'So, wot's for dinner' goes Greek in Grafton St ..............
ENTERING the new home of Fetta’s at 99 Grafton Street (formerly Women’s Bookshop) the space and effect is exactly as you would expect to find in the streets of Athens, let alone in Cairns. It is the epitome of Mediterranean, al fresco dining with something to look at in every direction you turn. The freshly rendered, white walls, trimmed with turquoise blue and a hint of green vines are offset by pieces of art, interesting artifacts and a traditional frieze etched on the rear wall.
It is a typical Greek venue – you walk in the front and it seems to go on forever. The floor space is enormous, at least twice that of Abbott Street, yet maintains a sense of comfortable intimacy with soft lighting, music, cool relief and a choice of four distinct dining areas [on the street; front room; courtyard; back room] interconnected and in view of each other.
Our boisterous table of 10 was seated in the ‘courtyard’ situated under a clear, Perspex ceiling in the heart of the restaurant, and (conveniently for us) next to the bar. The sound of torrential rain beating down gave the room a uniquely tropical feel… and our group an excuse to be even louder. For sake of practicality, our table divided itself into halves – with our ‘end’ selecting the Zorba’s Feast (unbeatable value at $30 a head, for 2 or more diners) while the others had already ordered a selection of dishes to share.
It proved a fatal flaw. We had to endure watching our dining companions devour the most exquisite selection of homemade Dolmades ($13.50) “to die for” (as they were described to me), Octapodi ($14), marinated in olive oil and lemon juice and beautifully char-grilled, and a crispy fresh Greek Salad ($12.50). Our starter, a selection of three dips (Melitzana;Tzatsiki; Tarama) served with warm pita bread was great except disappointingly, the pita bread was consumed in seconds with the remaining dips cleared away without more bread being offered.
My friend was happy to find one of her favourites, the delightful Pepperjack Shiraz ($36), from a reasonable wine selection (10 whites/8 reds), ranging from a Tsantali Retsina ($22.50), a Greek white promising the aroma and taste unique to the region of Aleppo pines, to the Catalina Sands Sauvignon Blanc ($34).
Meanwhile, more dishes had descended at the ‘other end’ – succulent Kleftiko ($22.50) marinated lamb on a spit, Kotopoulo Elenis ($22.90) a chicken breast stuffed with fetta and spinach, topped with a lemon, cream sauce, and an enormous serve of Mousaka ($21.90) with its creamy layers of potato, zucchini, eggplant, beef mince and creamy béchamel sauce threatening to spill off the edge of the plate. I can only assume the food tasted as good as it looked because its arrival certainly silenced our dining companions except for the regular sounds of approval, which along with the aroma, had us salivating in anticipation of our Mezethes (entrée).
This included my personal favourite, the Saganaki (affectionately known as ‘heart attack on a plate’ thus leaving in tatters my new years resolution to drop 4 dress sizes by March!), pan fried Calamari and chicken wings in a tomato-based sauce which did not excite any of us. In fact, we suspect it may have been the dish which resulted in my friend – a long-term celiac who had taken the trouble of researching the menu and seeking advice in advance of our booking and again on the night about which items did and did not contain wheat – being forced to leave early after becoming violently ill [note to all restaurateurs: people with food allergies do not mind being told you cannot cater for them; but do object to receiving assurances that turn out to be false].
The Oathta (main course), after a considerable wait, arrived in a flourish. I am going to come right out and tell you our ‘feast’ was not to Fetta’s usual impeccable standard. The contrast could not have been more stark to the dishes already served at our table. The Kleftiko, or gyros, tasted fine but looked like the meat left over in the bane marie after the kebab shop turns off its rotisserie; the Mousaka was nothing like the visually pleasing, piping hot dish that came earlier as a standalone dish and the lamb cutlets were a little dry for my liking; although the Barramundi pieces and the Scallops (1 piece each) did draw compliments.
Fortunately around this time the lights go down, the volume of the music goes up and the restaurant comes alive as the belly dancer emerges. The crowd is instantly caught up in the atmosphere of frivolity that engulfs the room. The only thing missing was the familiar sound of George smashing plates, but the clapping of hands and cry of vwopa! echoes everywhere. Whether you volunteer or are coerced no one can refuse the charm of the belly dancer as she coaxes you from your seat and encourages the best from your uncoordinated hips and awkward body.
It reminds me what eating Greek is all about. Yes, the food is important and on this occasion some of us were a little disappointed. But let’s face it – people keep coming back to Fetta’s is because it’s so much fun. And I, for one, will definitely be back.
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