It’s Greek hospitality at its best. Xanthi is one of the latest additions to Level 6 on Westfield Sydney, serving Greek food from 8am til late in an elegant setting with beautiful tiled, mosaic-ed walls, billowing curtains and drapes, and colourful lamps hanging from the ceiling. The restaurant boasts a rotating spit, freshly made filo and an ouzo trolley with quite possibly the largest selection of ouzo available in Sydney.
Tonight we’re here to feast on a sumptuous Greek banquet to celebrate the birthday of three special ladies. We’ve barely sat down for five minutes before David Tsirekas, head chef and owner of Xanthi (and previously of the Petersham favourite, Perama), offers us bottles of Tsipouro, a Greek pomace brandy. “It’s to get your appetites going”, we’re told, and we’re instructed to eat it along with the pickled octopus. At around 45% alcohol, we quickly dilute it with the ice and water that’s provided which makes the liquid turn cloudy (my inner nerd compelled me to Google it and it’s called the Ouzo Effect!). The tsipouro is heady with aniseed flavour and, not being an aniseed fan, I think Demos was right on the money when he described it as being like “lighter fluid”. The pickled octopus on the other hand serves well to awaken the tastebuds with the lemony, vinegary flavour. But I have to remember to pace myself because we’ve ordered the $55 banquet menu (and let David decide what to send out) and there is still plenty of food to come.
We start with a fresh Greek salad, with vibrant pieces of cucumber, tomato and capsicum tossed with some salad greens. Kalamata olives and feta provide a salty kick.
Then the food really starts rolling out. Ouzomezedakia are small sharing plates designed to be served with ouzo, and the banquet includes a choice of three of these plus three different dips. The tzatziki and tarama (salted and cured cod roe) dips arrive first with crunchy pieces of toast.
My favourite of the dips though is the hot smoked eggplant dip which is super super smokey! (in a good way). The smokey flavour is offset by the addition of spices like cumin and coriander, and by a generous squeeze of lemon juice. A bowl of honey peppered figs is also delivered to the table which are syrupy and sweet.
David knows us well and sends us the BBQ Haloumi which we all get a little excited about. The squeaky and salty Cypriot cheese has nice grill marks on the surface and is served with tomato, oregano and lemon. I’m pretty sure I had more than my share of this dish.
I do love my deep fried foods and this is no exception. The herbed skordalia croquettes are rolled in polenta and breadcrumbs and deep-fried until golden. Biting into the crisp exterior reveals the creamy garlic and herb filling and even though I’m fast reaching satiation (already!), I can’t help but have two of these – they’re that good.
Even though we’re only supposed to have three ouzomezedakia, the David sends out some complimentary dishes from the kitchen. Lucky that he did too, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to try the sheftalies. These meatballs were nuggets of deliciousness, made of a spiced pork mince and wrapped in caul fat.
Our last small sharing plate is the fried veal sweetbreads, which remain soft and tender with a crunchy crumbing on the outside. The crumb is actually made of Graviera, a type of Greek cheese made from sheep’s milk.
We move onto the next section of the banquet which includes a choice of one Apo tin Plastira – literally meaning “from the wooden board” and referring to the board that is used to roll and stretch out filo pastry. The filo at Xanthi is rolled and baked fresh, resulting in a super thin and crispy pastry. David indulges us by offering two items from the Apo tin Plastira section. The first is the prawn and scallop savoury filo parcel, presented like a gift on the plate and garnished with salad greens and salmon roe. Inside is a creamy seafood filling with coriander, lemon,
cumin and cayenne pepper.
And of course, a trip to Xanthi isn’t complete with ordering the pork belly baklava. This is the Pork Belly Baklava Mark II, and it differs slightly from it’s Perama predecessor because of the use of the fresh filo. It’s meatier and filled with a sweet date and pistachio filling and served with a date and mastic sauce. And yes, that is pork crackling on the top in all it’s crunchy glory. Some of the pieces are slightly chewier but that doesn’t stop every last piece of crackling being demolished.
If you thought that was it, you’d be wrong. A massive plate of meat comes out with potatoes and lemon wedges on the side. The banquet usually offers the lamb skaras dish – a braised lamb shoulder served with oregano lemon potatoes and beans – but since we’d tried this on our last visit to Perama, David decides to indulge us in meat from the spit. Half lamb and half pork, we dig in eagerly but my stomach real estate is used up quickly and I only manage to try one piece of each, plus a potato.
Dessert arrives and they’re as pretty as a picture. As if we hadn’t eaten enough already, we’re served two extra desserts from the regular Xanthi menu and the first of these is the Garden of Aphrodite. We coo over how colourful and pretty it is before digging our spoons into the silky smooth sheep’s milk pudding. A brushstroke of raspberry and beetroot gel on the bottom provides a red base, and the crystallised rose petals, fresh mandarin segments and pieces of fresh raspberry provide splashes of colour. There is also some crumbled ouzo meringue on the plate and all in all, it’s a light and fresh-tasting dessert.
The second dessert is richer and more heavy, but it’s the one that everyone kept going back for. A dome of chocolate mousse sits in the middle, with a sesame crisp on top. Inside is a surprise of chestnut anglaise which flows out of the dome once you hit the centre with your spoon. Around the mousse are some fresh pitted cherries, some pashmak (Persian fairy floss) and a quenelle of sour cherry sorbet. We really were fighting over this dessert and I think everyone could have eaten one all to themselves.
I really think there must be a separate dessert stomach because I was powering through these like I hadn’t eaten a million courses before them. The second-last course of the banquet was my favourite, the caramel baklava ice cream. Sandwich some pistachio baklava filling between two layers of ice cream, add some caramel sauce and you’ve got yourself an awesome dessert.
Last time I tried bougatsa, I wasn’t a big fan of it but the salted caramel peanut and banana one that we were served as part of the banquet was a different story. The fresh filo pastry and the salted caramel sauce made all the difference and it was just the right amount of sweetness to end the meal.
Not only did David treat us to some extra dishes, but he also comes out from the kitchen to speak to the diners later on in the night. He comes over to thank us, but it’s really us that should be thanking him. Thank you David, for feeding us well, for spoiling us, and for the delicious, wonderful meal!
Level 6, Westfield Sydney
Corner Pitt Street Mall & Market Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: +61 2 9232 8535
Open Friday to Saturday, 8am – midnight; Sunday to Thursday, 8am – 11pm