‘‘Greek cuisine often doesn’t travel well? Oh really?” a Greek friend challenged me over the weekend.
“Well, you’re clearly eating at the wrong places!” he said, inviting me to dinner at the home of a veteran on the Greek catering scene, who is in such demand across the city that he’s catering for the Greek Orthodox church, private parties, corporate functions and soccer clubs.
The enticement came after last week’s Rick Stein interview, in which I commented that many Greek restaurants aren’t doing the classic cuisine any favours in the country.
In Joburg at least, there’s a dearth of decent Greek restaurants (and no Lebanese any longer, after the sad demise of Beirut in Parkmore and the cheerless transformation of another well-established restaurant in Rivonia, which has finally succumbed to offering “cabaret” shows, which must go down a treat alongside those R50k bottles of Chateau Petrus 1996).
I’ve known a few fabulous Greek restaurants – one in Port Elizabeth, which later reopened as Maria’s in Cape Town, and the other, Lemonia, in Hout Bay (closed) – but the best Greek food I have had has not been restaurant food.
At both those establishments, they served good, honest food.
They made their own Greek yoghurt – strained deliciously creamy and thick – featured dishes that were not commonly found on “Greek” menus elsewhere, and took pride in doing as much as possible in-house.
They weren’t “upmarket” but knew Greek cuisine intimately.
Their kleftiko was slow-roasted, but not to the point it became dry and crumbly.
“It was rich, garlicky, lemony, and succulent. Each used their own regional recipe, adding their own twist to the “stolen lamb” dish.
You wouldn’t find an oily old potato in their kitchen, nor bland dips, soggy pastries or stale olives.
And vegetables were often the best parts of their menus.
On Sundays, they braaied baby chickens and lamb souvla (big kebabs) over coals as a treat for guests. They made their own pitas.
Desserts were always a highlight, so you never had an excuse not to finish with a sweet. Such attention is increasingly rare in most parts of the world.
Up north, the only Greek restaurant I have ever raved about has been Prosopa, but it’s not in Joburg, so you have to factor in a trip to Pretoria.
Turns out, you needn’t travel outside of Jozi for a Greek feast – either secure an invite to one of Nick Filippou’s events or book him yourself.
Filippou’s Legato Catering has provided for the big Greek shows at Sun City. Now, he’s based primarily in Joburg in Dowerglen, Edenvale, feeding groups from 20 to thousands with souvla, youvetsi (a lamb-kritharaki dish), whole grilled fish, roast pork, zesty dips, salads, breads and delicious Greek sweets.
He bases his recipes on quality fresh produce and builds on that, using time-tested family recipes. It’s simple, honest food, prepared skilfully, which is the best kind. He’s a consummate professional – knows his product, knows his customers and, importantly, loves his food.
But whatever the feast, you don’t have to endure Zorba the Greek and plate-breaking – not unless you really want it.
For more information call 083 377 5634, or go here