I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited anticipating the opening of a souvlaki joint before.
But I was intrigued when I noticed the old Peter Watson site being renovated into something bearing mysterious plus and minus symbols – and then I realised that George Calombaris was coming to Fitzroy with Jimmy Grants.
Jimmy Grants is a slick, modern interpretation on an old-school souvlaki shop and it de-greasifies the late-night drunken kebab into high quality, tasty fast food.
Its name is taken from the nickname given to the immigrants arriving in Australian after WWII from Greece, Italy and the Middle East, all bearing unfamiliar and unpronounceable names. So they were all just called ‘Jimmy Grants’ – immigrants.
The use of the immigrant story gives Jimmy Grants a disarming charm and if you’re cynical, is calculated to make you feel warm and fuzzy about the place. The restaurant’s decor includes a mural of a plane and a steamer of the sort from which immigrants arrived to our shores in the 50s and 60s.
The kitchen and bar open up with a vertical shutter like a street stall cart and the corrugated iron echoes the tin shacks set up by immigrant manual labourers toiling on the land.
The paper menus create a heart-warming story too. ‘Mr Papadopoulos was fabled in the streets of Gazi, a suburb in Athens. His lamb soave was served from a steel pot tied to the back of his bike. It was said that the motion of the bike over the potholes of post-war Athens made it the most succulent fall-of-the-bone lamb in Greece. That was until Mr P. moved to Melbourne and became a gas welder. Athen’s loss. Our gain. And another example ‘ ‘Nonna L moved to Melbourne in 1968, with a husband and 2 suitcases and a recipe for chicken. She’d say the chicken recipe was the most valuable thing she brought with her’.
With those briefly sketched histories how could you go past ordering the ‘Mr Papadopoulous’ souva ($8) filled with lamb, mustard, chips, onion and parsley or the Nonna Maria ($7.50) of chicken, mustard, chips, onion and parsley.
I think the bread is what makes these souvas amazing – the same fluffy, slightly chewy and perfectly charred pita breads served at Calombaris’ other Greek establishments Gazi and Hellenic Republic. It acts as a cocoon that doesn’t go soggy for the fragrant rotisserie meat – I preferred the juicy chicken while RM liked the tender lamb. The almost molten strings of onion were sweet and tangy at the same time and tucking some chips inside gave the package a guilty bogan-ness (though I would have preferred more meat and no chips to be honest).
If you’re indecisive you could go the ‘Bonegilla’ which includes the chicken and the lamb, for pescatarians there’s a prawn souva and vegetarians are offered falafels with a shredded cabbage slaw and Greek yoghurt. All of the options are under $10 and while they are on the smaller side of your standard souvlaki you will still be full.
If you want to make a bigger meal of your souva I recommend the grain salad ($8) full of goodness in the form of lentils, nuts, grains, parsley and dressed with Greek yoghurt. It’s texturally interesting and the flavours are clean.
Finally, make sure you leave room for the Greek doughnuts with walnuts and honey (6 for $6). These are a revelation! They’re not just simply fried balls of dough – which would make them awesome to begin with – they have the most amazing crackling shell and a deceptively airy interior. It was like biting into a paper-thin eggshell with a meringue inside. They are some of the best doughnuts that I’ve had in recent memory and so cheap! The honey means that you’ll only be able to eat two or three without feeling ill so share them around.
I can’t wait to return to Jimmy Grants and I predict they’ll do really well in Fitzroy – especially when the promised delivery service commences (as you’d hope, all the food fares well on take away). Sure there’s a lot of souvlaki joints nearby but none I think with the same kind of quality and charm as the place that’s an homage to our nation of immigrants.
Jimmy Grants, 113 Saint David St, Fitzroy
Mon-Sun 5pm – 11pm (lunch opening soon)