An evening with the new settlers of Melbourne. Stalactites, the Greek Restaurant



 PS: I am back on blogger after my experiments with word press. Sorry but a site where I need to permit people to comment doesn't work for me. And yes, I am attached to the blogger site despite its maddening ways.

I had a great welcome to Melbourne yesterday from Rushina's sis and bro in law, Neha and & Mohit. The hot Korean food and lovely cappuccino woke me up after a 14 hr flight. Another nap and I met reader, chef, ex Mumbaikar and now Melbournite, Kunal, who took me to O Brian's, an Irish Pub and then we went to Supper Inn, an iconic, difficult to find Cantonese restaurant. Victoria Market today where I spent hours lost in the wonders of the meat market. Playing holi with the red of fresh beef, crimson of kangaroo sausage, blood red of bratwurst, dark chocolate, green of olives, blue and cream of cheese. The tales will follow but you can check out this Finely Chopped Facbook album till then. 
 
How hard have you ever worked to find a restaurant? That too a restaurant that you had not set out looking for? I bet you can't beat my journey tonight at Melbourne when I finally landed up at Stalactites, the famous  Greek restaurant here.

On hearing I was a food blogger John Marinopoulos, a very senior MR professional at Australia, drew a number of maps for me and  pointed me to a Vietnamese restaurant called 'Thai Thai' at Richmond St.

I headed out from the Crown Promenade Hotel after the conference cocktails. I went to the 55 no tram stop following the map. The tram came after twenty minutes. During which I made friends with the very matronly Mrs Modesty (no jokes please) from Philippines who has made Melbourne her home. She fretted about her son and daughter in law's not wanting to have kids after nine years of marriage. Told me how she loved Europe when she visited 11 countries last year. Not on Raja Rani tours I guess. "More history and better scenery" than the US. And India? She has not been there but believes that 'food is too strong". During our conversation we and the others waiting were racially abused by a Somali (!). He was drunk. Not a pirate thankfully. I didn't have to do a Sunny Deol act with Mamma Modesty by my side.

I got off at Collins Street after some Indian students pointed out that I had missed my stop. I waited alone at the station on the road. Receiving SMSs from Kunal, blog reader & chef, whom I met yesterday on what to eat. I finally got fed up and hauled a cab. I was on the road for 40 min then. I was driven by Jamal from Lahore, a very pleasant young cab driver. Yes he liked Melbourne and wasn't a very big cricket fan and survives on Shaan Masala. He shares a house with a bunch of his 'mates' from Lahore. He said that most of the small Pakistani communitiy here were from the bigger cities unlike the Indians who he felt came from smaller towns. "But you have such good towns. Why should anyone leave those for the hardships here?" he pointed out.  We wished each other a World Cup Indo Pak final meeting as I left.

Well Richmond St was asleep and shut. As were the Vietnamese restaurants. A girl at a V restaurant pointed me to the opposite direction. I walked through the empty streets like a man possessed. Then gave up. Then another closed V restaurant owner pointed me at the reverse direction. "Three traffic lights away".  My Legs were giving in. My back too. I was out for an hour and a half. But I walked and walked. Alone. In a spell. I reached the restaurant. It was a shop left to where I had started. And was called 'Thy Thy'. Not 'Thai Thai'.

So was there a 'happy ending'?

Thy Thy was closing down. 'The cooks have left mate' said the young Oriental guy. I was so irritated that I didn't  even click any photos.

I was pointed to a couple of cabs. There were a couple of Indian cabbies too. Took me a while to convince them that I didn't want to eat at the 'Herald' the Indian restaurant where they ate. "achha hain" (It's good)  and it was open too.

I finally got Prince from Bhatinda to drive me to a place called Stalactite which John said was open twenty four hours. Prince plans to sell his cab and  move to Perth and open a 'Fine Dine' (sic) restaurant. Indian with a bit of Chinese thrown in. He knows Italian too and learnt that in a catering college when he landed here.

Stalactites was open as John has promised. The tongue pierced waitress asked me "are you really hungry" when I wanted to order a souvlaki  AND an appetiser plate. I asked her what was special, authentic Greek. "It's all Greek here she said"

So Souvlaki it was as John had recommended. I have had Doner kebab at Istanbul, shwarmas at Mumbai and Dubai. The lamb Souvlaki at Stalactites was the father of them all. I took my first bite and the weariness of the last two hours were washed away by the fountain of refreshing juice oozing out of the meat. The dressing and the wrap were supporting actors and knew their place. For the Australian lamb here was truly the star of this Greek dish in a Greek restaurant. I began to smile again. Feeling like Rocky after being battered through 12 rounds...I was still up...and how.



The waiter who got my bill was Waheid from Baluchistan. He linked my name with the 'Kalyan Raga'. He is a classical music fan and has just finished reading Gandhi's 'My experiments with truth.' He likes Melbourne. 'More busy' than his home. I thought of the empty streets of Richmond, the sparse traffic outside and told him to come to Mumbai to see 'busy'. But he said he wants to give India at least six months to discover it. And when I told him about K discussed Zoroastranism with me.



Souvlaki

Ouzo

The meat slowly working on a weary body



Wahid

No minced meat here

The Indian chefs from Patiala

On the way out I met Novdas, the smiling owner, relaxing over an espresso chatting with his manger Nick. "Almost like a son". As we spoke Novdas found our from Nick that Stalactites had a FB fan Page. On hearing that I was Indian, he called out to his cooks who were from Patiala. No, they hadn't told him about the Patiala peg. Looked embarrassed when I asked them.

Novdas moved into Oz a year before I was born and opened Stalactites in '78. We chatted about food and Greece for a while. The merits of souklavi over Donner and Shwarma ("oh that has minced meat"), the merits of hummus and the similarity between his eggplant smoked appetiser and bharta. We exchanged stories of stereotypes, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" versus 'Slumdog millionaire, Souvlaki versus Tandoori. He told me about the time when Bagadadis used to come to eat at his restaurant everyday and the mobs that followed. And he has been on TV shows too.

  We finally parted after he invited me to come and eat once again. This time the appetiser platter which I had eyed before the waitress asked me to sit quietly

I didn't risk walking anymore. I got into the cab of Reggie from Haryana. He has been here for 2.5 years. He is ok with Melbourne. "There's nothing bad here". But the pain of not going home for two and a half years showed. Though he did see his parents daily as he spoke with them on the computer. Reggie was awed by the story of how easily one co-existed with film stars while living at Bandra. He had a friend who had once driven Ganguly in his cab and video recorded him as he spoke in Bengali. I told him that I would trade that for my Salman, Lara. John, AB Jr & Sr, Bipasha, Saif, Mallaika sightings.

And I returned to my room and munched on the remaining Spanish Churros which I picked up from the Victoria Market today. A sweet sugary end to a sweaty evening on the streets.

Novdas the proud owner of Stalactite

Novdas with Nik


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