I’ve been visiting Jim’s Greek Tavern for more than 10 years. It is something of a tradition for my friends and I but with everyone spreading further and further away from our former inner city existence it had been a long time since everyone had come together for this ritual.
We speak of the restaurant with such loving familiarity that when describing it to someone not from Melbourne, I was stopped mid story with, ‘Hold on. Is Jim a friend or is it a restaurant?’
Like a friend you forgive Jim’s its issues and relish its nuisances. They become part of what you look forward to as part of a visit; the haphazard arrival of dishes, the cramped confines of the long tables which make the inevitable toilet trip after consuming copious amounts of wine an ordeal or the flustered brush off of a waiter whom a moment later is telling you his life story over a grainy Greek coffee.
You see Jim’s isn’t like a normal restaurant. To begin with there’s no menu. The white shirted waiters simply ask what you feel like, meat, fish, seafood and provide dishes accordingly.
It’s cramped and noisy and the décor is well, let’s say it doesn’t look like much has changed over the past few decades.
Jim’s also has a very accommodating BYO policy allowing both beer and wine. Walking in with a slab of beer over one shoulder won’t even elicit a second glance. Obviously this was one of the main reasons the restaurant endeared itself to us when we were poor in our early 20’s.
Everybody tackles a visit to Jim’s in a different way. My theory is that much like Christmas, the stomach must be stretched in the days beforehand to allow for as much glorious Greek food to be consumed as possible.
Let’s start, as first course at Jim’s always does, with the bread and dips. There is a school of thought that says that you shouldn’t waste too much stomach space on Jim’s bread and dip but it’s not one that I subscribe to. The issue with this method is that the bread is house baked, dense, chewy and the ideal accompaniment to the fresh dips, in particular the pale pink Taramosalata. I can’t help myself. I must eat the bread and dips and also the battered grilled vegetables, that remind me of a dish that my Italian father used to make. Not that I’d mention that too loudly to the waiters here.
Next come simple grilled prawns and stuffed vine leaves, both served with wedges of lemon for a bit of extra zing.
Turning milk into cheese as a way of preserving the foodstuff for lean times was a brilliant idea but whoever thought of frying cheese was an absolute genius. The saganaki disappeared from its silver serving dish in no time.
Grilled calamari was next to appear on our table. Again a simple dish, the calamari soft and flavoursome but I did wish I still had some of the Tzatziki dip to go with it.
The salad was a welcome reprieve. I used it to revitalize my stomach and prepare for the next onslaught.
The meat arrived with cheers from one end of the table, the boys end, sliced gyros, herbed patties and succulent kebabs. My stomach was starting to betray me. I sliced a patty in half and took a few cubs of meat from the kebab skewer.
By the time the grilled fish arrived I could barely manage a morsel.
Somehow, when the desserts are placed on the table I sparked back up again and I try the baklava, the galaktoboureko and have a small piece of Turkish delight.
When the time comes to leave Jim’s we collect up our left over beer and wine. I was disappointed by our inability to finish off 2 slabs of beer and 12 bottles of wine between 10 people. I feel that as we get older and migrate out from inner city Melbourne we are becoming soft. Carrying a couple of bottles of wine and a 6 pack I think that 10 years ago we would never have had so much left over. Or would we have just drunk so much we would have forgotten to take our left overs with us?