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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 20 October 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 20 OCTOBER 2018 13 FOOD FOR THOUGHT Rising from the ashes, the Greek restaurant that’s a home away from home, but better It’s been just over 12 months since the devastating fire that ravaged Spitiko took place. Now the restaurant is back in action doing what it does best: serving up simple, delicious, no fuss Greek food, cooked over charcoal ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS , that the South Melbourne institution was engulfed in flames, causing severe damage to the front kitchen and bar – a surreal moment for owner John Ghionis. "The cool room was full, everything was ready to go. Then the fire happened and that was devastating, for staff as well. It was very essful," he recalls. An investigation has since .NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 20 OCTOBER 2018 13 FOOD FOR THOUGHT Rising from the ashes, the Greek restaurant that’s a home away from home, but better It’s been just over 12 months since the devastating fire that ravaged Spitiko took place. Now the restaurant is back in action doing what it does best: serving up simple, delicious, no fuss Greek food, cooked over charcoal ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS , that the South Melbourne institution was engulfed in flames, causing severe damage to the front kitchen and bar – a surreal moment for owner John Ghionis. "The cool room was full, everything was ready to go. Then the fire happened and that was devastating, for staff as well. It was very essful," he recalls. An investigation has since evealed evealed that it was an oven that was the cause, with the fire spreading through a flue, leading up into the ond storey ceiling space. e couldn't even go into it, because there was structural damage," says Ghionis. "It was shocking at the time, but also I was shocked at the amount of support from people, the messages, the phone calls." But it's not all that surprising, after all the Greek restaurant is coming up to its 10 year anniversary, and in that time, the team have served thousands of people, developing a loyal customer base. Now just over 12 months on, and Spitiko is back in action with a soft opening five nights a week – but with a difference. While customers are used to Ghionis greeting them, for now he's taken the reins in the kitchen – and the result even has his harshest critic's seal of approval. "I'm not a chef, but I've been cooking and people say the food's beautiful. I cut the salad for you now, I cut the chips for you now, you want a fresh piece of fish? I marinate it, all on karvouna. "Actually a few weeks ago my dad came to Spitiko and called me over and said 'well done John, you've done well. The food's beautiful'. It's the first time in 47 years! I was in shock," he laughs. And he's not wrong. Those who have grown up with the Greek cuisine as their daily staple, have without doubt had a disappointing t was just days before Mother's Day, Spitiko's busiest day of the dining experience when it comes to Greek food, but Spitiko is the exception. True to its name, from the moment you walk through the door the hospitality proves that here you are not merely a number, but a guest, welcomed to sit back, and enjoy the menu offering with good people, and let the day's events wash away. While cooking over charcoal has become all the rage, it has always been Spitiko's signature, cooking all meats and seafood fresh over charcoal, perfectly accompanied by dips made from scratch served with perfectly crisp pita bread. The entree options include favourites such as done them every week for the last 10 years. If they say can I have the skin? I'll cut the skin off and give it to them like at home." Very much like his approach to food, it doesn't take long speaking with Ghionis to see that he truly embodies his tagline of #NoMalakies. With Melbourne's food scene saturated with trendy eateries, he says it's important that a place like Spitiko exists, where people can come back to humble, tasty, basics. "There's so many malakies out there, I just want to simplify stuff. In saying that, I go for experiences to new restaurants, but I don't go close to Ghionis' heart. "My mum’s at Fronditha up the road, so we can walk my mum down to the restaurant; my dad who's older now, lives next door; and my kids are young. So it was very much more than a business decision; it was a family decision," he explains. "And really, it's almost like a tribute to our family. The whole thing is just family photos everywhere." Spitaki has been the shining light amongst the chaos, going from strength to strength from day one. But Ghionis is frank, in that it hasn't been without its challenges. "It's hard because I also have a full time job; I'm a business broker during the day, and we've got Spitaki, and now Spitiko again, so sometimes I'm like Superman or Wonder Woman; I change. So that's been really difficult." But he says that seeing A photo of the fire at Spitiko in May 2017, captured by a passerby. saganaki, fried zucchini, and calamari, along with a flavourful spetsofai made with melt in your mouth loukaniko, and a red sauce that will have you fighting over who will get to mop up the last bite with bread. But what's particularly special is Spitiko's Wednesday night offering: a lamb cooked on the rotisserie. "I do a lamb on the spit every Wednesday - you don't have to wait until Easter or Christmas. Come and have it and it'll be the best lamb you've had because I've made hundreds of them. I've there every week. People who come to us, come every week. A lot of other places don't last, but this month it's 10 years since we opened, so we're doing something right," he says. In the meantime Ghionis hasn't had much down time. Aside from dealing with the aftermath of the fire, the restaurateur has been busy establishing his latest venture, Spitaki, which opened its doors just one week after the fire. Located at his stomping ground of Fairfield – its his fifth business venture in the area - the sister restaurant of Spitiko is particularly his regulars walk back through the door, makes it all worth it. "What helps is at Spitiko the people that missed you; I love seeing everyone come back and say 'we missed you, where have you been?'" A true restaurateur, Ghionis has opened and consulted on 27 businesses throughout his life. While there's no denying his business mind, the difference is very much the human element – it's certainly no mistake his restaurant is called Spitiko. "We've been family for a lot of people that don't have family. Which is why we always do Christmas day because we're people's family, it's pretty much like home," he says. "So if you're bored tonight, by yourself, you can come and I'll seat you with someone or you'll be at the bar and have a drink with me, the staff and you'll feel like you have family." Spitiko (270 Park St, South Melbourne, VIC) is now open Wednesday-Saturday nights (5.30-11.00 pm) for dinner only, and for functions including birthdays, christenings, wakes, and Christmas parties. For more, visit https://spitiko.com.au/ (L-R) John Ghionis with his koumbaro Tony Bisbas.
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