Cheryl Akle finds a Greek holiday on a plate at Alpha

Friday, July 6, 2018

Alpha is summery by day; low-lit and buzzing by night. Photo: Jennifer SooWHO Cheryl Akle, Mornings book reviewer, from Petersham

WHERE Alpha, Sydney CBD

WHY “It’s my all-time favourite.  I’ve been there 20 times since it opened. The beauty of it is that you don’t have to always eat a full meal, sometimes I’ll just go there for a drink and mezze.

I love the space and the decor, it’s in the city, there’s not a lot where you can just walk in off the street to that calibre. Of course, I’m absolutely crazy about the food, I think it’s sensational – simple and fresh.

You know how they always say if you walk past a Chinese resto and there’s lots of Chinese in there, it must be good? Any time I walk past Alpha, there are large groups of Greeks, celebrating either a baptism or engagement. I don’t think I’ve ever been there when there hasn’t been a celebration going on. it’s wonderful, it’s a celebration of foods.”

WHAT “The signature dish is the slow-roast lamb, which I love, but my favourite is the roast chicken.

I always have the tarama with pita  bread. It’s nothing like the stuff out of a pack. I love the octopus;  it’s twice cooked, it’s really yummy, served with spinach, and I like the spanakopita.

I think the wine list is also interesting, it’s Greek. The sommelier will match your taste to a style of Greek wine.

The roast lamb shoulder is available in a small or a large, I quite like that. If you are just there for lunch, you can share the small.

And the Greek donut balls – you absolutely can’t have them on your own, they are so delicious and rich and lovely.”

ABOUT “Last night, I felt like cooking a Sunday roast. I sent out a family text asking if anyone was interested in roast chicken tonight and 12 people came for dinner. I’m very lucky, I have a very large family, so lots of cooking. I’m Lebanese, so I cook a lot of Lebanese food. We’re very similar to Greeks, not necessarily in the type of food but in the way we celebrate with food, the way it brings people together.

I run a business called Better Reading, also I’m doing the book segment on Mornings on Channel Nine. It’s fortnightly. I chat with presenters about a book that I recommend. I used to do the book segment on The Circle many years ago. I swim every morning and walk to work.”

ALPHA 238 Castlereagh Street, Sydney 9098 1111, alpharestaurant苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛 Entrees,$2-$16; mains $13-$58; desserts $12-$15. $80 for two, plus drinks.

Four out of five stars

Where does it end, when it comes to the Greeks? Their rich history of doric columns, democracy, deities and dodged defaults won me over long ago. Especially attractive is Greece’s beautiful grasp on including the young and old in all social occasions, its wholesome verve in those celebrations, its love of thalassotherapy and the human form, its vivid white-against-blue-sky villages, its food.

Sired by the irrepressible Hellenic Club onto which it backs, Alpha is a bit of all of these things. Never has Cheryl Akle visited without seeing a group celebration underway – and my time there was no different, when a table of about 20 Greek women sang a raucous happy birthday to their day’s demigod.

Bright and bold, the modern Greek haunt instantly garnered a devoted following after opening in 2013. We can see why. Summery by day, low-lit and buzzing by night, lights are fashioned from fishing nets and baskets, the room kept mostly white but for the wall of ancient Greek-esque “ruin”. What might be kitsch elsewhere works fabulously here.

A board of fresh pita in piles, charred and silky, arrives alongside a small bowl of taramasalata, rich and tangy. As Cheryl Akle said: not at all how those who have never had the homemade stuff might imagine.

On the way to the toilets, one passes the counter where chefs line up naked spanakopitas in cast-iron pans, ready to be broiled to golden crispiness. Ours arrives hot and in its skillet, is deftly cut into six by our waitress and we are left with a full half to take home, neatly packed without the blink of an eye. We try a glass of Peloponnese rose and a roditis from Kir-Yianni Estate, both about as far as is possible from the dubious retsinas many tourists may remember.

Groups of business lunchers make enthusiastic work of the house favourite: spiced, slow-roasted lamb shoulder, paired with tzatziki and horiatiki. Our marinated sardines seem almost a side-show to the sweet zucchini fritters they accompany – a bright and sunny dish, though sardines, in my mind, are often best kept simple.

Twice-cooked octopus with toothsome white beans loaded with lemon, oregano and olive oil is surely enough for the diaspora to write home about. And a salad of cos with anchovy, smoked mackerel and dill is far more than the sum of its parts.

Groups, such as our birthday ladies, can have a go at “Yiayia’s table” – an epic banquet with the option of matching wines.

I will have to take Cheryl’s word that the loukoumades are as fabulous as they sound, because I left without wanting to ruin the Greek summer’s afternoon flavour and the citrusy sparkle on my palate.

From alpha to omega, it couldn’t do much wrong for me.

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