Restaurant Reviews

Jim's Greek Tavern: Restaurant review

Old-school Greek hospitality is alive and well after more than four decades, which is a rare feat.

By Michael Harden
One of the great things about Greek culture is that rules can tend to be more indicative than definitive. This is certainly the case with the menu at Jim's Greek Tavern, the Melbourne restaurant icon where the Panagopoulos family have been feeding a massive fanbase the greatest hits of Hellenic cuisine since 1980.
There are rumours of an actual written menu but few can legitimately claim to have seen it. Instead, you have seasoned, gruffly humorous (or sometimes just gruff) waiters giving your table the once over and letting you know what's good for you. I've been going for years and have never been done wrong.
Given the sensory overload of the dining room, a 200-seat maze of dressed timber tables, white-washed walls, statuary, plants, framed photos and a cacophony of conversation – much of it from large celebratory groups – opting for the $75-a-head set menu is often the best and easiest option with decisions eliminated and bases covered.
Your odyssey starts with bread and dips, the tzatziki and taramasalata in particular displaying impressive finesse and consistency considering the volume in which they're served every night. Also signposting good times ahead: salty olives and perfectly vinegary pickled octopus, perhaps some pickled carrot or perfectly fried zucchini.
The souvlaki on the char-grill at Jim's Greek Tavern
Then comes a rollcall of simply, skilfully cooked Greek faves. Fried calamari with ideal levels of chew and crunch. Cheese saganaki so good it'll likely be consumed before it gets a chance to cool and succumb to rubberiness. If it does, it's on you.
There'll be seafood that will include fish and garlicky prawns, perhaps some scallops and then, of course, lamb, perhaps juicy, charcoal-smoky cutlets or slow-cooked slices from the giro and usually rissole-like keftedes too. There are crunchy refreshing salads and solid, salty potatoes and, to finish, superb, syrupy, custardy galaktoboureko and sticky baklava.
Those who like a little more control should pay attention to the glass-fronted display case you pass on your way to the dining room. There will be several different fish and usually some offal – lambs brains or livers – that will be cooked with the same skill and efficiently as everything else on the menu.
It can be easy to take a place like Jim's for granted. Don't. Restaurants capable of serving food at this volume, with this degree of deliciousness, for this many years are rare and valuable. Add the fact that it's BYO and you have a restaurant unicorn, hiding in plain sight. Respect.