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 gentlemens 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. Its 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 its 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. Theres 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 buildings history in the State Library, discovering it was commissioned by gentlewoman Hannah Mabel in 1884. The upstairs bar has been named after her.
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. Its 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 Bolams butchers 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, Bolams farmhouse terrine is a notable menu inclusion. Made from pork and chicken, minced and moussed, its delicately flavoured with all-spice and brandy and studded with dried apricots and pistachios. Its 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.
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, CarltonCuisine 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