When you think of Warragul, a country town located in Gippsland Victoria, Athens is one of the last things that comes to mind. Well, at least that was the case until six months ago. Since then Dino Koutsotheodoros and his father opened the doors to Kalamaki.
A souvlaki bar, modelled on the casual eateries of the Greek capital, albeit with a local twist, the venture was inspired by Dino’s countless trips to Greece with the family to visit his grandparents.
At Kalamaki however you won’t find a rotisserie in sight, instead serving up – as the name suggests – quality meats, marinated in a house blend of olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs, and skewered by hand.
“People are used to souvlaki coming straight off the spit, and coming out to you within minutes. But here everything’s done on the skewers, so we use much better, fresher meats and we grill ours straight out of the marinade, so it does take a little bit longer,” Dino tells Neos Kosmos. But as the popular adage goes, the best things in life are worth waiting for, and Kalamaki is no different.
Offering pork, chicken and lamb options, the skewers are cooked to perfection on a flat grill and served either as is with an array of sides to choose from, or as a souvlaki just like in Greece in a perfectly grilled pita served with tomato, onion, chips and tzatziki.
While Dino says they wanted to keep it traditional, they’ve added a few twists to the menu, offering alternative options like the souvlaki with Mediterranean slaw, starters like haloumi sliders drizzled with honey and dolmades marinated in olive oil and chilli.
Of course no menu would be complete without fries, the house favourite served up with feta and lemon, and if you’re feeling game you can opt for the loaded chips – a meal in itself – topped with your choice of meat or haloumi, feta, onion, and Kalamaki’s special Loaded sauce.
But for Dino who relocated to Melbourne at the age of 18, the plan was always to open a second Kalamaki in the city, and realised his dream just six weeks ago in Windsor.
While the area is known for institutions the likes of Lamb on Chapel, Kalamaki is the first ‘new school’ souvlaki bar, and says that in the short time they’ve been open, a surprising number of Greeks have been popping in.
A larger space that than in Warragul, in Windor customers have the option to dine in. Bringing his bar background to the fore, Dino has also put together an impressive wine list – all of Greek origin – and is also trying to boost the profile of retsina to the mainstream.
Meanwhile he has concocted a few Greek-inspired cocktails, including a Greek-style mojito available with either mastiha or tsipouro; and a refreshing Spritz-style cocktail made with Otto’s Athens Vermouth. Also popular is vodka mixed with visino (sour cherry), and an espresso martini made with rakomelo.
“We just wanted to use Greek ingredients and not go overboard,” says Dino. “So that it’s still that casual, quick service, not waiting 10 minutes for a cocktail and your souvlaki’s already on the table.”
Dino’s understanding of hospitality is something that runs deep in the Koutsotheodoros family. When his grandfather first moved to Warragul in the 50’s from Greece, he opened up a restaurant, and his father went on to do the same thing, opening up a pizzeria that would host Greek nights during the week – paying homage to both sides of Dino’s family heritage.
It’s this old school hospitality, coupled with Athenian-inspired fare, that has resulted in his second venture in Windsor already churning out close to 1,000 skewers a week – the numbers speak for themselves.
“We want to make Greek food trendy again, which I don’t think it has been for a long time,” says Dino.
“We’re doing the same foods; we’re not reinventing any wheels, but we’re just trying to make it fun again, instead of the same boring old style.”
Kalamaki is located at (162-164 High St, Windsor, VIC) and (85 Queen St, Warragul, VIC). For more, visit http://kala-maki.com.au/ and get social on Instagram @kalamaki.skewers