Somewhere in the heart of Italian Leichhardt in Sydney, a mini-revolution is underway. A number of Hellenic eateries are taking the trendy inner city suburb by storm, as their meals, customer service, and entertainment is turning heads, literally.
Walk along Norton Street near the magnificent Town Hall at around 9.00 pm on a Saturday, and chances are you will hear the sounds of a bouzouki coming from Tavernaki, with the occasional dancing on the street.
In the space of just 50 metres, you will find three eateries all vying for the attention of hungry bellies and those seeking top class Hellenic cuisine. Notwithstanding these tavernas, Leichhardt has been home to many Greek venues such as Mythos in times gone by; and of course Palace Cinema a short distance away, which plays host to the annual Greek Film Festival.
On an unusually cold night for Sydney, a group of friends and avid foodies took the Hellenic triangle taverna crawl with me. The crawl involved eating at all three venues. With a group of ten of us in tow, we aimed to come hungry and leave in a food coma.
Starting the night at Georgia’s Koutouki, which has really flourished since opening in 2016, we decided to start with mezzedes and wine to get us in the mood. What we found at the chic location was tables fully packed. People eagerly seeing off their Friday and waiting for the renown live music led by the owner Georgette Giatis. Our group managed to fill an entire corner as mezze after mezze found its way to our table. I spoke to Georgette who told us that Georgia’s Koutouki is a place “for good company, live music, Greek blues, laika rembetika entexna paradosiaka, our passion is to share our culture through food, dance and music.”
As the music started, one may come across regular performers such as Panayiotis Kalandranis and Sotiris Procopiou, and I could sense that the crowd was drifting to their own experiences of food and live performances in Greece or Cyprus. The musicians seemed to have the attention of every person in the room as they recreated the nostalgia and power of being somewhere in a land far away. My friend Artemis Theodoris Papoutsis summed up her experience by telling me that Georgia’s Koutouki was electric and a “great, friendly atmosphere with mezzedaki that made us feel like we were back in Athens. The tirokafteri is a must.”
We said goodbye to a lively eatery and crossed the road to what was once Nostos, and is now Filema to meet Niko and his awesome, friendly staff. With a greeting that included kissing on each cheek by Nick Kapeleris and some of the staff, it was clear that we had been expected by somewhat old friends.
Nick has consistently served up a smorgasbord for our parea over the years and this evening was no exception as he delivered a set menu that revolved around the best lamb you will find anywhere, and fresh seafood. The proud owner made a point to tell us, that “I love what I do, and the way we interact with those who come here.” He went on to explain that Filema is unique with perhaps 40 per cent of his customers being non-Hellenes. My friend Giorgios Samartzis puts this down to the “quality of the food, the service, and on a Saturday, the music of Kosta Theodosopoulos, Yani Polkas, and Nick’s nephew Paul Kapeleris, who play a selection of rembetika and laika, all musicians I have spent years listening to.”
The venue is one that provides a courtyard as well as inside and upstairs space for patrons.
With bellies full, we crossed back to the other side of the road for top-ups, sweets and ouzo from Lesvos, this time at Tavernaki. With a fantastic selection of all of these, our group was treated to a dazzling bouzouki performance and somehow managed to down the sweets on offer. Again greeted by friendly staff in Nikoletta and the team, I was told their slogan is, “food made with love.” Judging by the non-stop live music at the time of our visit, it is clear that the music is also made with love!
Tori Hill from our group made the point that the Tavernaki experience “reminds me of being in Greece or Cyprus, and the menu seems to reflect that. The music is certainly still ringing in our ears.”
As we set off to call it a night, we could not resist dropping by Filema one more time, a decision endorsed by the parea, which also included Vicky, Frosso, Andrew, Manuel, Nick and Chris. Our group was treated to a closing with musicians from the taverna and Georgette singing, having come across the road to see her friendly neighbour. We soon joined in. It is that type of experience that makes one night in the Hellenic Triangle worth a visit.
* Billy Cotsis is the author of ‘The Many Faces of Hellenic Culture’.