The Age ‘Good Food Guide’
– Score 14/20
“…clearly devoted to authentic Greek cuisine. Just ask the friendly staff about the Cretan specialties and you’ll have a friend for life.””Food, like the welcoming atmosphere, comes in welcoming portions.””But some of the most rewarding choices are the seasonal specials: things like a slow braise of kid, cooked to melting tenderness…”
3AW Review: Ela fills up at Philhellene
Philhellene feels warm, like a family restaurant in a far locale. It’s a welcoming interior, with family photos and Hellenic memorabilia. They boast that they focus on provincial Greek cuisine with Cypriot and Middle Eastern influences, but they should also be proud of their friendly service and absolute passion for Greek food and wine.
There’s plenty to like about the a la carte menu, but then there’s nothing like asking the experts to bring to the table the best their culture has to offer – and I reckon that’s the best way to go at Philhellene.
Each day, as well as the paper menu, there’s a specials blackboard with options available individually, or in the form of a banquet. We jumped at the latter, and you’re looking at between $48 and $60 for three courses depending on your whim. The top of the range banquet is “The Provincial”, proudly declaring it’ll let you “eat like we would”, so it’s hard to go past.
And so the feast began. Starters included old favourites like warm, salty saganaki; creamy dips of smoky eggplant and tarama; and gorgeous char-grilled octopus. Then there was an education in more regional dishes like the Cypriot sheftalies – a pork and beef mince sausage wrapped in caul fat and char-grilled; herbed rice stuffed zucchini flowers; or the kalitsounia pastry, full of salty cheese.
The amount of food that followed this spread for main course was almost laughable, if a little intimidating. From the specials board we were presented with Rabbit Stifada (stew) with roast baby onion, pimento and cinnamon, and the Roast Kid Goat with roast potatoes. Manager Suzie laughs that when her husband’s father first came to Melbourne and tried to roast a goat on the spit in the backyard the neighbours called the police who arrived and accused them of attempting to devour a greyhound!
Roast lemon lamb was fabulously tender, and came with super fresh broad beans and peas, and the King Prawns were simply chargrilled with lemon.
The tastiest dish for me was a biriyani – similar to the Indian combination of rice, spices, roasted almonds and this one with mini-meatballs – apparently a specialty of the Assyrian chef and a nod to his ancient lineage.
The salad was wonderfully fresh and a little exotic – burghul, cauliflower, pomegranate, sumac, and blanched almonds – it was a nice contrast to all that meat.
I demanded the recipe for the salad super fresh flavours of cauliflower, herbs, currants, burghul and pomegranate.
The generous spread continued with dessert – sweet fried loukoumades (Greek donuts) with honey, walnuts and cinnamon; Galaktoboureko – Greece’s own version of the “snot block”!; halva icecream, and poached quince.
Couldn’t help but try the Greek wine, and it went down very well, with bottles of the Hellenic variety priced around $40-60. Local and other international options also available, glasses from $8.
We couldn’t have been better looked after if we were at Yaya’s house in Athens, there’s a real feel at Philhellene that you are a guest, not just a customer, and they must really spoil those guests in Greece!
The Age Good Food Guide Edition,
“Philhellene offers a satisfying romp through the flavours of Ancient Greece’s many historical outposts, with influences from regional Crete and as far afield as Cyprus and the Middle East.The homely, bare brick interior is warm and welcoming.In true Greek style, portions are robust and servings generous.The specials board offers plenty of not-so-usual choices if you’re feeling adventurous. Standouts include the mum made kalitsounia ; and the slow roasted lemony lamb leg, done to fall apart perfection.”
The Herald Sun, Sunday –
“These are simple flavours of provincial cuisine, where you can identify every ingredient in the dish.My dish of lamb and artichoke fricassee ($31), from the special’s board, is the epitome of the simple home cooking for which Philhellene has become renowned in its three years.The chunks of lamb shoulder have been slow cooked to tender perfection, and swim in a silky egg and lemon sauce alongside halved artichoke slices to be mopped up with bread.The food arrives from the kitchen piping hot — a big tick for a basic dining principle that is all too often overlooked in Melbourne restaurants.We are also impressed by the wine list, about triple the size of the food menu, that boasts reasonable priced tipples from a Cypriot winery alongside local brands.But it’s the simple touches, such as oversized wine glasses, quality napery and the elegant wooden bar that greets you on arrival, that lift this into a classic night out.
This is hearty, traditional, home cooking at its best.”
The Age Good Food Guide Edition, Score: 14/20
“After only a couple of years in Moonee Ponds, Philhellene has established itself as a very good restaurant, not only for locals wanting great Greek food but as a place that’s worth crossing town for. Service is delivered by a team who know what hospitality is all about.””The best advice is to look to the specials board: perhaps for slow-roasted goat, the fall-apart chunks of sweet meat on the bone…or for silverbeet dolmades with a warm spiced beef filling””The a la carte menu lists most of what you’d expect, with some extra interest thanks to Cypriot and Middle Eastern influences. A good starting point might be torpedo-shaped koupes of burghul wheat and beef mince, stuffed with haloumi cheese, pine nuts and parsley.”
Epicure, The Age – Reviewed by Matt Preston
…There’s also been a bit of Greek hubbub in Melbourne in the past six months, thanks to the debate over which of the flurry of recently opened ouzerias and new-age tavernas is best. I will say this: with its woody interior, wood-burning stove, bentwood chairs and tables covered in butcher’s paper and white cloths, Moonee Ponds’ Philhellene is the most homely of the new arrivals.Coming here we largely ignore the menu in favour of the specials board. It’s the way to go, suggests co-owner John Rerakis later as we pay the bill. Rerakis’ previous place, Pireaus Blues in Fitzroy, is credited as a pioneer in trying to break the perception that Greek food only came as a banquet of dodgy platters. The specials board continues this approach, concentrating attention on the dishes that Philhellene’s kitchen is proudest of.Even after cutting the two dozen or so choices on the main menu out, we still stall over whether a hefty serve of prawns saganaki – not fried with cheese but pan-cooked and served in a tomato sauce – or roast kid should be our second main. Despite having also ordered a dark stew of lamb loaded with globe artichokes, we pick the goat. It arrives with lemony oven-cooked potatoes; the meat falling off the little bones. It could only be improved by a little more stickiness in the meat, but even with this the lamb stew would still be the best thing we eat. Its complex, silken gravy thickly coats juicy halves of artichoke hearts and tender lamb chunks as almost the perfect definition of Greek comfort food.Entree choices are no less fraught. But we are always going to order the dolmades when John explains that they are made by his mum. The silverbeet, rice and beef mince filling has a hefty dose of cumin.For dessert, it’s hard to go past Philhellene’s favourite of roast quinces flavoured with cloves and cooked to the colour of a particularly vivid sunset with halva ice-cream. This is despite the temptation of more traditional denouements such as custard-filled bougatsa.
Extra Food Magazine, Read’em & eat – The Herald Sun
More Cretan than strictly Greek, new bistro Philhellene calls its dishes “Greek Provincial”. And it doesn’t really matter what its influences are once you start eating. The moussaka was the best I’ve eaten, and the wet-roasted goat is sublime, the meat so tender you could serve it at creches and to the very toothless. An unreconstructed Cretan, John Rerakis and his wife Susie, former co-owners of Pireaus Blues, have created Philhellene slong with their partner Manny Gerassimou, to show that hospitality survives. Servings are huge, the welcome is hugely warm and their mothers still prepare some of the regional classics, silverbeet dolmades being a great Melbourne dish.
Extra Food Magazine, ‘Mothers Superior’ – The Herald Sun
John and Katina Rerakis
When John Rerakis gives his mum flowers on mother’s day, she knows not to expect traditional chrysanthemums.
“She gets excited when I bring her a tray of zucchini flowers” he says. “Some kids take flowers to their mum, I bring produce.”But it’s their latest noshery, six-month old Philhellene in Moonee Ponds that’s winning friends and influencing people with its home-style fare.
With them all the way has been John’s mum Katina. She works in the kitchen three or four days a week, turning out dishes that have been in the
family for generations.There’s baked zucchini flowers stuffed with herbed rice, lamb and artichoke fricassee; rabbit stew with baby onions; and baked quince or figs with cognac and honey.
And then there’s Katina’s dolmades – Philhellene’s signature dish- made from silverbeet she grows in her garden rather than vine leaves.
She shares duties with Eleni, the mum of John and Susie’s business partner Manny Gerassimou. “Eleni’s froma different part of Greece and they pinch ideas from each other”, John says.
“They get into these gentle arguments. ‘This is the way you cook it’. ‘No, in our region we cook it like this’. Every day I go into work and learn something new. The mums always wait for me
to get back from the market. Every day’s a new challenge, like the ‘weather’s changing, ;et’s do this dish’.John’s love of cooking began at the family home in Glenroy learning basics such as how to clean an artichoke and preparing and bottling tomato sauce. “Mum taught me to eat everything
when you should, when it’s in season,” he says. “And that there’s always a way of cooking things so nothing’s ever thrown out or wasted.”Katina, 68, says she enjoys working with her family and preserving her heritage. It’s this nod to tradition that keeps Melbourne’s sizeable Greek community coming back for more.
Sunday Magazine – The Herald Sun, March
…With bare brick walls, a thatched ceiling and iron chandeliers, its warm and welcoming rather than sleek and chic. Still, its lively and seasonal home style food deftly avoids the greasy Greek clichés. Drawing on the owners’ family backgrounds, the menu is peppered with treats you won’t find at your average suburban taverna: traditional Cretan kalitsounia pastries made by co-owner John Rerakis’ mother Katina, or Cypriot bulgar wheat and mince beef koupes. But tonight, we’re mesmerized by the specials board, ordering almost every entrée: golden zucchini flowers folded around lively herbed rice; succulent mushrooms crammed with a mélange of calamari, swordfish and prawns and baked under a crown of creamy béchamel; fat, silvery sardines flashed on the char-grill; baby calamari encasing a fresh jumble of fetta and spinach.After sharing one of Katina’s disarmingly light kalitsounia of leek, fetta and dill, we think we can eat no more, but we’re soon mopping up the juices of our shared main of tender lamb and artichoke fricase. As we swoon over a finale of baked figs with cognac and halva ice-cream, we conclude that perhaps greed, not Greek, is the best word to describe tonight’s dining experience.
ExtraFood Magazine – The Herald Sun
Score: 40 out of 50
Philhellene reminds us of what Melbourne does better than any other city. John and Susie Rerakis, former co- owners of Pireaus blues, with partner Manuel Gerassimou, are tabling in their new restaurant superb, rounded, well-balanced and homely flavours, many of them with a Cretan lean. Indeed, this new bistro boasts “provincial Greek cuisine”. Spacious, cheap and comfortable, it’s a place that should quickly become a favourite. It’s a modest ethnic place that delivers in all respects. The tradition continues.…In several visits here I’m yet to be disappointed hugely by anything. But a warning: don’t get greedy. Servings are huge.
…Katina and Eleni, the mothers of Philhellene’s owners, prepare the silverbeet dolmades from the produce of their own vegetable gardens. I count them among Melbourne’s great eats.
…A special of moussaka the size of half a brick, was the best version of this standard I’ve eaten.
…And the meat on a knobby pile of wet-roasted goat bones could have been masticated by a newborn baby.
…Philhellene’s owners are front of house, the best place for them to be, so service is surveillant. You’ll get advice on all aspects of food and drink and guests here are valued and respected.
‘The Serve’ M Magazine – The Age
The family who started Brunswick Street’s Pireaus Blues have opened a homely Greek restaurant. Even when it’s hot, the lemon lamb and kid goat roasts are irresistible. Seafood and grill platters are an easy option to share, especially when partnered with a Cypriot cabbage salad with white and red cabbage and marinated currants.
ExtraFood Magazine – The Herald Sun
Greek lovers head for Moonee Ponds –…Along with business partner Manny Gerassimou, the Rerakises have certainly followed an independent route of providing Greek food that does not adhere to cultural clichés. John’s mother’s Cretan specialties feature on the menu with highlights including savoury Kalitsounia pastries, stuffed zucchini flowers and tender, slow-roasted kid goat.
As appeared in The Epicure – The Age
Dip in the Greek end – John and Athanasia (Susie) Rerakis, co-founders of Brunswick Street’s Pireaus Blues, are back in the restaurant game with partner Manuel Gerassimou. They’ve just opened Philhellene (that’s like a Francophile, only Greek) in Moonee Ponds and again, the gerenational approach to regional Greek dishes that earned the couple attention in Fitzroy will prevail. Susie and her mother-in-law, Katina Rerakis, run the kitchen; between the three families are the influences of Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus. “It’s about seasonal Greek dishes,” says Rerakis. “We’re not a dips-and-meat-platter kind of place.”