It’s 5:00 pm and at Olive at Hawker, staff members are busy preparing to welcome diners to their slice of the Mediterranean. They rearrange tables to both fit the evening’s group bookings and adhere to the current distancing measures.
Resident ‘Yiayia’ (grandmother) Aleka briefs everyone on the evening’s specials. Despite the pace, it feels like a well-oiled machine.
Aleka is mother to manager and co-owner Dimitri. Aleka and Dimitri’s father, John, have more than 35 years’ experience in hospitality.
Aleka describes their idyllic first restaurant in Patras, south of Athens. She and John created a fine dining establishment overlooking the sea.
But everything changed for the couple on their honeymoon.
“Mum and Dad actually honeymooned in Australia,” says Dimitri. “They fell in love with this amazing country, decided to settle here and begin another restaurant together. They owned the award-winning Hellenic Trattoria, creating Mediterranean cuisine for 12 years. Following that, they ran Greek restaurant Faros for three years. Our family opened Olive at Mawson in July of 2013, then our Hawker restaurant in January 2017. Our plans are always to expand but given the current situation, we will focus our passion and energy on what we have at present.”
Olive at Hawker’s menu is a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Mediterranean cuisine.
Pastas, pizzas, risotto, rich and fragrant sauces, slow-cooked meat dishes and, of course, seafood. Dishes with unfamiliar names flank the staples you expect from the region.
Head chef Daniel has worked alongside the family since 2011.
“It isn’t just cooking – it is life for me. It’s my passion,” he says. “I am lucky to have found these people. Communication is key. Aleka likes to make customers happy, and I like to make food that makes customers smile. We have the same goal, to bring joy to our customers.”
Daniel suggests that groups orders lots of small dishes to share. For mains, he recommends his veal medallions and the penne Zingara.
“We tenderize the veal, wrap prosciutto around it, then sear both sides. We serve it medium rare with lamb and sage sauce. We take classic sauces and add to them.
“Our penne Zingara and our lamb shoulder dish are customer favourites. The Zingara is special chicken pasta with a creamy sauce and secret spices. With the slow-cooked lamb shoulder, we put a lot of passion and love into that meal. It comes from the Peloponnese region where Aleka is from.”
Time to eat!
Freshly stone-baked pide bread comes out first with tzatziki and olive oil. It is spectacular!
Its crisp crust speckled with sesame and poppy seeds, the pide’s soft, spongy interior smells amazing and tastes even better. You could happily savour every bite just on its own but try to save some to dip into the tzatziki, the olive oil, or to sop up the fragrant sauce from your main. The tzatziki‘s smooth tang balances refreshing cucumber threads with a hint of garlic.
A rustic plate of slow-cooked lamb is the first main. Generously portioned and butter-knife-soft the lamb’s flavour infuses the gravy drizzled over thick potato chunks and greens.
Main number two is the flair and drama of black mussels, hard to find here in Australia. A tumble of glossy black mussel shells gape out from a raised bowl that stands above the other plates on the table. The meat inside is tender, with a pleasing resistance when you chew down. The accompanying marinara sauce sings of the ocean, underpinned by garlic, tomato and a nice hit of pepper.
Save room for dessert. Try a lush square of Greek Ekmek pudding; three layers of yum. The firm wheat rusk base has soaked up fragrant cinnamon-infused syrup. Topped with cream and sprinkled with toasted pistachio, the middle crème pâtissière layer is dense and creamy. Every mouthful is succulent.
Why not inject some Mediterranean sunshine and cuisine into your staycation, courtesy of Olive at Hawker!
Olive at Hawker is located at 2a/78 Hawker Place in Hawker.
They are open Tuesday to Sundays from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm for lunch and from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm for dinner (they close at 9:00 pm on Sundays).