My parents met in Greece in the early 70s, two longhaired travellers escaping the static hum of middle class Canada and the hot grind of working class Australia. Both free spirits, one was the resolute black sheep, the other a dimpled and adored daughter. Greece was the start of a journey that took them round and round the world together, then to a quiet corner of New South Wales where they fed their two babies Greek yogurt with honey. The story of my parents’ first meeting is entwined with my mum’s memories of the cool white, drizzled with sticky amber; it’s a fable that binds food, love and romance.
My best friend married a good Greek boy. A good Greek boy from a good Greek family in Tasmania. We gamboled through the Zorba at her wedding, faster and faster in a joyful snaking mass, not one guest sitting out the dizzying dance. The sound of love and celebration was picked out in notes on the Bazouki; a persistent, melodic twang punctuating the rituals and formalities of the occasion. The bride carried olive leaves in her bouquet, a romantic nod to her new family’s heritage and totem for a glorious ingredient. For where love lies, food creeps in to cuddle. With the bride in town for the first time in a year, we visit Alpha, the mega Greek eatery that fills a cavernous space in Sydney’s CBD, cheek to jowl with the Hellenic Club and over the road from Sydney Fire Station. We have a 6pm reservation and are shown quickly to our table in a corner of the cavern. After two visits from an anxious waiter clearly hastened by the strict two-hour seating, we start with pita bread ($2 per person), Taramosalata/white cod’s roe dip ($10) and Tzatziki/sheep’s milk yoghurt, cucumber, garlic, extra virgin olive oil ($7). The pita is warm and abundant, the Taromasolata deeply fishy and balanced by the mellow, cooling Tzatziki. All three are cracking. With no time to spare, a star-shaped splay of octopus twice cooked with spinach, white beans, red wine vinaigrette ($24) arrives, charred to the very brink of bitterness and doused in fruity olive oil and sharp lemon. It’s salty as the sea from whence it came and tender as a loving heart. The Greek spiced slow roasted Flinders Island lamb shoulder with lemon roast potatoes and tzatziki ($32/$52) is pleasantly fatty, though texturally feels not-quite-slow-roasted-enough. Given another hour it could reach the exultant point of slipping off the bone under a hungry gaze. The potatoes fall short and feel like a consolation prize next to the roast parsnip offered as a side. As we linger over the remains, two different waiters stop by to push us toward dessert and our eventual exit. Picking up the heavy hints, we choose Loukoumades/Greek donut balls with spiced honey syrup and candied walnut ice cream (12). The donuts are fluffy and warm, the honey syrup tacky and the ice cream a triumph; our bill arriving before we’ve reached the bottom of the bowl is not. Alpha’s got the food, and the sentimental menu shows it’s got the love – only thing missing is a little Greek romance.