Taramosalata, dolma, souvlaki, moussaka: Even the briefest roll call of these classic dishes will trigger intense Pavlovian salivation in anyone who has ever visited Greece. For most people in Tokyo, though, these foods have been off the radar. The arrival of The Apollo looks set to change that in a big way.
Occupying pride of place on the top floor of the newly opened Tokyu Plaza overlooking the Sukiyabashi Crossing in Ginza, it is a big, buzzy, impressive operation that looks little like anyone’s preconceived image of Greece. But that’s because The Apollo comes to us from Sydney, not Athens, and its culinary DNA is as much Australian as it is Greek.
Jonathan Barthelmess and Sam Christie, who own and run The Apollo, are both Aussies of Greek descent. They have taken the alluring flavors of the eastern Mediterranean and married them with the fresh, healthy ingredients and lightness of touch that characterize the best of contemporary Australian cooking. And they present it all in a package that is stylish, easygoing and hip, with not a single tourist poster, ancient amphora or Greek knickknack in sight.
Here in Tokyo, they have taken over a massive 160-seat space that is all exposed ducts, distressed concrete and picture windows giving huge views out over the Ginza skyline. There’s a long bar area where you can explore the compact cocktail list or sip on ouzo or Greek lager while planning what you’re going to eat.
Those who know the territory will probably flip straight to the a la carte section of the menu to pick out their favorites, starting with the grilled packages of onion stuffed with pork and wrapped in crisp, savory vine leaves, or the charcoal-grilled seafood. But to get a deep immersion in the cuisine, try the “Full Greek” set menu (¥4,800 at lunch; ¥5,500 at dinner).
It opens, as you’d expect, with some light nibbles, including mixed olives, creamy taramosalata dip, pita bread and a classic Greek salad. Then comes one of The Apollo’s highlights: A substantial wedge of Kefalograviera, a sheep and goat’s milk cheese, is cooked until it is oozing soft, then seasoned with honey, oregano and lemon juice. Served bubbling-hot in a small cast-iron saganaki pan, this is a remarkable combination of sweet, sour and intensely rich cheese flavors.
As a main course, the oven-baked lamb is equally impressive. The meat is cooked in enormous chunks sous-vide (at low temperature) for 10 hours and then given another 60 minutes in the oven until lightly charred, with tzatziki (savory yogurt sauce) on the side to moisten the bits that have dried out. But be warned, this is filling fare — and you still have dessert and coffee to follow.
All the pieces fit together nicely at The Apollo: good cooking, substantial portions and relaxed vibes. Add some excellent wines into the mix (Aussie and Greek, of course, but also some good French) and it’s a recipe for a fun, satisfying evening. Modern Greek looks like it’s going to be a good fit here in Tokyo.
Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.