32 Johnston Street
|Opening hours||Daily 6pm-midnight|
|Payments||Diner’s Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9419 3827|
Have you ever seen anything better than a family toasting with Taittinger from well-worn tumblers, while waving lamb chops in the air? If you have, it probably also happened at Jim’s Greek Tavern.
The Panagopoulos family’s Johnston Street taverna, with its banquet that’s thrust upon all who enter, the service that’s a pick-and-mix surprise of surly and smiley and the shove-it-in-the-communal-fridge BYO policy has made it Melbourne’s answer to group dining conundrums for coming up on 50 years. And long may it rule.
Little-known fact about this menu-free restaurant: you can go off-piste if you request specific items like a whole fish or seafood saganaki (the prawns, grilled in a tomato salsa under a shower of feta, are excellent if you can cross that seafood-dairy line). But the familiarity of the proceedings is nine-tenths of the draw.
Eating here is like falling into a river. The best advice is to relax your limbs, watch your head for passing debris, and just give in. Heads are counted and the food begins. First, bread and mezze – bright tzatziki flecked with lots of dill,salty tarama and garlicky baba ghanoush, all fringed by pickled carrots, olives and octopus.
What always starts as an eating frenzy, with everyone eyeing the portioning of the grilled saganaki (even when it’s a touch under-grilled) and fretting over their share of grilled prawns and calamari, quickly turns to straight fear. Out come heaving plates of grilled lamb cutlets, rump and rissoles. Even with crisp bowls of salad that are refreshingly Greek-Oz in their herbs and lettuce inclusion, it’s a protein party not to be trifled with.
Does Jim’s do the best Greek food in Melbourne? That’s a fight I’m not fool enough to start. But it does restaurant very well. No table is ever left unscarred by dip and spilled wine. I’ve never experienced silence or empty seats. It’s uni students on the casks; families weaving prams into nooks; old Greeks and young wannabes. Between the Grecian urns and high rafters there’s enough noise to cover your noise, whatever you’re here to scream.
Let the dining world obsess over the currency of its menu and fish selfies. Here’s to Jim’s, where squid recline in conch shells and a rare update to the functional whitewashed decor might be a seasonal string of tinsel. Where dessert starring galatoboureko – the Greek equivalent of vanilla slice in all its lewd wobbling rice-pudding-flavoured glory – is delicious revenge for your greed, best eaten at home. Where they know that too much food, too much noise and whatever you want to drink is a formula that ain’t broke and never needs fixing.
Can you even choose what you love about Jim’s Greek Tavern the most?
Vibe: Lamb chops in the air for Collingwood’s menu-free Greek party
Go-to Dish: The banquet, the whole banquet and nothing but