Philhellene, 551-553 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9370 3303
Uh-oh – there’s a hair in our dolmades!
Not to worry, though … the follicle is entirely imaginary but is still being plucked from our food by our Philhellene host as a comic reaction to my taking of photographs.
We’re happy to say it’s that kind of place.
It’s our first visit to Philhellene – one that has been long anticipated and we’re happy to do it in our series putting the spotlight on Moonee Ponds (see full disclosure below).
But because of its renown, I’d expected something a little more formal and starchy.
What we get, instead, is pretty much your typical Greek setting and wonderful welcome.
The service is very fine and our food arrives exceedingly promptly.
That food is very, very good – this is Greek food definitely at the upper end of what is available in Melbourne.
It costs, of course, but not as much as we had feared – indeed, the Philhellene pricing is on par with all the other famed Melbourne Greek eateries.
But where it stands out is its lovingly long offering of provincial specials.
It’s for that reason we steer away from the basic $35 per person banquet for a minimum of two – you can check it out with the rest of the Philhellene menu here.
Frankly, it sounds like an outrageous bargain – but we’re familiar with almost everything it has.
Instead, we go a la carte and have a fine old time.
I am drawn to the long specials list with a sense of wonder mixed with frustration that we will be able to try so little of what’s offered.
I mean, how insanely good do fried sardine fillets with pickled fennel sound?
Or lamb and artichoke fricassee?
Sigh … but onwards.
Our admirably unhairy silverbeet dolmades are sensational, though quite pricey at $12.50 the pair.
When we have the traditional, vegetarian stuffed vine leaves – be they Turkish, Greek, Lebanese, Whatever – we prefer them unheated.
By contrast, these are served hot and they suit it – the innards are delicious, tender mix of rice, seasonings and beef.
For our other starters, we do stick to familiar Greek staples – one of them is this terrific tarama.
It’s a generous serve for $8.50, especially as it’s as fresh and tangy as we could wish and is served with beaut house-made bread.
Our calamari ($14.50) is well fried and tender but does tend to lose out in the flavour stakes when compared with the other dishes we enjoy.
For me, one of the main reasons to visit Philhellene is to enjoy lamb – not shaved from a spit nor cubed and put on skewers, but instead roasted.
We take a slightly different tack on that Greek philosophy by getting the roast kid goat ($29.95).
It has wow factor in abundance.
The meat is perhaps a tad too salty but is oh-so-wonderful and really does fall from the bones.
The roast spuds and well-cooked mix of peas ‘n’ broad beans come to the dance, too.
Together with our other selections, this single goat serve does us well – though Bennie is so impressed, he later reckons he could easily scoff a whole serve by his own self.
For a final splash of colour, we love our beetroot salad ($16.50, in which baby beetroots – and their tops – have been boiled and then simply dressed with dukkah and yogurt.
It, too, is wonderful.
We’ve ordered well and eaten superbly – but it is with some regret that we head into the night without giving into the temptation of trying something from the desserts list (see below).
When explaining to our host our hesitation about ordering an overly familiar banquet line-up, he told us such could be varied and that a list of staples is simply what some customers seek and require.
That makes us reckon the way to go at Philhellene is to nominate to the staff a price per person you want to pay and then simply announce: “Bring us food!”
Or, if you’re up for it, go for the horiatiko banquet, which costs $60 per punter and is described as “the ultimate of tasting our favourite dishes”.
As it says on the Philhellene website: “Trust us in providing you with a memorable food experience …. this is the only way we would eat with our family and friends.”
(This story has been sponsored by Moonee Valley City Council. But in all other regards it is a regular Consider The Sauce post – we chose the restaurant and when to eat there; we ordered what we wanted and paid for it ourselves; and neither oversight nor an editorial role were sought by the council.)