sea, splashed with chilli extra virgin olive oil, and served with a slice of lemon. It was a little bit like receiving a love letter from Santorini ... or maybe that last bit was the house red (also with Greek pedigree) talking.
Greek food has long been considered the poor cousin of European cuisine, but it has so much more to offer than moussaka and dolmades, to name a couple of dishes which have made it to the mainstream. Stavros the Greek celebrates this country's 4000-year culinary history with familiar street choices such as souvlaki and yiros (both offered with a choice of pork belly, lamb leg, or chicken thigh) and nods to tradition such as the lamb soutzoukakia (meat balls served with tomato capsicum sauce and kefalograviera, a type of hard cheese, grated on top). Fresh seafood also features prominently on the Stavros the Greek menu - think lightly battered whitebait, herbed sardines, king prawns, calamari. As for dessert, refreshing contemporary twists surface, with the chocolate and feta cheese tart (served with lemon curd, olive oil mousse, and black salt) standing alongside the more traditional almond baclava.
The interior of Stavros the Greek is sophisticated but welcoming - all high ceilings, brilliant white, and splashes of aqua and blue. Sleek and refined, the decor captures the light, spirit and space of the Aegean, without falling back upon the old taverna tropes that lesser restaurants tend to embrace. Staff are attentive, welcoming, and willing and able to explain the more unfamiliar items on the menu. They instinctively seem to know when you need more time, more wine, more cutlery, or another peek at the dessert menu.
Another thing I liked about Stavros the Greek was that it is set up to accommodate different budgets and moods. You can turn up for a casual yiros and beer, or you can sample the dips (including taramasalata, tzatziki, and almond skordolia) with charred pita bread before moving onto shared meze plates (including mixed olives, seared haloumi with lemon, and white anchovies with salsa verde) and mains. There is even a banquet option incorporating slow cooked lamb shoulder and a heirloom Greek salad for those with big appetites. Fancy more of a drink with nibbles? Head on over to Sunset, an adjoining informal bar, with an aperitif menu featuring Greek wines, cocktails and a 'pick your own love potion' gin and tonic menu.
Stavros the Greek opened in Kenmore in December 2017, just around the corner from owner Renata Roberts' two other standout venues, Sichuan Bang Bang and Pizzeria Violetta. It's open nightly from 5pm for dinner, and from 11am until 3pm on Sundays. We went for Sunday lunch, and observed family groups, canoodling couples and gatherings of friends (of all ages) among our fellow diners. It just goes to show that there's a big fat Greek welcome available for everyone here.