IMAGES DARRIAN TRAYNOR
If anyone can get away with a wine list that doesn’t offer a single Australian wine, it is knowledgeable industry professional and wine steward Angie Giannakodakis. Even in her first restaurant.
Giannakodakis, who pampered patrons at The Press Club and Hellenic Republic with aplomb for five years, says there was criticism when HP offered only Greek wines. She has copped a persistent drip of mild protest from parochial patrons since Epocha opened eight weeks ago in a former gentlemen’s club.
But to condemn a wine list chosen with passion, commitment and finesse is to fail to understand the gift Giannakodakis and business partner Guy Holder (ex-MoMo) have given the Melbourne dining scene.
“We wanted a point of difference,” Giannakodakis says. “It’s about our ancestry and the flavours of the wines. There are more than 130. They are good beverages for not a lot of spend and for many people it’s a chance to try something they have never had before.”
Epocha, meaning “a new or distinctive era”, may be an antidote to the trend-following eateries around town.
Every edge has been polished, every detail considered. There’s house-filtered still and sparkling water, house-baked rye and caraway seed bread served warm in a knotted cloth bag, antique silverware and vintage cutlery and crockery – and the bathrooms are downright sexy.
Giannakodakis even researched the building’s history in the State Library, discovering it was commissioned by gentlewoman Hannah Mabel in 1884. The upstairs bar has been named after her.
There’s an emphasis on old-school service, helmed with grace by Holder, Giannakodakis and a team of hand-picked, pro-active staff members, who blend efficiency and charm seamlessly. The team has been comprehensively schooled in evocative wine and food descriptions. As a sales pitch, it’s darn effective – but it also gives diners confident ownership of their choices.
Chef Michael Bolam (ex-Sanctuary, Hunter Valley) describes his menu as “the sort of food that every chef wants to eat on their day off”. It’s rustic, home-style food that nods to pan-European traditions.
Work backwards when selecting from the menu is the advice from the staff. Choose your large share plates first, then smaller plates and perhaps a snack. The dishes arrive in conventional order.
The cote de boeuf (from Bolam’s butcher’s farm at Romsey) is offered in either 550g or 900g serves. The 900g cut is $84, and suited to four or more as a share plate.
Sides are needed, as the generous slab of rib-eye is served without accompaniment, sliced thickly on a wooden board. Our 550g of respectfully treated meat, finished with a beurre noisette and served with a veal and bone marrow jus, was intense and flavoursome. With potatoes roasted in duck fat and mixed salad leaves with a maple dressing, it was a hearty, honest meal. Other large choices include potato, calcot and gruyere pie, whole market fish and pork-and-sage faggots with bubble and squeak.
From the smaller plates list, Bolam’s farmhouse terrine is a notable menu inclusion. Made from pork and chicken, minced and moussed, it’s delicately flavoured with all-spice and brandy and studded with dried apricots and pistachios. It’s served with housemade grissini, lavoche, pickled radish and cornichons, a delicate mushroom crème topped with a quail egg, and fresh apricot topped with a celeriac remoulade.
From a small plate list that also included veal sweetbreads, lamb kalamaki, black pudding and a charcuterie plate, the artichoke and potato persillade appealed most. Its vegetables were treated to a merry bath in parsley, garlic, herbs, oil and lemon zest. It was a lovely appetiser, but perhaps we missed some of Bolam’s skill.
Our snack to begin was crispy pigs’ ears – braised four hours, pressed and thinly sliced before being fried to golden, delicate crunch. The fine, crispy, oily tendrils were served in a silver chalice. Perhaps they would have been better enjoyed with an aperitif in the upstairs bar.
To finish, an antique silver dessert or cheese trolley is wheeled to the table. Choose from an array of imported cheeses, or dessert offerings such as tiramisu, crème brulee, lemon cannoli or chocolate gateau. The lemon and ricotta filling in the cannoli was intense and sharp, while the chocolate gateau, garnished with chocolate sticks, pieces of brandy snap and a very fine honeycomb, was divine from brownie base through mousse filling to ganache topping.
After its many incarnations, including private hospital and hotel restaurant, Hannah would be pleased with what has become of her home.
49 Rathdowne Street, Carlton
Cuisine \ European
Head chef \ Michael Bolam
Owners \ Angie Giannakodakis and Guy Holder
Prices \ Small plates $12-$28; large plates $24-$89
Open \ Thursday-Sunday noon-3pm; Tuesday-Saturday 5.30pm-late
Phone \ 9036 4949 » www.epocha.com.au
The Verdict \ Somewhere special
The regal 1890s two-storey terrace has been restored with love and devotion. Original floorboards, cast-iron balustrades and feature fireplaces have been restored to former glory, with ebony walls and spectacular bespoke light fittings that fan out from dark-hued ceiling roses adding a modern edge. Traditional woven-rush seats on green-painted timber frames and rustic timber tables set with heritage-patterned tiles channel a Greek tavern. Upstairs in Hannah’s Bar, named after the original owner, backgammon tables continue the Mediterranean theme.