Since Gazi overtook The Press Club — which was just over a year ago, mind you — the restaurant's patriarch George Calombaris has opened a second Hellenic Republic in Kew (to match the Brunswick venue of the same name), and added no less than two takeaway souvlaki joints to his name. But if you thought Gazi was old news, think again. The Exhibition Street eatery is still pumping, and if you want to score a booking on a Friday or Saturday night, best book at least two weeks in advance.
We learnt the hard way on that one, but we managed to squeeze into a table at 9pm. A late sitting is a blessing at Gazi; the food is heavy, and your tummy should be AEAP (as empty as possible) to tackle all corners of the menu. If things are dire, order pita bread and dips as soon as you sit down, and tackle the menu while you're chowing down on taromosalata and tzatziki.
The theme is Greek street food (as they'll tell you again and again) and if you've dined at the more casual Jimmy Grants or Rue & Co, a few items will be familiar. Avoid the set menu option in favour of choosing your own dishes. I know the luxury of having all your decisions made for you is alluring, but picking and choosing not only gives you more control, but depending on how many you're dining with, it can be cheaper too.
Sharing food it may be, but some of it you simply will not want to share. The grilled octopus ($16.50) comes paired with tahini and eggplant (get in quick on that one, there's not much to go 'round), and the saganaki ($14.50) is all kinds of nirvana: gooey, salty and honey sweet. The souvas have been spruced up too; for the more discerning diner, they are filled with duck, chicken, beef, an onion fritter or — my pick — soft shell crab ($8.50-12).
This is the point that defines a diner: do you keep feasting or fast forward to dessert? Greek doughnuts with honey Nutella may sound like a good step forward, but I say keep going. This is where the menu steers away from street food, and gets meaty (literally). Order a whole baby snapper from the wood fire grill ($28), or perhaps a chicken with white beans and a walnut dressing from the spit. It's basically mandatory to pair your meat of choice with the grain salad and a bowl of chips with oregano, lemon and feta. Can we talk about these chips for a bit longer? They're the best.
There's a lot to like at Gazi. The food is great, the dining is fine but casual — and it comes without the price tag of The Press Club, yet with a lot more attitude. Yes, there's those terracotta pots that hang from the ceiling. They look nice, but there's no question they add to the noise levels that creep up to near deafening once the dining room is full. Though it's a small downside (maybe one that will matter more to older ears) to what is a great night out at Gazi.