Goodness Greecious! MasterChef contestant Philip Vakos has breathed new life into this South Melbourne restaurant
It’s all about the Thursday night spit-roast at Spitiko. Each week, a whole lamb is sacrificed to the charcoal rotisserie, where it spends a lazy afternoon hissing and spitting over the coals before being divvied up into lucky-dip platters of crisp skin, sweet leg meat and soft sticky neck. Arm yourself with lemon, friends and a round of Mythos lagers and settle in for a night of rowdy meat-eating.
This is John Ghionis’ Greek restaurant in South Melbourne. It’s not new, but chef Philip Vakos took over the pan bashing recently (the MasterChef contestant famed for his rampant shirtless-ness in women’s mags), and he knows good Greek.
On the formality scale, Spitiko sits somewhere between a plate-smasher and Gerorge Calombaris’ upscale Hellenic Republic. There's bar seating, friendly waiters (which may disappoint fans of the grumpy men at Jim’s Taverna) and those weirdly phallic bare light bulb tubes that are all the rage. But then there are also $24 bottles of chardonnay, and a flat screen TV, perpetually screening Channel 10.
Start with a handful of mezze dishes. Don’t miss sweet juicy prawns, all wrapped up in snug cocoons of filo threads and deep fried, and old faithfuls – silky, fishy taramosalata dip, blushing pink with caviar, and charred rounds of octopus which hit the table still sizzling from the grill, the singed suckers adding toasty contrast to the sweet soft flesh.
You can get both kefalograviera and haloumi sheep cheese in pan-fried saganaki form. Sadly, our slice-o'-pizza sized wedge, which should be slightly molten and golden, is cool and solid – all rubber, no squeak.
Vegetarians, you’ll be sticking to sides, although a meal of thinly sliced zucchini, dusted in flour and fried into crunchy crisps, golden filo pastry parcels filled with salty cheese and spinach, and a bright salad of baby beets, feta and toasted almonds is hardly a bad proposition. Really though, this is a house for carnivores. The mixed grill is a festival of meat; a platter piled high with little pink lamb cutlets, pork and chicken skewers, and spicy sausage, all dripping with olive oil and fresh oregano.
Spikito is not quiet. Families and big groups of suits keep the hard-surfaced room at a steady roar, but with this kind of joint, it’s more about what’s happening on, not around the table. And here, that’s some great Greek worth investigating.
Spitiko means homemade, and the owner John Ghionis, certainly tries to make people feel welcome in his home. Dining at Spitiko is not just about the gorgeous Greek share plates, with gyros lamb, mini chicken skewers, or if you are feeling peckish even a whole suckling pig, but about memories of family, food and sharing. The pictures of John's family and other mementos he has collected from customers over the years are dispersed throughout the restaurant, and are wonderful to look at while enjoying a piece of baklava!