Last week we were immersed in a unique Greek cuisine experience. Elyros’ formidable duo, Angie Giannakodakis and Disa Dimitrakakis, spearheaded a return to the ancient Greek paleo diet that dates back to the Minoans.
Elyros, which is named in honour of Dimitrakakis’ mother’s village in south-western Crete, is nestled in the heart of Camberwell, calling a stunning 1920s bank building home.
We were welcomed with the aromas of olibanum incense and were seated at a wide marble table impeccably set for chef Jarrod Smith’s Cretan feast, accompanied with a wide array of Greek wines.
“Crete was the birthplace of the first advanced civilisation in Europe, the Minoans,” Angie Giannakodakis said. “We celebrate this impressive culture, by exploring what they ate and how they cooked with our inaugural dinner.”
The Minoan Table is all about the simplicity and purity of ancient Cretan cuisine. As modest as the food may seem, each pairing has been extremely well thought out as the Minoans did not use salt, lemon and spices. Their diet was light, each ingredient was used in its purest form and herb combinations would create the effects of acidity and sweetness; seafood would replace salt, fennel, shallots and grapes would replace lemon.
“We put a great deal of effort into this project – there are years of research involved – in discovering the secrets of our ancestors,” Disa Dimitrakakis added.
“This is a fresh new take on this culture, a celebration of honest flavours encompassing the frugality of traditional Cretan life.”
A basket of house-made barley bread, coal-fired with fermented grains and flat bread cooked on stone was served with pure olive oil, olives and a flight of white wines to give us a first taste of Cretan filoxenia.
For the first time, we tried kalitsounia (Cretan fried cheese pies with goat’s cheese and honey) in their deconstructed, yet most authentic form. The dough was made of weeds and was filled with spinach, silverbeet and fennel fronds. The honey and the house-made goat’s cheese were served separately, warmed inside crunchy vine leafs. Those tiny bites, in combination with tiny sips of the traditional tsikoudia and rakomelo, felt like steps towards heaven.
It did not take long for a large pot filled with slow-burning orchard wood to land on each table. This is where the large prawns would be cooked and then devoured with a coriander seed, vinegar and sprouted lentils mix. A platter of tuna cooked on marble with burnt and sweet fennel and fennel pollen stole the limelight, along with the coal-fired orange skorthalia. This was paired with a 2013 Thrapsathiri wine from the Idaia ‘Ocean’ Dafnes variety from Crete.
Then came the octopus, braised in dark beer, chard and bulbs. A mouthwatering delicacy that paired perfectly with a 2013 Vilana Lyrarakis barrel-fermented wine from Arkalochori, Crete. Such a rare wine to both enjoy our meal and cleanse our palate with.
In my almost 34 years on this earth, I have been adamant about not eating rabbit but I succumbed. The aroma of the light pink meat poached in olive oil and grape petimezi was irresistible. This is how it was served, along with almonds and red wine vinegar. Angie chose an even rarer wine to pair it with, a 2006 Liatiko, from the Domain Economou winery in Sitia, Crete.
We ate and drank like Minoan kings but still we were not full. There was definitely room for the clay pot slow-cooked goat, braised in red wine, leeks and garlic. The goat was served with bowls of wild horta and roasted sesame. Making the experience even more indulgent was the arrival of another 2006 liquid gem, a deep red Merhali Kelesidis Xinomavro from Naoussa.
Each plate, no matter how Doric, was an alternate world packed with strong flavours, perfectly matching the notes of the Greek wines. Each mouthful, a proof of the team’s commitment to providing the best quality produce from land and sea, in keeping with the pedigree and ethos of the Cretan diet. A step up in Angie Gannakodakis’ mission, to introduce traditional Greek food and wine to Melbourne.
“Altogether, the menu had been a tribute to a time where the seasons and practices of a community which held no greater purpose than to be a vital life source,” she enthused.
“The Minoan Table is a prelude to the ethics and traditions of Crete’s past referencing today’s search for better eating. Foraging, fermenting, curing and preserving tend to lose their newfound meaning when seen under the Minoan microscope.”
Angie and Disa had proved their point, but our Minoan feast was not yet over. Pot-set yoghurt served with Cretan honey wafer along with a glass of 2013 Lyrarakis Malvasia of Crete, a sweet potion from Arkalohori, made us crave the main dessert.
We were not at all disappointed. A tray of smoked figs, bathed in grape molasses crema and dressed with honeycomb, was outstanding. The dessert wine impressively selected to match this dish was arguably the star of the night. Our glasses were filled with a shiny and deep 2000 Liatiko from the Domain Economou variety, situated in Ziros, Crete.
“We thank you all for honouring us with your presence and we hope you understood what the Minoan ethos is about,” Angie said at the end of the night.
“We thank our partners Oceanmade, Gamekeepers, Sara Shreurs vegetables and our amazing foragers for helping us realise this table, our patrons for believing in our dream to bring you the best of the season. We hope to repeat this ancient Cretan feast soon.”
Less than a week later, Neos Kosmos was again a guest of Angie and Disa, this time not at Camberwell’s Elyros but at Epocha, their Carlton restaurant where Douglas Lamb Wines hosted a Greek wine-tasting lunch.
The gathering was attended by esteemed visiting guests and the wine connoisseurs of Melbourne, while Leon Karatsalos, the co-owner of Gaia Wines, Thrass Giantsidis, an oenologist at Gerovassiliou Estate and Kavita Faiella, the Australian brand ambassador for Kir Yianni wines gave a flavoursome ‘lecture’ on Greece’s growing wine production.
We had the opportunity to taste a selection of wines from all three producers, which include the high-ranking Santorini Assyrtiko, the Nemea Agiorgitiko, the Epanomi Malagousia and last but not least the Naoussa /Amyndeon Xinomavro varieties.
We indulged into the purity of 2015’s Gaia Thalassitis, which is a 100 per cent Santorini Assyrtiko, trying the house-made black bread, mixed olives and churned butter which gave out herbal essences. The straight-out-of-the-oven bread buns were served in white knotted cloths, placed on Epocha’s vintage marble tables.
The wine kept flowing while we learned that all the Assyrtiko grapes selected for Thalassitis originate exclusively from vineyards in Episkopi, Akrotiri and Pyrgos regions in Greece. The vines are almost 80 years old and have a particularly low-yield, much different due to Santorini’s volcanic soil.
We quickly moved on to the 2015 Gerovassiliou Malagousia, originating from Nafpaktia in central Greece. This comes from an aromatic variety of grape, part of an experimental vineyard planted with rare native grapes. The wine was perfectly paired with salmon pastrami, cr�me fraiche and crudit�s of garden vegetables. Its floral and matured fruit aromas of pear, mango and citrus are enhanced by barrel fermentation, which also has an input into its brilliant straw, greenish shade.
Gaia’s 100 per cent Agiorgitiko, a pure Nemea 2014 PDO was next, an indulgent semi-sweet red. The environmental conditions in the area, along with the calcareous soils, give it a distinct aroma and strong aftertaste. This wine is aged in mainly French oak and partly American oak barrels, 90 and 10 per cent respectively.
While tasting an exquisite chicken liver parfait and charcuterie came the 2013 vintage Gaia ‘S’ (aka Super Nemea), a 70 per cent Agiorgitiko and 10 per cent Syrah blend, elegant and fresh with an extra fine texture where surprisingly, the Syrah nuances prevail.
Moving on to the much-loved Xinomavros, Greece’s answer to pinot noir, we were able to enjoy two 2012 wines from the Kir Yianni estate. The first one, Kali Riza, is a 100 per cent Xinomavro PDO from the Amydeon region, while the Ramnista, equally pure, originates from Naousa. Both strong and of rich colour, ideal for red meat pairing like the slow-roasted lamb shoulder served with peperonata and salsa verde alongside duck fat roast potatoes and mixed leaves.
To finish, we indulged our palates in the world of Gerovassiliou Estate. Its 2010 reds are exemplary specimens of the Epanomi region’s Chardonnay and Viogier, some would say of the entire country. We tried Ktima first, a blend of 70 per cent Syrah, 15 per cent Merlot and 15 per cent Limnio. Then we moved on to the Avaton, a deep concentration mix of Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavrotragano varieties with a spicy kick.
There are not enough words that would do justice to the experience. Angie Giannakodakis and Disa Dimitrakakis helped us redefine our perception of traditional Greek cuisine and Cretan hospitality, but most importantly offered an opportunity to become acquainted with the Greek wine niche. Elyros and Epocha have become home to several rare Greek wines, that are slowly yet steadily entering the menus and hearts of Australians.