179 Swan St
Richmond, VIC 3121
Although it should be right up my alley, I never got into the Masterchef series. Aside from the occasional snippets glimpsed at the gym, the only time I’ve really properly watched Masterchef was during the third season, but I had an ulterior motive. Billy Law, who at the time was still a relatively new and unknown food blogger, happened to be a favourite of mine, and I was eager to see how he’d stack up. He didn’t end up winning, but he did go on to bigger and better things. In fact, Masterchef seems to be a springboard for many budding amateur chefs…. like season 2 contestant Philip Vakos, who may not have won, but does now own Bahari The Hellenic Palate with business partner Stell Kaponas.
In my head, there are 3 Richmonds – the one near Ikea, the Vietnamese one, and the fashionable one. Bahari sits in the final category, and it certainly fits in. Warmly rustic and low-key, I almost walked right past it before I saw Chris grinning at me from the window. The floor is brick, and lights are dim, and the air smelt like a Greek feast.
Despite there not having been much hype surrounding Bahari’s opening (about 6 months ago), its popularity seems unimpeded. There was a constant stream of diners the night we were there, and a fair few people getting takeout as well. We were a little late, and ended up with the seat right by the door. The perk of being able to people-watch out the window however more than made up for it. Plus, look how cool those seats are!
The menu at Bahari prides itself on being ever-changing, and on top of that there are daily specials. Today one of the dishes available was the Lamb Souzoukakia ($16.9), which we had with pillowy Grilled Pita Bread ($4), served warm and drizzled with olive oil
This was unlike any Greek food I’ve ever had. The sauce was thick and rich, with a complex array of spices that tasted almost Indian. Sitting in the sauce were some gorgeously dense and infinitely satisfying meatballs. To put it in Chris’ words: this is one hell of a meatball!
I had heard fabulous things about the Octopus Char Grilled with Ouzo ($18.9), and I’m happy to report that all the rumours are true. Cut into bite-sized chunks, the octopus was rubbed with a dash of thyme, and then grilled to infuse it with a subtle smokiness. Each piece was cooked to absolute perfection, resulting in that exquisite combination of chewiness and stickiness most chefs can only dream of.
It was a hard decision, but I eventually decided to forgo lamb shoulder for some Kalamaki ($4.5ea), aka skewers. Unsurprisingly, the lamb was the best of all – tender, juicy, and just a little bit gamy, the grilled lamb burst with the simple yet intoxicating flavours of smoke, lemon, and herbs. Similarly good was the chicken, which is a good alternative for those who want something a little lighter. Pork on the other hand is a slightly more unusual choice of protein, but although it wasn’t complemented as well by the lemon and herbs, the fatty meat had caramelised beautifully over the flames.
The choice of greenery for the day was the Fasolakia ($14.5). Once again Bahari surprised me – I had expected a crisp salad, but instead we were served a big, sloppy bowl of green beans, braised in tomato with rosemary, and the occasional bright burst of dill. Getting your veggies has never been easier.
I was full of protein by this point, but not too full for dessert. The Galaktoboureko ($9) was heavenly. Baked into the crisp pastry was a thick slab of semolina custard, lightly infused with lemon. The filo pastry soaked up the syrup drizzled on top, and quickly became swaths of sweet, buttery goodness. On the side was the most lovely halva ice cream, its mild nuttiness a wonderful complement to the sugary pastry.
I found myself to be rather taken with Bahari. Given the somewhat-celebrity chef status and the modern-yet-rustic vibe it seemed to be going for, I couldn’t help but compare it with Hellenic Republic. If you ask me, Bahari is actually how I had imagined Hellenic Republic (which I thought was a bit too stuffy for what it was trying to achieve) would be – simple, home-cooked meals that nevertheless have real passion and flare behind it. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but that is some solid praise for Bahari right there.
Rating: 14.5/20 – jealous georgie.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.