I’ve travelled to Greece twice. The first year I went I was 22-years-old with a ruthless game plan of partying my way through Mykonos on a penniless budget – and somehow succeeded.
The next year I travelled over to the Greek Islands, I was 23-years-old – still relatively wild – although I had a tad more dough in the bank thanks to having a ‘grown up’ job besides the odd shift at nannying and random house sitting gigs. Rather than just being on the hunt for the raging party-scene, I also sought real, authentic, gourmet Greek cuisine during my couple of weeks in Athens, Paros, Santorini and Crete.
I’ll be honest. In Athens, I ate take-away chinese food because I arrived at 11pm and I had to head off to Paros by boat the next morning at 7am – so, in saying that, I don’t think Athens even counts as a city to tick off the bucket list.
However, in short, Paros had succulent octopus, Santorini had perfect moussaka, and Crete had world-famous tzatziki and utterly moorish dolmades (the stuffed vine leaves). I still dream of those.
When I heard of Santorini on Oxford – an exquisite hole-in-the-wall restaurant tucked away in Sydney’s glorious Oxford street – I was intrigued to see if what they had to offer could beat or even be somewhat aligned to what I sampled in Greece.
The cosy interiors sported a dusty white and blue colour scheme to paint the feeling of their home (like the famous white and blue houses you see on a typical Greek postcard, resembling their flag). On arrival, we had a warm and dare I say overly-European welcome.
There was no hint of shyness from head chef/owner, Dimitrios, who we could immediately tell was very passionate about his beautiful, little establishment. He's quick on his feet, incredibly hospitable and especially flexible with the menu, always adding a personal flair to the familiar dishes.
I brought along my fellow critic (and life-long friend) Chelsea – who I actually travelled with around the Greek Islands just last year – to taste Greece once again after just a few odd months of our foreign escapade. She and I boast very different palettes as she enjoys sweet and fruity flavours whereas I prefer zests of spice and herbs. However, we both share a wild admiration for saltiness. That we can agree on.
We both decided to take a risk and request something we wouldn’t usually go for in the cocktail sector: A Cosmopolis (a Greek cosmo?) and the Santorini Caldera. They were both wonderfully sweet and wickedly nostalgic with their subtle candy-like flavours – the Caldera honestly tasted like a liquid-genre of Allen’s Bananas. Perhaps we ordered dessert too soon? We didn’t think so, as it was a delightful way to start the evening on a sweet note.
Thinking we would be ordering a large array of small entrées to share before entering the main course, we soon realised three sharing plates was more than enough to feed two. The generous portions of tzatziki and bread, Melitzana, and fresh seafood was something we had never truly encountered before.
Although they presented familiarity after our incredibly gourmet trip in Greece, we were unapologetically surprised with how the tzatziki – our favourite dip in the world – was even more Greek than the versions we had tried overseas! The thick and creamy yoghurt, cucumber and garlic dip was incredibly addictive and we semi-resented ourselves for ordering this as our first plate as we were filling ourselves up completely! As we laughed at how quickly and eagerly we polished off the horse-size entrée, we realised this was top-quality on our comparison list.
Next was the oven-baked, smoky eggplant, topped with tomatoes, onions, garlic and feta – a.k.a Melitzana. If anyone truly knows me, they know I go nuts for good eggplant – in any style of cuisine. This was a unique dish, and I couldn’t really compare it to anything I had previously tried in Greece. The flavours were inviting, but also relatively foreign – I couldn’t quite understand what it was that I was tasting. If you love fusions of savoury with a hint of the unknown, this is the dish for you (and me).
To break up the ‘petite’ mains, we needed some liquid courage before handling what was next. Together, we shared The Little Prince – a 2018 bottle of white from the Karavitakis Winery in Crete – one of our favourite holiday destinations of all time. So, the bottle was already special to us. Everyone goes on about Italian and French wines, but Greek wine has definitely earned a spot on the list of ‘must-trys’ thanks to their highly anticipated vineyards – especially the hidden gem wineries based in Chania.
The stone-fruit based white wine was the fraternal twin of our third and final dish of the evening – the chargrilled octopus with olive oil and lemon, and the fresh chargrilled baby calamari.
Sweet and succulent, simple as that. The wine paired perfectly with the seafood dish. Chelsea and I locked love-sick eyes and without words we knew this was beyond any fine dining joint in Santorini. As tourists, we travel to see parts of the world through an ‘authentic’ lens by immersing ourselves in different cultures, however many of the popular spots on the map do, at times, alter their dishes to feature more westernised flavours and aromas – whether that’s less spicy thai noodles or sweeter portuguese tarts. The seafood we ate at Oxford Street’s best-kept secret was the taste of REAL Santorini. There was no holding back.
As the evening drew to a close, we somehow made room for dessert: two glasses of baileys and a shared serve of Elmek Kataifi. This was a shredded filo pastry soaked in syrup, coated with cream patisserie and fresh cream. Yes, we were heavily bloated by the end, and it was worth it. I can’t even begin to explain the emotions we felt while eating this. We were in pain from how full we already were around two entrées ago, but like the famous R. Kelly song goes, our bodies were telling us ‘yes’.
Thank you, Santorini on Oxford, for bringing real Santorini to life in our city.