Peter Conistis’s new venture Alpha is a monument to everything that’s great about Greeks in Australia.
Chef Peter Conistis shows off Alpha. Picture: Adam Taylor Source: News Limited
THE freshness and zing of the flavours, and the idea of ordering enough for a table to share, are trends very much in favour.
One thing you say about Greeks is they don’t mind building a monument. Greece, of course, has one of the world’s most impressive collections of marbleware, done large, but even a drive around Sydney reveals the wonders of red-brick and faux-colonnade suburban monuments Greek-Australians affectionately call “wog mansions”.
And now Sydney has the Hellenic Club, a building, or group of buildings, in the process of a revitalisation so wonderful it’s like a gift to the city from the Greek community. It’s hard not to be impressed, and grateful.
The first part of this redevelopment to open is Alpha, a restaurant occupying the bones of an 1880s church on Castlereagh St. The space has been disused since the 1950s, with threats to tear it down to build an office tower mercifully never realised.
New-fashioned dolmades at Alpha. Picture: Adam Taylor Source: News Limited
The $4 million-plus renovation has been transformative. Walk through sliding glass doors to find an airy white space with probably 20ft ceilings held aloft by arches and colonnades, fitted out with clever fixtures that include lamps in the shape of fishing nets.
In the kitchen is one of Sydney’s favourite Greek sons, Peter Conistis, a man whose culinary journey has been something of a personal odyssey spanning 20 years.
His credits include Civic Dining, Omega, Cosmos and Eleni’s, some of which have succeeded fantastically, others which haven’t. After a two-year hiatus, he’s back, and how.
At Alpha, Conistis has been careful not to alienate the Greek diners who are here in their droves, while striving to attract a new clientele with food that’s at once homely and honest, precise and sophisticated.
It’s village food, really, but done beautifully. It’s a happy coincidence that the freshness and zing of the flavours, and the idea of ordering enough for a table to share, are trends very much in favour right now.
The rabbit and olive pie at Alpha. Picture: Adam Taylor Source: News Limited
The menu opens with a selection of dips that include an excellent and rustic sheep’s milk yoghurt tzatziki ($7), all chunky with dill, garlic, mint and cucumber; and melitzanosalata ($8), a gorgeous smoked eggplant dip, eaten with fluffy, charred pita ($2 per person).
Dolmades ($10), those famous Greek vine leaf parcels, are sexed up with almond rice and preserved lemon, while ouzo-cured ocean trout ($11) with grilled fennel and ruby grapefruit, is coolly summery, ambitious and eats well.
Diners with even the barest knowledge of Greek food will find much that’s recognisable, from meatballs in tomato and red wine ($11), to an oregano-and-lemon marinated lamb shoulder ($29/$39), spanakopita ($16), Greece’s famed spinach and fetta pie, and twice-cooked octopus with spinach and white beans ($21).
The gorgeously luxe “retro” scallop moussaka at Alpha. Picture: Adam Taylor Source: News Limited
The sentimental will love Conistis’s nod to his past via two “vintage” dishes from 1993 – one a gorgeously luxe “moussaka” ($24) of just-cooked scallops layered between slices of creamy eggplant, the other a rabbit and black olive pie ($32), that’s dense and gamey, the rabbit flaked so it resembles the texture of tuna, the filo pastry dry and crisp.
The salads are lovely. Try a Horiatiki salad ($13) of cucumber, capsicum, red onion, olives and a slab of fetta that’s like a day trip to Athens. The crunchy, textural cabbage salad with kohlrabi ($7) is also very good.
Alpha’s Horiatiki salad is like a day trip to Athens. Picture: Adam TaylorSource: News Limited
Desserts, which include chocolate baklava ($6), are Greek-strength sweet, and the addition this week of skilled pastry chef Nic Waring (ex-Sailors Club) to the staff will add class.
The Greek and Australian wine list has its hits and misses while the service, under ex-Aria maitre d’ Jye Hong, is enthusiastic, if not necessarily very Greek.
I love Alpha. If I worked nearby I’d eat here a lot, not just for Conistis’s food that’s as comforting and wholesome as that of a favourite yiayia’s, but because the project is devilishly ambitious and enterprising.
Later this year, Conistis will open a fine diner upstairs in a gorgeous space yet to be finished, and a mezze bar will open on Elizabeth St next year.
In the meantime, enjoy Alpha. It’s a very fine monument to everything that’s great about Greeks in this country.
Greek Donuts with spiced honey syrup and walnut ice-cream at Alpha Restaurant. Picture: Adam TaylorSource: News Limited
238 Castlereagh St, Sydney
Open For lunch, Monday-Friday, and dinner, Monday-Saturday
Highlight Beautiful food, beautiful place
Lowlight The lunch menu is limited