Friday, August 22, 2014

Sunday lunching at Alpha Restaurant

If you've ever walked through the Sydney CBD on the weekend, you'd notice it's pretty dead outside of Pitt Street shopping mall. I always wonder what tourists think of our empty city centre; and how uneconomic non-office city rent must be.

Further in CBD south Alpha Restaurant is going against the grain and actually making the most of weekend crowds, introducing a Sunday lunch service to its all-week trading earlier this year.

Dining tables at Alpha Restaurant, Castlereagh Street, Sydney
It's been a funny year for modern Greek restaurants: while there have been a few casualties and gyros are trying to become the next big thing, Alpha appears to be going gangbusters with the corporate crowd through the week, and large families and groups around that, both drawn in by head chef Peter Conistis' generous menu of traditional and modern shared Greek dishes.

The stunning, bright, contemporary fitout helps, presenting both a traditional and modern Greece, as do the high ceilings of the ground floor Hellenic Club building and the fresh, modern approach to Greek cuisine in a part of town that doesn't have many higher-end restaurants.

Bar and seating
Having sat at the marble-topped bar for ouzo on a previous occasion, I was excited to be trying 'Yia Yia's' tasting menu to share among the table, with a few extras thrown in for good measure (denoted in the caption with an *).

Pita bread with taramosalata (back) and melitzanosalata (right, centre)
We started with some of my all-time favourites in Greek food: warm triangles of soft, fluffy pita bread with a taramosalata white cod roe dip and a chunky melitzanosalata smoked eggplant dip.

The pale taramosalata was the winner of the two with well balanced acidity against the creamy flavour of the roe, while the soft dice of eggplant in the melitzanosalata could have been smokier for my liking.

Baked kalamata olives
A large serving of kalamata olives joined the starters, baked warm with an array of spices enlivening the saltiness of the olives.

Sesame leaf dolmades*
A classic Greek dish of dolmades was next, featuring an almond and herb rice wrapped in sesame leaves rather than the more common vine leaves.

As un-photogenic as dolmades can be, Alpha ups the presentation stakes by serving the leaf-wrapped rolls in a pool of foamy preserved lemon avgolemono sauce, garnished with micro herbs.

Falafel with chickpea hommous*
I was impressed by the perfectly smooth and golden surfaces of the falafel, hiding hot and well-seasoned innards of crumbly ground chickpeas.

While they're more commonly known as Middle Eastern fare, Alpha's piping hot falafels were too tasty for argument along with the chickpea hommous with tahini sesame paste and plenty of garlic.

Haloumi saganaki, ouzo, lemon, oregano
There was a collective murmur of appreciation when the frying pan full of haloumi was put down on the table. The slices of pan fried cheese were joined by sweet grape tomatoes, lemon juice, oregano and lots of olive oil.

Any ouzo addition must have cooked down as I couldn't really taste it in the salty, trademark squeaky cheese that's some of the best in town and simply gorgeous with lemon and ripe tomatoes.

Octopus twice-cooked, spinach, white beans, red wine vinaigrette*
While octopus isn't one of my favourite seafood types, the grilled offering at Alpha may have me converted. The twice-cooked tentacles were impossibly tender, finished on a grill for colour, flavour and a touch of char crispness.

Eaten with a squeeze of lemon and soft white beans which added richness, the octopus was an absolute star dish of the lunch, even if it's not what I know as traditionally Greek.

Moussaka of eggplant, seared scallops, taramosalata*
Chef Conistis' moussaka of eggplant is something of a legend - developed as a dish in 1993 and enduring time and appearances at all of his earlier restaurants since, the eggplant tower is a stunning to look at and devour.

Two thick rounds of slow roasted eggplant sandwich taramosalata and plump scallops grilled to perfection. Topped with diced and herbed tomatoes and garnished with salmon roe pearls, it combines soft and creamy textures with perfect specimens of seafood in an absolute explosion of flavour.

I, and most at the table with me, would happily eat this as a main meal at Alpha and call it a day. Legend status maintained.

Spanakopita - spinach pie, leeks, fetta, dill
I adore most savoury pastry varieties and so was pretty chuffed to see the spanakopita spinach pie, served whole at the table.

Cut spanakopita
The delicate, golden filo pastry held a finely chopped filling of spinach, leek, fetta cheese and lots of dill; the latter which added a new and refreshing flavour to a classic vegetarian filling.

Horiatiki salad - tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, red onions, olives, fetta
As the food continued to roll in, I was glad to see a vibrant salad join the offerings. Greek salad can be found at almost every salad and sandwich shop these days, but Alpha's version was worlds away in quality.

The kitchen has clearly gone to the trouble to source the very best quality vegetables to differentiate their Horiatiki salad from the masses: perfectly ripe and flavoursome tomatoes, sweet-as red capsicum strips and then, a smartphone-sized hunk of salty fetta cheese to break over it all.

Greek spiced slow roasted lamb shoulder, roast potatoes, tzatziki
The salad was served as more of a side to the piece de resistance: a slow-roasted whole lamb shoulder with aromas of oregano and rosemary, amid other Greek spices. The lamb roast was served with roasted kipfler potatoes and my favourite condiment of tzatziki mint, garlic and cucumber yoghurt dip/sauce.

Roasted lamb shoulder being served
The lamb was ridiculously tender, falling off the bone with a mere push, and seasoned beautifully and relatively exotically with an array of spices. Traditional Sunday roasts may well have a new Greek home in Alpha.

Loukamades - Greek doughnuts, spiced honey syrup, candied walnut ice cream
The long lunch was rounded off with a shared dessert of loukamades Greek doughnut balls. Even as a non-fan of doughnuts generally, these two-to-three bite-sized balls had a lovely chewiness within their golden fried surfaces, although it was the rich candied walnut ice cream that did it for me.

Light features at Alpha
It was such a nice feeling to sit back and admire the gorgeous fittings at Alpha post meal, and perhaps escape to a Mediterranean-inspired food coma.

The restaurant offers generous food that you want to dig in to with friends and family, and a unique and classy ambience (despite the occasional fire engine departure, sirens and all). For a beautiful and thoroughly satisfying Sunday lunch in the city, Alpha has to be one of the best, if not only, choices in town.

Food, Booze & Shoes dined at Alpha Restaurant as a guest, with thanks to Wasamedia.

Alpha Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Cindy (a foodie's joy) said...

Loved their Spanakopita and I wouldn't mind having some of that octopus!

Tina said...

Hi Cindy - The occy was progbably my favourite dish of the day! So tender and charry


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