While walking up High Street in Northcote on Thursday with some colleagues we decided to make a quick stop at TSI TSI, a ‘souvlakeri’- a Greek street food, rotisserie kind of joint – I knew for a quick snack, a skewer or a pita-gyro before heading back to the office.
To our surprise, there was a new chef and a whole new menu in the works that aims to reintroduce TSI TSI as the kind of establishment that will go that extra mile – or many more – to bring home a little bit closer.
What started as a street food, mixed grill restaurant is turning into a modern provincial Greek cuisine place, where Hellenic and other Mediterranean flavours are brought together with the freshest ingredients in the hands of chef Christos Stamatelopoulos.
Christos, who was born and bred in Melbourne, chose to relocate to Greece when he was younger and from there travelled and worked in Italy, Spain, and Germany.
With many years of experience as a cook in major European capitals, he settled in the Cyclades, opening two acclaimed restaurants in Santorini.
“It was fate that brought me back to Melbourne,” he told us. “My son studied shipping and was set to come to Australia and work here. I couldn’t stay away, so we brought the family to Melbourne.”
At the same time, TSI TSI owners Paula Theodore and Akrivi (Voula) Dendrinos had decided to take a new approach and introduce new and traditional Hellenic flavours to their clientele. Travelling to Greece on a regular basis, both women realised what they were missing was the freshness and originality of the “real deal” Greek cuisine as they call it, “the way it’s done at home”.
“Both Voula and myself love to go that extra mile when it comes to our business. We’ve put our hearts and souls into it,” Paula stresses.
“However, even though we started off as a street food place also doing loukoumades, we’re always researching and going to Greece to check what restaurants there are doing, what’s trending and how the philosophy of traditional dishes is evolving.”
“Upon making the decision to reinvent TSI TSI we came across our new chef Christos. We are going far and beyond what we started as, the ‘grill place’ and we are expanding the menu to include more upmarket and hearty dishes.”
Indeed, so much has changed since we last visited TSI TSI and Christos is creating new specials ideas as we speak.
“Stifado, vegetarian moussaka and seafood moussaka to name a few,” Christos explains.
“It’s all seasonal, and we focus on delivering honest flavours from the best ingredients. Sometimes it can be a struggle to find the right producer or supplier in order to nail the right flavour for your dish. We are determined to change and move towards the right direction, and breathe a new identity into this amazing space.”
Instead of going for the usual souvlaki,we decided to give a couple of day specials a go, to see what the fuss was about and, why not, turn our little encounter into a mini-interview while waiting for our meal to be served.
Christos and his team had just taken a tray of lamp shank out of the oven but I could also smell spanakopita in the air. We ordered the stuffed calamari too, of course pork and lamb gyro pita, as well as a meat platter for the tsitsi (motherese word for meat in Greek) to go around.
“The stuffed calamari is a Cycladic Greek recipe, baked the original Mediterranean way, al dente. Back home we tend to keep a freshness in every ingredient,” the chef explains.
“We don’t want the sea food or the veggies to melt, we want people to be able to tell what they are tasting with each spoonful.”
I won’t lie, the filling was unlike any other I had tasted in the past. While the calamari skin was done to perfection, I could still distinguish textures and flavours between the haloumi, the mozzarella cheese, the rice mixed with sautéed cous cous, the carrots and fresh herbs. The squid was plated alongside a generous portion of slow-baked potatoes bathed in thyme, mustard and lemon juice.
Moving on to the lamb shank or kleftiko kotsi if you wish to call it by its Greek name, Christos said it was cooked for over four hours, adding that it is one of TSI TSI’s specialties.
“It’s cooked in Mavrodaphne red wine and extra virgin olive oil while the vegetables; carrots, zucchini, aubergine, green and red capsicums, onions and shallots . . . give out their juices.
“Again,” he emphasises, “we don’t want the vegetables to melt in the jus. Everything should be part of the same aroma but keep its own flavour when you taste it.”
Judging by the empty plates in the end, TSI TSI’s new approach aligns with both Paula and Voula’s philosophy and they take pride in dishing out a culinary explosion of Mediterranean flavour every single time.
“We are respecting and honouring the traditional recipes and techniques that have been handed down by our immigrant parents,” the passionate owners agree.
“Our vision is finally turning into reality and everyone who has dined at TSI TSI has embraced the new menu with much love. People say it hits home, offering a more authentic taste of Greece. It’s a whole experience. We try to take you to modern Greece of today, that’s what we are trying to do with the menu.”
It is not just about the food, however, the friendly and quick service not to mention the live music “will transport you to a place where the sun warms your skin and the sound of the bouzouki plays lightly in the distance,” adds Paula.
“George Diakonidis’ voice, Pantelis Krestas’ bouzouki and Nicholas Baltas’ guitar will guarantee a night to remember.
“So come down, have a drink, and experience it for yourselves.”
* There is live music on Thursdays and Sundays (and other days by request).
TSI TSI takes bookings for functions, christenings and weddings, birthdays. The restaurant is also partnered with UBER EATS so that you can enjoy authentic Greek cuisine right in the comfort of your own home.