It would be naive to assume that a culture defined by enormous stone temples, wildly animated speech patterns and an ancient tribe of all-powerful gods would do anything by halves. Enter Alpha, the inner-city restaurant launched last year by the Hellenic Club.
Mere steps into the Victorian-era building in the centre of Sydney’s CBD and you know you’re in for a treat. The cavernous space has been transformed into a warm and inviting venue — quite a feat for a room seemingly the size of a football field — with classic marble and stone softened by wood, a gentle colour pallet and oversized organic pendant lights.
It is at once classic and modern, with well proportioned tables that beckon you to pull up a padded chair and stay for a while — there is after all a feast to be had.
The first time I ate at Alpha the restaurant had just opened. I trooped in with five other hungry ladies one weeknight back in August and, eschewing the banquet in favour of a la carte, we ordered with eyes that were far bigger than our stomaches. Somehow we managed to walk out with bellies that were more than full and change (if I remember correctly) from roughly $40 each.
The meal was still firmly in my memory months later and so when I was invited to a long lazy Saturday lunch to celebrate Alpha’s new weekend hours I couldn’t resist.
Seated at a long marble table with a full view of the restaurant, we were treated to a slightly enhanced version of the YiaYia’s Table Banquet — and oh how we feasted.
First came the Pita Bread, just-warm and so very soft. It was closely followed by dips including a rustic Smoked Eggplant and incredibly smooth White Cod Roe that had none of the overpowering fishyness or lurid pink colour usually associated with Taramosalata.
A plate of mini Falafel with Coriander Yoghurt was next and while they weren’t quite as light or moist as some others I’ve had they do deliver as a solid vegetarian option.
Do you know what this next dish is? The official name is Haloumi Saganaki, Ouzo, Lemon, Oregano however the name simultaneously sighed by 11 people when the ceramic skillets hit the table was oh baked cheeessseeeee…
The haloumi is only available on the banquet menu (trust me, we tried to wrangle it a la carte on our first visit to no avail) and the soft, warm, salty cheese is simple perfection. Sigh.
In the heat of the haloumi-moment the Ouzo Cured Ocean Trout, Fennel, Orange, Watercress, Sumac Onions and platter of Slow Roasted Lamb Spare Ribs were nearly ignored — but that didn’t last for long.
The rich and oily (in a good way) house-cured trout was well-balanced by the tangy, crunchy salad; and it only takes one bite of the falling-off-the-bone lamb ribs to understand why they have a bit of a cult following.
One thing I do love about Alpha is how they take classic Greek dishes that have become terribly pedestrian through years of bad catering menus, and prepare them in a perfect, honest and authentic way.
And as if on cue, oh hello there Spanakopita, so lovely to see you.
We’ve all had a spinach and filo pie at some point that was forgettable at best and terrible at worst. But this? Served in another gorgeous ceramic skillet (can you feel the prop-addiction kicking into high gear…) the spinach, leek, fetta and dill filling has just the right flavour balance and the filo is perfectly crisp and light. To say I recommend it would be an understatement.
Octopus Twice-Cooked, Spinach, White Beans, Red Wine Vinaigrette was lovely and tender on my first visit, but a bit tough the second time. The delicate white beans and acid of the sauce offer a nice juxtaposition to the meaty octopus (and the plate, another prop-coveting opportunity).
A vintage offering from 1993 (if the menu is to be directly quoted), the Moussaka of Eggplant, Seared Scallops and Taramosalata turns any other moussaka on its head. Tender baked eggplant is layered with perfectly seared scallops, the aforementioned white cod roe dip and a scattering of fresh tomato. Very rich and very more-ish.
When we thought we couldn’t fit any more the Horiatiki Salad, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Peppers, Red Onions, Olives, Fetta and enormous platters of Spiced Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder, Roast Potatoes, Tzatziki arrived.
The photo of the lamb does not even come close to communicating the size or the level of tenderness — the entire shoulder was broken down in moments using only a spoon and a fork. The salad was a nice fresh addition to the rich meat and potatoes.
Then came dessert, Doughnuts, Spiced Honey Syrup, Candied Walnut Ice Cream and a simple but perfectly creamy Loukoumi Delight Ice Cream Slice, Strawberry, Raspberry, Filo Cigar.
The doughnuts are on the denser side but the walnut ice cream and the berry semi-freddo were sweet way to end to an indulgent meal.
- Value: at first glance the starters and mains are standard Sydney prices but when you take into account the huge servings that are meant to be shared, the value is evident. Go with a group if possible so you can taste all the things — whether you do the banquet or not.
- 5 Senses: The Hamptons meets the Greek Islands. Soft furnishings, comfortable chairs, wood and marble play nicely with brick accents and organic fittings — beautiful. The space can get a bit loud due to a room full of dinners and/or slightly overzealous music volume.
- Service: Going off my first non-invite visit, the servers were attentive and very helpful both in relation to explanations of dishes and ordering recommendations.
- Boomerang Effect: I’ve already sent a number of people there — including all of RJ’s work team who made short work of the banquet one Tuesday afternoon — and would most definitely go back.
- Curtain Call: Alpha is well known by the CBD business-set for lunches and dinners Monday through Friday — however as of early-February Alpha was open on Saturday for lunch too. There is a note on their site (as of hitting publish on this post) that from mid-March they’ll be doing Sundays, however I’m not sure if this is in addition to, or instead of, Saturday. Either way, it’s a bit of a tough call as most people eschew the CBD on weekends for trendier suburbs less than a kilometre away, but if you are looking for a relaxed and well-fed afternoon you may want to add Alpha to your list.
ALPHA RESTAURANT — SYDNEY, CBD
238 CASTLEREAGH STREET
SYDNEY, NSW 2000 AUSTRALIA
JJ dined on her own for dinner then as a guest of Alpha for lunch. All opinions are fully my own, etc, etc, andele, andele, arriba, arriba. Editorial policy here.