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A first-class café experience

Zelena Cafe Bar & Restaurant is the complete experience: delicious food, coffee and friendly service in an A-grade setting

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PHOTOS: PETER KOTSA

08 February 2017

Ask anyone in the world, and time and time again you will get the same response: Melbourne is synonymous with its cafe culture. And slowly but surely, that culture is starting to sprawl beyond the inner city to the outer suburbs, and the next in line to benefit are the lovely people of Croydon and surrounds, who are full of joy thanks to the latest addition, Zelena.

Owned and operated by husband and wife team Stan and Maria Makantasis, the pair opened the doors to their anticipated cafe, restaurant and bar space on 5 December 2016, just in time for the New Year.

In the making for almost two years, the couple refurbished the space from the ground up and took their time to ensure that everything was designed and created they way they had always imagined; evident when you first enter the premises, there's no denying their impeccable attention to detail.

The upmarket design sees the shopfront transformed into an inviting space, beautifully lit and fitted out with marble, wood and black detailing, along with comfortable, plush leather booths to while away the hours.

But do yourself a favour and venture out the back for a summer escape in the cafe's outdoor al fresco area, perfect for that get-together with friends and family.

Meanwhile, patrons can admire the skills of head chef Loui and pastry chef Kosta, who can be seen cooking away in the open kitchen.

"First-grade produce, real ingredients and, most important of all, comfortable seating and a classy environment − as one customer described it, it's like walking into the Park Hyatt Hotel," is what Zelena is all about, Maria tells Neos Kosmos.

"Our inspiration was to provide people with quality food and desserts all made on our premises."

And to achieve their goal, the owners, together with their team, have established relationships with local suppliers around Melbourne and country Victoria to produce a seasonal menu that caters to all tastes.

"For us, it is really important to support local suppliers because they have amazing quality produce," Maria adds.

Aside from their pure organic extra virgin olive oil, which is imported straight from the Greek island of Lesvos, all meat and vegetables are sourced locally, which translates into optimal taste and is going one step further to help the business in its quest to be environmentally friendly, with a lower carbon footprint.

All menu items are made fresh, in-house, including the decadent desserts and sweets, with gluten-free options available, which, aside from the first-class fit-out, is what ultimately sets Zelena apart.

While it seems odd to celebrate the use of fresh produce to make quality products from scratch, the lower cost of processed meats, sauces and sweets has resulted in many businesses compromising. But for Maria and Stan that's not an option, who say that the overall experience for the customer is a priority.

"The customers experience first-class service and are raving about the food and desserts," which is also the reason that in their short time in business they are already on a first name basis with many of their customers.

While spoilt for choice with the menu, do yourself a favour and try one of their favourites, such as the quinoa salad served with succulent pulled lamb, the delicious souvlaki platter, saganaki, or if you're after something meat-free, you can't go past the vegetarian fritters.

There's also an impressive bar that churns out everything from coffee by Melbourne roaster Five Senses, freshly squeezed juice, along with an array of cocktails and mocktails to choose from.

To cater to demand, the restaurant will also be opening on Valentine's Day night, with a special menu to spoil a loved one.

Meanwhile, you're sure to see Maria, who is hands-on managing the cafe and chatting with locals on any given day.

Talking with Maria and Stan, it's easy to see that Zelena − a name derived from a combination of their beloved daughter's names, Zena and Elena - is more than just a business for the couple. More so akin to their home − and a very classy one at that − where all are welcome.

To find out more about Zelena Cafe Bar & Restaurant, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/zelenacafebarandrestaurant/ and on Instagram @zelena_cafe

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