Friday, October 19, 2012

Food of the Gods

Mention Greece and, once you've clarified that you don't mean the musical, most people's visions are of aqua-hued Mediterranean seas and bright whitewashed homes built on seemingly impossible terrain with tiny aged women dressed in black from head to toe clambering along cobbled streets.

Having never visited, my impressions of Greece were formed from the myths and legends of early childhood schooling followed by movie matinees replaying films now long vanished from cinema screens.  The  stilted performances by American actors dressed in leather armour fighting stop-frame animated monsters by the groundbreaking (for his time) Ray Harryhausen, brought whole other worlds and times to my relatively unexciting young life. 
Perhaps it was my foodie roots sprouting - but even then I noticed that each film generally featured a feast of some sort, whether to welcome a stranger to the new land or to celebrate a victory or provide the catalyst for moving the plot forward. Poison in the goblet anyone? Naturally the Gods ate better than anyone!

What these influences said to me was that dining Greek was all about feasting. Xanthi is definitely a worthy contender to fulfil my cinematic dining dreams. 

Unlike the Thai next door, the designer has positioned the kitchen at the entrance. Trav-ersing the narrow entrance to the dining room itself feels like you are leaving the modern world and its shopping centre location behind. 

Once inside, with a fabric-draped ceiling and walls, exotic rugs and lamp decor, it is possible to believe that you are within a marquee on the banks of a river, noblemen and women, celebrating for the night.
Xanthi's menu has been cleverly designed by David Tsirekas (of Perama fame) to allow the diner to taste as many of his wonderful array of dishes as possible. 
We chose from an extensive list of Ouzomezadakia - little plates designed for sharing:

Lahanika Tiganites -  crumbed zucchini flowers, oyster mushrooms, eggplant and artichoke served with skordalia sauce.
Almost anything tastes great crumbed and deep fried, (we know that from lots of happy experience!) and this was no exception. We would have happily eaten a plate of these for the mains, our only "beef" being there was only one zucchini flower and four diners to share it! 

Fried Whitebait - served with a spicy raki tomato relish. This was pretty self-explanatory and satisfyingly crunchy and plentiful, the relish providing a little chilli kick.

Sheftalies - barbequed Cypriot style pork meatballs flavoured with cumin and coriander and wrapped in caul fat.
This was easily the highlight of the starters, the balls were flavourfully chargrilled while retaining the moisture and chewy chunkyness of a home-style meatball. Most of us could easily have eaten this for a main course as well.

Hot Smoked Eggplant Dip - freshly smoked eggplant (there is an approximately 10 minute worthwhile wait for this to be prepared) blended with coriander,cumin, lemon juice, yoghurt and kasseri. Served with toasted pita bread.

All agreed this was lovely. Never having had warm eggplant dip before, I found the texture a little bit gluey and a little underspiced but the freshly made pita bread was warm, soft and generous.

Miniature bottles of Creta Farms Extra Virgin Olive oil and salt for dipping - we didn't need to order additional bread as the dishes we ordered came with plenty.

Truffle Mousaka - Layers of eggplant, potato and mushroom brushed with truffle paste, then topped with a creamy bechamel sauce.

Served with a cucumber, fennel, apple mint salad with a honey vanilla balsamic dressing. 
Easily the highlight of the mains, this was everything a great mousaka needed to be and the inspired salad was enough to cut the richness of the bechemel so by alternating mouthfuls, you could fuel the desire for more of the other.

Naturally one of us had to order from the spit (thank you J)! Tonight's offering being either pig or goat, the goat was chosen. And although I would never have ordered it myself, the sample I tasted was enough to convince me that I should be more broad-minded. While a portion of the meat was a little dry (we assumed this might have been served almost as a garnish as crackling would have accompanied the pork) there was no "goatiness" to the meat unlike some cheeses where I have been turned off merely by the smell. Accompanied by a generous serve of the soft warm pita, sumac spiced tomato and tzatziki, J felt the tomato was not as ripe as it could have been.
The only dish ordered from the Apo Tin Plastira menu (meaning off the wooden board used to make the filo pastry featured in these dishes) twice cooked Pork Belly Baklava. I was disappointed that we didn't have room to try more of these as I love the pastry and this tasted just wonderful with the contrasting melt-in-your-mouth pork and crispy pastry and crispy crackling served on top of each slice of baklava.
BBQ Spiced Chicken - Slow roasted corn fed chicken, coated and marinated in herbs and spices and finished off on the barbecue, served with chips, pita bread and garlic cream.

I don't often order chicken when eating out as there are so many more interesting dishes from which to choose but I have to say that the meat was moist and the meal was sumptuous. (Plus, it was served with chips - the test dish of any menu and yes, they were good.)

We ordered two side dishes:
Skordalia - creamy garlic mash - and it was deliciously so, if only we hadn't been so full!

And Broccolini Gavros - Served with white anchovies, chilli, crunchy graviera crumbs and normally toasted almonds which the kitchen was happy to leave out due to a diner's intolerance.

Not knowing how long it would be before we could return, we had to sample at least two desserts, the intriguing and aptly named Garden of Aphrodite - an eden of honey milk panna cotta, caramelised figs,
candied almonds and almond milk sorbet.

The figs had us salivating with the toffee-glaze cracklingly crisp and the panna cotta was smooth, suitably wobbly and not overly sweet. 
The second dessert was the Banana Ekmek - baked kataifi (fine strands of wheat pastry) wrapped bananas served with spiced chocolate mousse and salted caramel.

Due to my egg allergy, we asked to have the mousse served on the side and it certainly didn't suffer but rather had its own pedestal as a result.

Reminiscent of a banana fritter without the oily residue, the pieces of caramel fudge added texture to the smooth perfectly salted caramel sauce. The mousse was spiced with cinnamon.

With its generous serves and variety of dishes on offer and young, enthusiastic and unobtrusive waitstaff, there is plenty for us to return to and I'm guessing it won't be too long before we do!


  1. I still haven't had dessert here yet; shame on me!

    1. I don't blame you for not having room, maybe if we could have sat for a few more hours, he he!

  2. I adore the food at Xanthi! David and his team are so talented :D You ordered well!

  3. The whitebait looks awesome but I have weak spot for desserts too!

  4. I'd always intended to visit Perama but left it too late, now Xanthi can be everyone's local Greek in the CBD! Also have to mention the fresh pita bread of which I ate way too much it was so delicious! Simple food like bread and dips and meatballs and beautiful salads you can eat everyday, no requirement for tricksy foams and plating up! And not ashamed to say I claimed the whole zucchini flower for myself as I was the one who ordered it! Will definitely be back.

  5. Xanthi is just great isn't it? Great choice on the foods - you actually tried lots of the things I didn't get to (and I ate a lot on my visit! haHA)