When it comes to food, getting the matriarch's approval is something that transcends many cultures. By this measure, Ble Greek Kouzina has nailed it. During our visit, over a dozen ladies are seated beside us chatting in Greek and passing plates across the table and over heads in choreographed synchronisation. Their presence adds an air of authenticity to an already charming venture from former Alpha sous chef Natalia Gaspari.
Ble Greek Kouzina popped up in Ramsgate in Sydney's south earlier this year. For an area mostly littered with takeaway joints, this new dining option hopefully marks the beginning of a culinary change.
The open kitchen features indigo tiles — a nod to the restaurants moniker — but is otherwise light-handed on the Grecian design. A palette of pale wood, grey and blue is carried through the majority of the decor with accents in the shelves holding greenery and wine bottles. It's modern but not overly trend-driven, which achieves two things: it's unlikely to date quickly and makes the small space seem warm and neighbourly, rather than sterile or cramped.
As is typical, the menu is designed to share with your choice of a la carte or one of two set menus ($55 per person and $69 per person). If you didn't already know of Gaspari's link to Alpha, the food menu should ring a few bells. On one hand, it's a relief to know that you don't have to venture into the CBD to dine on high-end Greek food. On the other, for big Alpha fans, comparisons are inevitable and met with varying results. The bowls of melitzanosalata ($10) — smoked eggplant dip with garlic and parsley — and the black taramosalata ($12) are table hits and are oft wiped clean with the handmade smoky pita bread ($3). At the risk of sounding cliché, the spiced slow-roasted lamb shoulder ($34–58) does truly fall right off the bone and the accompanying tzatziki balances out its richness.
The spanakopita ($24) is tasty but lacks the signature flakiness, and while the kakavia soup broth that the much-anticipated lobster ravioli ($32) is served in is morish, the dumplings themselves are overcooked and under-seasoned, failing to hit the mark. Seafood fans will be pleased with shellfish saganaki ($32) — which is overflowing with prawns, pipis and clams in a rich tomato base — and Gaspari's signature, the Kefalonian octopus and black olive pie ($34) is worth a try.
Finish off your meal with a dish or two prepared 'on the karvouna', which means roasted over charcoal — there's chicken or pork souvlaki, octopus or, if you're super-organised, a whole lamb which requires ordering 48 hours in advance.
Dessert is probably the bravest portion of the meal. While loukoumades are standard dessert procedure during a Greek feast, Ble's take on the light, fluffy doughnuts ($16) are stuffed with figs, which may surprise traditionalists. The galaktoboureko ($16) — mastic custard with berry sorbet — and the lemoni pagoto sandwiched between rich chocolate pastry and topped with dragonfruit preserve ($15) are rightfully ambitious.
Minor errors in the kitchen can often be forgiven in a suburban restaurant, but it is service that can make or break success. And in Ble's case, the vibe from staff is friendly but formal, expertly recommending drinks based on your food order. The wine list is extensive, too — there's close to forty Greek labels plus a few drops from Australia and New Zealand. And, as an added bonus, only a handful hit triple-digits.
Making fine dining locally accessible is always a noble feat. A few easily fixed elements aside, Ble has successfully kickstarted what is, hopefully, a growing trend in Sydney's south.
Images: Letícia Almeida