A great place to celebrate with family or a large group of friends, Yiannis Tavern is a family-owned eatery that has established an excellent reputation for fine, local traditional Greek food in Melbourne.

Back in 1987, its owner Yiannis Aitsinis founded his first restaurant, named Vasilis and Yiannis. Since 2003, it has been renamed to Yiannis tavern and is located just five minutes from the City of Doncaster.

Upon reaching the bustling suburb of Kew East, we saw the restaurant all lit up at 840 High Street. The interior is big, bold and Hellenic, dressed in blue and white hues and allowing the circulation of sweet, char-grilled aromas from the spits.

The spaciousness of the tavern makes it ideal for corporate functions, wedding parties and baptisms. The table settings are not tightly compressed as it also has a second floor, beautifully decorated and fully equipped to cater for special events.

Yiannis Tavern function room.

Yiannis himself was there to greet us and guide us through the menu. The tavern offers an extensive wine list designed to match any dish of your choice or simply to be enjoyed with a wide range of bottled wines from both Australia and Greece.

There is often live entertainment on busy weekend nights, with Acoustici, an orchestra that knows how to bring the house alive and make everyone get up and dance, even on a full belly.

“I always pay extra attention to detail,” Yiannis tells Neos Kosmos.

“To me, having the freshest ingredients is very important. That’s where all the flavour comes from.”

Indeed, the kitchen staff at Yiannis Tavern make everything from scratch on a daily basis, respecting the freshness of Greek cuisine and the honesty of Greek hospitality.

“Whatever you see in the menu is prepared right here in our kitchen,” Yiannis continues.

“Even the dips, as are all our desserts, too.”

The Yiannis tavern team follows old family recipes passed on from generation to generation. However, more often than not, some Greek classic dishes get a new interpretation as the staff, headed by Yiannis’ daughter Stephanie Aitsinis, explores its culinary heritage.

Stephanie is carrying on her father’s legacy the modern way, but staying true to the family’s tradition, and she personally oversaw our ‘dining experience’.

Stephanie Aitsinis

Not long after we were seated and started sipping some warming Syrah, the first items from our menu began to arrive. Charcoal-grilled horiatiko bread with olive oil and oregano with a platter of dips and a generous serving of spicy tyrokafteri. The prevalence of the chillies mixed with red capsicum and feta cheese made us appreciate the punchy taste of the melitzanosalata (eggplant salad) on the assortment of dips. The caviar (tarama) and yoghurt (tzatziki) dips were also refreshing and appetising.

This was followed an equally enjoyable round of starters, which set off with the staple fried cheese hors d’oeuvre, the famous kefalograviera saganaki, a true hero of the menu. It disappeared within seconds, I must note, as did the fried to perfection zucchini chips with a sprinkle of kefalograviera. The Greek-style zucchini tempura was in fact one of my favourites. The chips were so thinly sliced and fried in batter that they retained no extra oil. Tiny bites of crispy heaven dissolving in our mouths is all there was.

“Yiannis Tavern chefs proudly use only the finest of seasonal produce to create a regularly changing menu also featuring, fresh Australian seafood,” Stephanie clarified as we were moving on to a very ample seafood course.

“If you are a true seafood lover then our famous seafood platter may be calling you and if you are a meat lover, we have a wide char-grilled meat selection, but I’ll try not to keep you from your prawns for now,” she joked.

Indeed the grilled prawns were subtle yet delicious, served with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon. The same applied to the barbecued octopus, served in the same crisp and light way and with a dash of oregano. Next came a plate comprising two fried red mullet and two grilled rockling fillets.

Once we were done with the seafood, not that there was much room left in our tummies, we gave the menu another flick-through, as there is a wide selection of meats, with lamb featuring heavily on the list along with veal souvlaki, rissoles and chicken fillet.

Just as a typical Greek would do, I invited the lamb over. In the form of cutlets, succulent, perfectly marinated cutlets that tasted like home.

Stephanie came again to offer us some horta (boiled greens) and rissoles on the house – not an unusual policy for Yiannis Tavern. For the next five minutes we were staring at our plates, which spelled trouble, as our stomach capacity had long been exceeded in devouring the previous offerings.

Finally, we decided to take a break and enjoy the music, engage in some very interesting people watching (four different birthday parties were being held on the premises) and make room for dessert.

Even though we opted for the rice pudding and the revani, Stephanie took it upon herself to arrive with a mixed platter, featuring chunks of the tavern’s homemade sweets.

We got to try the galaktoboureko (milk pie baked with filo and soaked with a citrus-scented syrup), the revani (semolina cake soaked in light syrup), Turkish delight, baklava (walnuts wrapped in pastry and finished in a 100-year-old syrup recipe, homemade), some karidopita (walnut cake with clove/cinnamon syrup) and last but not least the rizogalo (rice pudding) with halva ice-cream.

As expected, we were unable to finish it off − even though we wanted to. Yet another moment that perfectly resonated with me, as all my Greek relatives tend to stuff our faces with food until there’s hardly any room to breathe. Contrary to what one would expect from such a large venue, the overall atmosphere was very ‘family-ar’.

“Well, that’s the idea,” Stephanie and Yiannis agreed. “Everyone is made to feel welcome, all you have to do is bring a big, empty belly before entering.”

Yiannis tavern is a fully-licensed restaurant, allowing BYO, offering banquet, corporate dining, a-la-carte, and eat-in options. It is equipped with disabled facilities and has wheelchair access.

For more information and bookings contact (03) 9859 2422 or email reservations@yiannistavern.com.au