Camberwell's taken a turn for the Cretan, serving the juiciest lamb in Melbourne
The lamb. Oh god, the lamb – the best lamb I have ever tasted. After hitting a low-temperature oven for upwards of 10 hours, the meat is juicy, salty and finger-licking, the fat toffeed into a dark caramel chew and lifted by an underlying smoosh of oregano and garlic. On the side there are golden chips roasted in olive oil.
This, here, is the brilliance of simplicity. And we’re in Camberwell. Lucky them.
OK, so I’m going out on a limb here but the roasted lamb shoulder at Elyros, a Cretan restaurant from the crew behind Carlton’s rather fine Epocha, knocks one of Melbourne’s favourite dishes out of the park. I’ve eaten it twice, and I’ll be eating it again. My lamb obsession means I haven’t yet tried the goat, which I hear is equally remarkable, but that lamb has its hooks in me, and it ain’t letting go.
Elyros is just a pup – it’s under two months since Angie Giannakodakis, Guy Holder and Disa Dimitrakakis opened the younger, more culinarily focused outpost – and already the neighbourhood is getting the hang of regional Greek cuisine. It seems like only yesterday Melbourne scrambled out of the faux-taverna with its endless pink dips, and here we are getting funky with snails in the shell in stifatho, a tomato and onion-based "stew" heady with aromatics, and ocean-punchy sardines that arrive with heads and tails poking out of their vine leaf sleeping bags.
The menu manages to convey Crete’s hardscrabble sentiment without making diners feel they’ve donned a hair shirt. The horta, a rough tumble of bitter greens, including cine de rapa and chicory, is one of those no-brainer side-dishes, unencumbered save for a slosh of oil and a squeeze of lemon, while a fat tentacle of poached octopus shows off chef Yiannis Kasidokostas’ fine dining background with the nicely judged sweetness of petimezi – better known as grape molasses – bracing slivers of pickled red onion and the all-pervasive thyme.
I’m not so wild about the Cretan rusks – OK, so they’re a thrifty people who like to squirrel away stale bread for hard times, but I don’t think that really applies to Camberwell – and a few things are wildly under-seasoned. And while the menu is designed for sharing, the tables aren’t. In a word: small.
Still. Take a look through the gorgeous Art Deco windows of the former bank building, across the road to the Sophia pizza behemoth, and be thankful the tides of change are lapping at Bourke Road. Elyros boasts a mid-century elegance worthy of Maria Callas – urns, chandeliers and the prettiest pale blue ceiling – as well as staff who keep the whole bar/restaurant enterprise ticking over smoothly. Sommelier Thomas Eveno might be a Frenchman but he has a newfound appreciation for Greek wines, not to mention a quiver of Greek digestives at his disposal. Just try to get out of Elyros without a parting shot of the mastic liqueur – go on, I dare you.