Greek cuisine is something I seldom go out for in Sydney and I can’t really think of a reason why this may be. I quite enjoy the food, I’ve cooked some of it at home … hell, I’ve even been there. So when this little group of food paparazzi consisting of myself, Amy, Betty, Maria and Richard plus friends decided to gather again, the banquet at Perama was something we were all keen on getting our teeth into.
On arriving at the restaurant and being seated upstairs we were recommended by the waitress to have the $50 banquet, though I think we all agreed to have it anyway. It didn’t take very long for baskets of bread, olive oil and plates of dips to litter the table and get us started on what was about to become an epic and supremely satisfying feast. Additional to these small starters are the scrummy and meaty pickled mushrooms and juicy cabbage.
I still remember the Greek salad I had on Mykonos many years ago with it’s single slab of fetta doing a balancing act on top of the other ingredients. Here at Perama it may be uniformly cut and crumbled but it’s just as good and fancified with crunchy sprigs of snow pea leaves.
Grilled haloumi is something I can eat an entire plate of and I’m sure if I did this tonight I’d be whipped senseless with camera straps. The cheese doesn’t have it’s usual squeeky texture or high salt content and bares deliciously-charred stripes from the char-grill. The swathe of honey peppered figs is to die for and adds a rich sweetness to the overall dish.
The filo pastries were a simple affair of soft cheesy filling and lightly-crisp triangular shell and the vine dolmathes almost stopped me in my tracks. These larger-than-normal fingers of tender rice wrapped in grape vine leaves were warm and velvety and dissolved with very little chewing. And was that vanilla in the creamy sauce?
Personally, when the next dish came out there should have been a row of trumpeteers announcing it’s arrival. Pork belly baklava. We’ve all had the regular baklava with its pastry, nuts and sugary syrup, right? Here at Perama the concept has been amped up thanks to a dream chef David Tsirekas had. It appears dreams really do come true. Steamed and roasted belly pork is layered with pistachio’s, date puree and pastry then topped with crunchy crackling and a date and mastic sauce.
Calamari is something that many-a-Sydney restaurant just can’t get right and what you get here at Perama is how it should be done. The soft pieces of squid are fried alongside small crunchy prawns and drizzled with ouzo mayonnaise that packs a bite and there’s none of that sickly, oily aftertaste. I think I’m getting full.
It was time for those trumpeteers to start tooting again as plates of lamb skaras were coming our way. It looks simple enough: meat, beans and potato, but that’s where the simplicity stops. The heady aroma hit me first and once you started tasting there were flavours jumping about all over the place. Oregano, lemon, rich slow-braised lamb shoulder and that unmistakable char-grilled smokiness that permeates through the tender meat. This was rich beyond measure and thank god for the green beans and lemon oregano potatoes to cut through it all.
The stuffed calamari is another dish that combines sweet and savoury and its sauce of tomato, honey and aromatic cinnamon is lovely with the filling of rice, flaked almond, prawns and mint. The texture is beautiful and tender.
Being the carnivore I am it was actually nice to have something that wasn’t animal-derived. The vegetarian pastitsio is a layered ensemble of pasta, brown lentils, herbed and spiced eggplant and creamy bechamel sauce. Very similar to moussaka with a side of spinach, walnuts and shaved fennel.
Are we there yet?
Sort of, but not quite.
Rubbing my belly didn’t make it digest any faster but I’m grateful we had a little time before the sweets arrived. Oh look, there’s something coming … a plate of caramel baklava icecream and flakey triangles of bougatsa. These filo triangles are filled with a mandarin-flavoured semolina custard that oozes out with the stab of a fork and the accompanying caramel icecream is a pleasure to eat with its centred layer of crunchy baklava.
The desciption of our next dessert, ekmek, sounds more exotic than its simple flavour. A thick slice of toasted brioche is doused with honey syrup in the classic way the peasants did in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) during the Byzantine Empire. Topped with cream, this is something I could easily eat for breakfast.
Our final sweet is thiples, a creamy rice pudding wedged between two crispy tiles of pastry soaked in honey and crushed walnuts, topped with a golden crown of warm apple compote and snowy icing sugar. It’s kind of apple pie-meets baklava-meets rice pudding. A delicious combination and the last of our Greek feast. Talk about a food marathon. Next time I need to remember to wear something with an elasticised waist!Perama Greek Restaurant 88 Audley Street Petersham 2049 9569 7534 Tues-Sat 6pm-10.30pm Corkage $6 per bottle (no corkage with the banquet) perama.com.au