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March 26, 2018 | by  | in Food Opinion | [ssba]

Souvlaki Inside Me

Wellington has been graced with a new food court. Press Hall opened with aplomb last month, and it has left some hungry patrons weeping over its razzmatazz.  In a statement, Press Hall has insisted that it is not a “typical” food court, seeing fit to refer to itself instead as an “eatery”, taking its inspiration from Melbourne and London. Seeing that it is targeted at those with “urban lifestyles and diverse taste”, I figured I fit the bill well enough to make a visit.

Things got off to a memorable start at the alley entrance way when Tommy Millions himself, in his millionth Wellington outlet, kneading dough on a marble top, shot a nervous smile at me through the shiny glass panel. Later on, gliding between shop fronts in the hall, I began noticing patterns. Maybe “urban lifestyle” was a euphemism for “corporate”, and “diverse taste” meant a variety of chains stores; what we got here was the safety of more of the same: Nam D, Mad Mex, Dragonfly, the Lab, Tommies, and yet another Fratelli-run shop. Uncompelled, I sank into my bar stool. This CBD eatery was certainly hip and aspirational, capturing the zeitgeist of our time, not quite enough to make it into Monocle magazine perhaps, but still 2008-ish at least and good for co-workers to escape offices and feel okay.  

There were, however, a couple of gems, one of which is the Wellington institution known as Souvlaki at Acropolis (SAA). Having reached cult status at their Strathmore outlet which opened in 2012, Lisa and Dimitri have decided to bless the city center with the second outlet of this Greek haven.

Greece is a melting pot of the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Middle East, and North Africa. A traditional feed consists of a lot of little things done well: fried fish, a seasonal salad of feta and olives, moussaka, lamb cooked for hours, fresh grilled octopus with lemon and oil, and the list goes on. Souvlaki is considered the food of the common person. Much like fish n chips here, souvlakis are meant to be greasy, satiating, and above all, comforting. Yet, as I stared at the plate of skewered meat in my hand, I thought: this is far too fresh and not nearly greasy enough. Silly, because these rudimentary binaries of fresh or greasy don’t work with Greek food. The homemade tzatziki sauce was sharp, and together with crisp lettuce, red onions, and tomatoes, provided the perfect counterpoint to the marinated meat of choice (chicken, lamb, or befteki).  The grilled chicken was a delight, and only needed to let its juices be imbibed by the thick pillowy pita. In addition, to make sure things were properly Greek, chips were stuffed into the wrap.

The president of my football team, Kan, who is of Greek descent, has confirmed this adrenaline spiking souvlaki experience is the best in New Zealand. Judging by my recent lackluster souvlaki experience in New Plymouth, I’d say that this can’t be far from the truth.

SAA isn’t limited to souvlaki, with other delights on their menu like the grilled halloumi burger with buttermilk fried chicken.Otherwise, catering to most, vegetarian and gluten-free souvlakis are on offer too.  Extra halloumi and feta can be added, something we can all smile about.

I have fond memories of going out late at night in Melbourne just to eat souvlaki. Perhaps in Press Hall’s attempt at giving us a Melbourne inspired food court, they consciously or not unlocked a dish special to that city.  With Lisa working the counter with her warmth and verve, this was delicious food with a story and a human face, just as it should be.


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