HERACLES is a Greek God and he is also one of my colleagues. He was proud that he chose Medusa Greek Taverna for our end of year Christmas lunch bash as he is a fan of haloumi and apparently they do a good one here among other traditional dishes (and HE is a Greek GOD and GODS know this stuff).
I’m a fan of the European concept of the family table – big groups, lots of food, fun and laughter but at Christmas functions this concept translates into having the set menu (and so our family was the recipient of Medusa’s banquet menu – $44 for 10 dishes).
Now I have to confess this: when I found out we were going to a Greek restaurant and having read the set menu I wanted to send one of Medusa’s serpents to Heracles (something hopefully not lost on acolytes of Greek mythology). It reminded me of a menu I had to suffer at a previous Christmas work function – the only savour being copious amounts of retsina just to drown out the flavourless stodge that was presented to us as Greek national cuisine. The big loser that day were the Greeks exepect for the one that owned the place after tallied the drinks bill.
My unfounded bias and preconceptions of Medusa started to evaporate when I entered the restaurant. Medusa Greek Taverna, is on Sydney’s Market Street towards Darling Harbour and is housed in a modern, fresh and light-filled space. Out with the usual Greek restaurant kitsch (cement columns, fish nets, Alexander the Great busts and ambient Zorba the Greek music), and in with smart art work, contemporary furniture, linen tablecloths and attentive wait staff – some that look straight out of GQ Greece edition (and thankfully no Greek fisherman caps).
Despite Medusa’s beauty I was still stone cold skeptical that her treachery was yet to be revealed.
First up were the dips (or mezzes): taramasalata (fish roe dip); tzatziki (a blend of Greek yoghurt, cucumber and garlic) and fava (chick pea olive oil, lemon) all served with warm sliced pita bread ably handled by our waiter who I swear was the reincarnation of Telly Savalas (minus the chuppa-chup). They were served with a Greek Salad of tomato, cucumber, capsicum, Spanish onions, fetta, olives and wild oregano.
It was a great first impression. The taramasalata was creamy, salty and had just the right fish roe pizzazz to it not to be offensive. When it came to the tzatzkiki I will for now ever be guilty of committing as crime if I ever bought it in a supermarket tub again. Fava – good. Pita bread warm, soft and moreish with ladle-fulls of dip. The salad was fresh and appropriate. All went down well with the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc (and thanks be to Zeus there was not a retsina in sight).
Could it get better? Yes. Next were the Greek starters: spanakopita (spinach and fetta & ricotta filo baked pastry), and the halloumi (grilled Cypriot cheese). The spanakopita was excellent. Light and crunchy filo pastry surrounding a creamy filling of feta and spinach with a touch of mint. If I was ever skeptical of anything that came out of Greece (besides Demis Roussos), it would be a nation that digs eating grilled salty goat’s cheese (even more so when vegetarians such as Fraulein Freud become wide-eyed when it was served).
Now I understand why the Greeks and the Turks are fighting over the stuff in Cyprus – it’s great and there should be a Royal Commission into why it isn’t a staple on the Aussie barbecue. It may not be as beautiful as a hand-crafted and buxom Italian ricotta but its rustic charm and genuineness won over everyone at the table. It was salty and seasoned with oregano and olive oil and easily out shone the spanakopita by a long shot. One point to the vegos.
Enter the fried calamari pieces of tentacles and sliced tubes lightly dusted with a concoction of flour, salt and oregano and then deep fried. It was crisp and golden, tender and moist inside, and served with a dill aioli.
It was so beautiful and so appetising that, like Medusa’s hypnotic glare, its tentacles lured Frauline Freud to sample a couple of meaty pieces (but I did pity her as her vegetarian option was a couple of dolmades).
I could have been content with just grazing on all of the above throughout the day with my family and another bottle of wine (and fighting off those sinful vegetarians from stealing more calamari), but there were still three more courses: moussaka, Greek lamb and the baklava.
The Medusa Greek Lamb was a whole slow-baked lamb shoulder served with lemon potatoes and peas. Now, I am a fan of Greek-style roasted vegetables such as baked beans and tomato; lemon-infused roasted potatoes and stuffed eggplants, zucchinis and capsicums that a rustic richness and smokiness to them that go well with lamb (but it’s summer and the peas and lemon-dressed potatoes were the sensible thing to have). I couldn’t have been more delighted – this was the dish of the day – tender marinated lamb saturated in its own juices and intertwined with lemon, salt and oregano. Suffer the vegetarians at our table.
Had I known the dish was going to be this good I would have encouraged the New Zealand Warrior Princess who was sitting next to me to have more pita and salad but instead I had to battle it out fork against fork to get the best morsels (and when going up against Kiwis and lamb you really need Herculean strength). My experience was nothing compared to the blood-curling gladiatorial combat between Mr Paul Smith (another Kiwi), and Heracles over the same dish at the other table.
Now I was really starting to struggle (and so were others), but as everything was so right so far at Medusa I had to have a wafer thin slice of Mousaka. It was perfectly layered with backed potato slices, minced beef and a thick topping of bechamel with slayed roasted eggplant and sat in a puddle of rich tomato sauce. It had that certain home-cooking charm and innocence about it that I had a second slab.
Then there was the dessert – the crowd pleaser baklava – a sweet walnut-filled baked filo pastry smothered in cinnamon syrup and served with honey yoghurt. Thankfully it was the smallest course in the line-up.
Finally, in true Greek tragedy spirit, Heracles commanded ouzo and out it came – in bottles for our Greek God – and as a result we left Medusa, not in chariots, but slightly stone faced and floating above Mount Olympus.
The verdict: With a decor and attitude one would expect in a serious business-orientated city restaurant Medusa spoils you and not the food. Perfect for a business lunch or no-fuss group feast, Medusa takes Greek cuisine up to fifth gear and left HBV with a new appreciation for Greek cuisine.
What: Medusa Greek Restaurant, 2 Market Street, Sydney NSW 2000. Phone (02) 9267-0799.
Ate there: 13 December 2013.