Ben Shewry does souvlaki
Author: Michael Harden
Photography: Peter Tarasiuk
11:32AM, Jan 13, 2017
As the platter lands, Ben Shewry looks very pleased, stopping just short of licking his lips.
"Here we go. Ah, bravo, now we're talking," he says. "To be honest, I think this is one of the great dishes of Melbourne. That there?" He's pointing excitedly now. "I'd be happy to eat that until the day I die."
And just what is the dish that Shewry, the internationally acclaimed New Zealand-born owner-chef at Melbourne's Attica believes should share a spot on the best dish podium with one of his own? A pork gyros platter from Kalimera Souvlaki Art in the south-eastern suburb of Oakleigh.
Kalimera Souvlaki Art's souvlaki, pita bread and Greek salad.
Kalimera opened about four years ago. Rock-star glamorous owners Thomas Deliopoulos and Sylvia Gabriel migrated from Athens to Australia with their young son just as the Greek economy started to melt down. Thomas had worked as a chef in the Greek army. Sylvia is a photographer who had lived in Australia when she was younger.
One of her strongest memories was that it was impossible to get a "real" souvlaki in Australia, one that was made with pork or chicken, not lamb. And so despite warnings of doom from friends who said Australians wouldn't go in for pork, they decided to open the kind of authentic place that they missed from Greece. The day they opened there was a queue that stretched around the block. It's been busy ever since.
Ben Shewry (centre) with owners Sylvia Gabriel and Thomas Deliopoulos.
Ben Shewry stumbled on Kalimera about a year ago while he was taking a break from watching his son's basketball training at nearby Oakleigh College. Oakleigh has a substantial Greek population and the air around the main shopping strip is often carries the scent of grilling meat. Shewry followed his nose to Chester Street and into Kalimera, and it was love even before the first bite.
"I walked in and it just felt a bit different," he says. "Sometimes you just get that feeling about a place, that it's for you, and that happened here. They'd sold out of pork that first day so I had a chicken souvlaki and it was super-delicious and I decided to come back next week to try the pork."
He was hooked.
"The pork souvlaki blew me away," he says. "It was so well seasoned and so well cooked... There was also a delicious oregano flavour to the meat, different to any oregano I'd tasted. The thing that struck me immediately was that there were no shortcuts being taken."
Shewry reckons he's been back to Kalimera 20 times since that first visit. But now he's ditched the pork souvlaki - authentic though it may be with its chips and tzatziki folded into the bread with the meat - for the pork platter.
The platter arrives without any fancy plating or unnecessary flourishes, just shaved spit-roasted pork, triangles of char-grilled pita (the fluffy Greek kind, not the thinner Lebanese pita), tzatziki, slices of tomato and chips. As Shewry says, it's all about the pork: perfectly seasoned with a "savoury, almost umami character and an amazing texture that's slightly chewy".
Shewry says that one of the things that drew him to Kalimera was the affinity he felt with fellow immigrants starting from scratch in Australia and making something from a passion for food.
"I could tell a lot about Thomas and Sylvia before I met them, just by coming into the shop," he says. "It was not just the taste of the food but a lot of little things, like the way they interacted with their staff. I felt this was a place that was not just about the money but about pride in what they were doing and in their heritage. We all need money to live, obviously, but if you're going to cook something for profit, you're never going to cook anything soulful.
"The fact that they start with fresh meat every day, that everything is made from scratch every day really resonated with me because it's exactly how we operate at Attica," he says. "We're two completely different restaurants but I feel that we approach what we do from the same place."
Kalimera Souvlaki Art, 41 Chester St, Oakleigh, Vic, (03) 9939 3912 , open Sun-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm, kalimerasouvlakiart.com.au.