Simple, informal and fun. That's how Jonathan Barthelmess sums up Greca, his new venture occupying handsome waterfront quarters at Brisbane's new riverside precinct, Howard Smith Wharves.
"We wanted to create a local Greek restaurant – taverna style – that's all about simple eating," he says. "Somewhere you can just drop in for a glass of wine and some prawns, a Greek salad, and spend, say, $30 – or else do the whole feasting thing and have a banquet. It's somewhere there's always great music, great drinks and a buzzy, fun vibe – nothing too serious."
A follow-up to Sydney's The Apollo (and its sister restaurant in Ginza), Greca is a homecoming of sorts for Sydney-born and Gold Coast-raised Barthelmess, whose parents hail from the Greek island of Kastellorizo. The chef usually works with Longrain's Sam Christie – the pair own both Apollos, as well as Cho Cho San in Potts Point – but in Brisbane he's flying solo although Christie has helped out with the drinks list).
Long-term collaborator George Livissianis has designed the interiors, and around half the 160 seats are alfresco. "The Apollo is seven years old now," Barthelmess says. "Everything that I've been inspired by and learnt in between now and then has been incorporated into Greca." While the original is the model, the aim is to expand on it, rather than replicate it. Certain dishes have made the trip north, but have been fine-tuned to suit the Queensland sun.
Reef fish, for example, is dressed with citrus and capers. Moreton Bay bugs are enriched with nettle butter, and pipis are paired with peas, sorrel and lemon. Organic chicken, meanwhile, is rubbed with roasted garlic and confit lemon before being butterflied and char-grilled. A fire-pit adds a little spark, while savoury and sweet tarts, cakes, crispbreads and focaccia come out of the stone-floor oven along with the pita.
It's a lighter, breezier menu, with Hellenic hospitality at the core. Even Barthelmess's signature lamb shoulder has been remastered. "The Brisbane version has a different flavour profile. At The Apollo it's more a dry spice rub, whereas here it's more tomato, lemon and rosemary-based," he says. "I prefer it."
The relaxed approach extends to Greca's taramasalata, a gluten-free version of the creamy, salty roe dip topped with fish eggs, that can be ordered with a side of hot chips. "You can also have it with pita bread," says Barthelmess. "But we were playing around one day and thought, 'how good is that?'"
"It's all about approachable food done in a way that everyone can relate to and yet feel special about."
What could be better to cook at home?
Greca, Howard Smith Wharves, 3/5 Boundary St, Brisbane, QLD, (07) 3839 1203, greca.com.au
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