The Press Club Restaurant – Modern Greek Cuisine

“We were ‘introduced’ to George Calombaris through Junior MasterChef Australia (Season 1, September 12-November 15, 2010, aired on Network Ten). We really enjoyed watching the young amateurs in action and how they were judged by Australia’s Top Chefs. George was our favorite judge and was the only judge that bounced through that season!”

One of my colleagues suggested The Press Club for dinner if I have a special occasion to celebrate. It was Ms. L.’s birthday and we were looking for a degustation menu and we went with my colleague’s recommendation. We browsed through The Press Club’s  impressive website, and found that this place offers a degustation menu – Symposium (but no details provided. At the time of writing this post which was close to a month later, I found that the Symposium menu was downloadable and it was in English. We all know that the menu is regularly updated so read on to hear my struggle to review this menu!).

Wow! The owner was the highly acclaimed chef, George Calombaris. We were first ‘introduced’ to George through the kid’s cooking competition – Junior MasterChef Australia (Season 1, September 12-November 15, 2010, aired on Network Ten). We really enjoyed watching the young amateurs in action and how they were judged by Australia’s Top Chefs. George was our favorite judge and was the only judge that bounced through that season! We called in to make dinner reservation and was immediately informed that they were fully booked-out for the next four weekends! Fortunately, Ms. L.’s birthday was on a weekday and there wasn’t a problem getting a table.

The interior arrangement was very classy and the place boast an open kitchen concept that allowed us to watch our food being prepared as well as for the chefs to show off their skills. The ambiance was perfect for the celebration and was further enhanced by a ‘surprise’ birthday card from George placed on our table.

The menu was simple and was dated – Ms. L.’s birth date. As mentioned, we had planned to have the degustation menu and found that the menu was in Greek (except for the price). Our waiter explained that most of the items were similar to the à la carte section and he would brief us when he present the courses. I quickly asked for a copy of this menu (so I could blog about it …).

The degustation menu consist of eight courses ($135 per person) . We had nine courses as we took the Wagyu supplement (additional $25). I have done research on George’s menu. The first word of each dish is the name of a place such as an island, a village or a capital city in Greece – not really sure what were the objectives. The second words were straight forward and were translated in parentheses below.

SYMPOSIUM SYMBOSIO (Extracted from Press Club’s April 20, 2011 Menu)

Vouliagmeni “Glikadia” (“Sweet Bread”)
Cephalonia “Karota” (“Carrot Salad”)
Mani “Htenia” (“Scallop”)
Larissa “Hirino” (“Pork Loin”)
Patmos “Psari” (“Fish”)
Naoussa “Arni” (“Lamb”)
Rethimo “Refreshing” (“English right?!”)
Faliro “Sokolata” (“Chocolate”)

Degustation $135
Wagyu Supplement $25

We started with a couple of warm breads – multi-seed and fennel, and olive oil. The olives were from Cyprus, Greece, and they were high-flavored olives and tasted really good. We finished the olives and throughout the courses, I finished the olive oil and had asked for refill! On the side was some black volcanic salt to accompany the olive-dipped bread. Nice combination.

The first course (^) was the Vouliagmeni “Glikadia”. This dish was not available in the à la carte section. It was presented in a small clear glass bottle that displayed three layers. At the bottom was a layer of pumpkin puree. This was followed by a layer of jelly formed chicken consommé. This appetizer was topped by warm granola. Each layer was delicious and the combination of the layers was fabulous. 

The second course (^) was the Cephalonia “Karota”. This dish was available in the entree section ($28.9 if you order this entree), probably a bigger version. Its the Toursi of heirloom carrot, baby radish, amygdala and seeds. We have no idea what was amygdala. The presentation was good and the carrots were tasty but overall this course was just ‘ok‘. We were trying to jog our memory on the brown sprinkles that was pointed out by our waiter but nothing came up. Do leave me a comment if you know the answer!

The third course was the (^) Mani “Htenia”. This dish was available in the entree section. Its the Scallop – kounipidi,  gingerbread, pomegranate and mint ($31.9 if you order this entree). The degustation version has the gingerbread that came as foam and crumbs. The foam reminded me of my first encounter at Number 8, tasted weird though. I don’t remember the pomegranate or mint. The kounipidi is Greek for cauliflower and could be the greens on the top (?). Anyway, the scallop was perfectly seared and it went very well with the crumbs at the bottom. 

The fourth course was the (^) Larissa “Hirino”. This dish was in the main section. Its the Pork – Helleniko kafé loin, Attiki honey belly, fakes (lentil) and roast apple ($46.9 if you order this main). The pork loin and belly was tasty and as usual, the crackling wasn’t enough for me. I’m pretty sure that our degustation version was very similar to the main as our neighbor ordered it.

The fifth course was the (^) Patmos “Psari” . This dish was in the main section. It was the Wild Barramundi – spanakorizo (spinach and rice stew cooked in lemon and olive oil sauce) of venere rice, oxtail, miso melitzana ($45.9 if you order this main). The fish was perfectly cooked and needed to be combined with the wild rice at the bottom. The highlight of this dish was the oxtail roll at the side. It was delicious.

The sixth course was the (^) Naoussa “Arni” or Lamb – best end, bastourma, kohlrabi (cross between cabbage and turnip), borlotti beans and tyrokafteri (a spread or dip, the main ingredients of which are feta cheese, roasted red peppers, and garlic) ($49.9 if you order this main). The best end is the cut just below the neck, before the loin. This is the first time we heard of such cut and it was the best lamb we have ever tasted. The meat was so tender and juicy.

The seventh course was the (^) Wagyu dish. This course was served mainly with wild mushroom puree and courgettes. This was our last savory course and it was excellent. The Wagyu slices was perfectly cooked to medium rare and was very tender. It was more tender than the lamb and the taste was memorable. The combination with the wild mushroom puree and mustard seeds were fantastic. We were glad we supplemented the degustation menu with this course as this was the dish of the day. There was a moment after the lamb, we thought it wasn’t a good idea to add the Wagyu as we were pretty full!

The eighth course was the (^) Rethimo “Refreshing” (I couldn’t find this in the à la carte section). It was tzatziki or greek yogurt with refreshing lemon zest and peel. At the side was some Pop Rocks to go with and it reminded us of the candy we used to have when we were kids. This course was (literally) refreshing. We were relieved that the size of this course was manageable as the previous courses were on the generous side for a degustation version. We could imagine the size of the à la carte version.

The ninth and final course was the (^) Faliro “Sokolata”. Ms. L. had her birthday version – with a candle and happy birthday wished in chocolate! A very nice personal touch from The Press Club. On this busy looking plate, there was a chocolate mousse in the middle, some honey combs, a cake (can’t remember what it was) and an olive oil ice-cream. There were sprinkles of chocolate bits and white ‘stuff’ (not sure what it was – not icing sugar) over the deserts. At first glace, this plate looked and sounded average, except for the olive oil ice-cream. The olive ice-cream which was a first for us was nice. The chocolate mousse had a nice smooth and creamy texture and tasted well.

This was our first experience with modern Greek cuisine and the dining experience at The Press Club was very memorable. There were a couple of personal touches that impressed us like the birthday card and the birthday ‘cake’. I was hoping that George be around to personally wish Ms. L. but he wasn’t – probably occupied with the making of MasterChef Australia Season 3! The food was overall excellent and the portions were generous. Note that George is one of those chefs that frequently update their menu. You will not find the same menu and food presentations as posted here. Best is to browse through his restaurant’s website. (Recently, I found that the degustation menu was downloadable and was in English. Somehow, I couldn’t find the same link the next day!). The service was good and prompt. Our waiter was very attentive and experience when recommending and presenting each courses. (I must make it a point to write down the descriptions when reviewing such menu in future. This is due to my known, ‘short term’ memory and that has caused a very long delay in posting this review). A note on the pricing (which was not commented earlier) – it was on the high-side and unfortunately The Press Club was not listed in the  Greater Melbourne 2010|2011 Entertainment Book™. Although it was expensive, the dining experience matched up. We will definitely return to The Press Club in future for the Sunday LunchKerasma (to treat and to share).

The Press Club Restaurant
72 Flinders Street,
Melbourne,  3000 Victoria,

Recent Award: Two Chef’s Hat – The Age Good Food Guide 2012

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