PETER Conistis knows a thing or two about the restaurant game.
The Sydney chef has been in the food industry for the past 25 years, taking traditional Greek cuisine to the next level with his own modern twists.
This has seen him open a string of well-known restaurants, including his two current NSW spaces, Alpha, and Beta Bar.
Geelong residents will get a taste of how Peter does things with his newest project, The Greek at Customs House.
Peter is in partnership with the Muhor family, who owns the building.
“It all came about one night, Daniel (Muhor) was in one of my restaurants in Sydney and he kept on saying how he would love to have a Greek restaurant of this calibre in Geelong,” Peter explains.
“I was always hoping to open something down south, Melbourne to begin with.
“I said I’d think about it.
“I went to Greece, as I do food tours there, I got back and six weeks later, now we’re here.”
The restaurant officially opened on Friday last week, after a fast but beautiful renovation.
“No matter what you’re doing you need a great support team, and the team has been unbelievable,” Peter says.
Walking into The Greek, you are greeted with a light and bright space that sends your mind and heart wandering to Santorini.
The heritage listed Brougham Street building has been converted into a restaurant worthy of the Greek islands it has been inspired by.
The food is trademark Peter Conistis, Greek flavours with a contemporary vibe.
“But we’re going to bring Geelong flavours into it,” Peter explains. “I’ve used Otway pork, Meredith dairy and Bannockburn chicken for years.
“To have the produce so close has been unbelievable.
“We’re close to the bay where the whiting is caught – I love that.”
The food is modern and exciting, with delicious flavours that are also comforting, encapsulating Peter’s dedication to a paddock to plate philosophy.
“It’s from the farm, the sea, the soil,” he says of his ingredients.
Peter is taking this quite literally in some aspects.
The lamb kleftiko, oyster cut lamb shoulder cooked for hours in white wine, garlic, thyme, lemon, smoked paprika, extra virgin olive oil and chicken stock, is encased in locally sourced clay and baked again with Kasseri cheese, feta, green olives and Florina peppers. The dish is presented at the table still in its casing which is cracked open in front of the guests.
With the waterfront in full view from the restaurant’s alfresco area, Peter explains how seafood was always going to be a big part of the offering.
The mussel saganaki is one shining example of this. The local mussels are baked in a roast tomato cream with caramelised leeks, Kalamata and green olives. The dish is finished with baby spinach, dill and kritharaki pasta – a pasta that resembles rice or barley.
Those who love their sweets can indulge in treats such as chickpea baklava with halva and sour cherry ice cream or loukoumades with dark chocolate and Greek coffee ice cream.
Peter explains many of these dishes are ones people have not seen before.
“Sixty per cent of the menu was created for Geelong, so some of my Sydney clients will need to come down,” he says with a smile.
Two of his trusted senior staff from Sydney are in the kitchen, working with the Geelong staff to make magic happen. Peter is determined to listen to the customer and tailoring his menu as the patrons’ taste becomes evident.
The drinks menu is also a nod to both Greece and Geelong. You can try one of six Greek ouzos, an Athens beer or even a Furphy. All the wines are either sourced from Greece or our region.
Peter admits he has already formed a soft spot for our city, and laughs when he admits he has flown to Geelong from Sydney so often over the past two months that Avalon Airport staff know him by name.
“I’ll be here, I’m not the kind of person who opens a space then walks away and never comes back,” he says.
With a quarter of a century of experience under his belt, Peter’s passion has not waned.
“I love it,” he says simply. “I want people to be able to experience great food, to see something different, something special.”
The Greek at Customs House, at 57 Broughham Street, Geelong, is open Wednesday to Saturday for dinner and Wednesday to Sunday for lunch.
The Greek will also be doing a Christmas Day lunch offering, a family style share menu with a festive touch for $150 per adult and $75 for children aged 2 to 12. Call 5246 6500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book.