Update: We’ve heard that Ouzo 88 has unfortunately closed down. John Lanzafame, known for his self titled Italian trattoria in Star City, will be taking over the Woolloomooloo venue
It’s good to see Sydney mature as far as ethnic dining is concerned. Just as bars such as Bodega and Firefly offer Spanish tapas in a modern kitsch-free setting, so there’s now Ouzo88, a Greek bar and restaurant that serves traditional Hellenic food in a slick environment.
The cocktails are named after Greek gods and goddesses and I start off with the Athena, which is made from vodka and Malibu that’s shaken with fresh lime and pineapple juice. The resulting drink is pale yellow and served in a conical glass that’s inserted into a spherical container, making it look somewhat like an alchemist’s potion. Despite my usual scepticism when it comes to Malibu, I do like this cocktail – it’s a bit like a pina colada but more refreshing.
I then try the five-course ouzomezedes tasting menu, which starts with a glass of ouzo that’s matched with anstougia me kremidi (anchovy filo rolls with caramelized onion and macerated peach). You can either drink the ouzo straight or add a splash of water to it and, having never drunk ouzo before (and there aren’t many spirits I can say that about), I’m surprised to note that the clear liquid suddenly becomes cloudy with water. The dominant flavour is of aniseed, which makes it good as an aperitif and goes well with the anchovy filo rolls that have a rich, almost sweet flavour – and which end up being my favourite meal here.
Next is a glass of Kretikos Vilana white wine that’s served with oktapodi (marinated char-grilled octopus). The wine is subtle and doesn’t overpower the octopus, which is tender and has a strong chargrilled flavour.
Following this is a glass of Boutari Xinomavro chilled rosé that’s matched with grilled haloumi (cheese from Paphos) that’s served with diced tomato on top, a bit like a bruschetta. Haloumi hasn’t got a strong flavour, which is why the tomato helps, but I do like the unusual – dare I say squeaky? – texture when you bite into it.
However, my second favourite meal here is the kalamakia (mini lamb skewers and minted yogurt), which are matched with a glass of Kretikos Kotsifali and Martilaria red. The lamb is grilled and gorgeously tender while the wine is a knockout: a bright vibrant red in colour with a powerful full-bodied taste that nonetheless doesn’t feel heavy.
Finally (and by now I’m feeling piggish, especially as my elegant dining companion is content to mainly drink the wine and ouzo here) we’re served the Samos Vin doux Muscat, which strongly reminds me of a Botyrtis dessert wine, along with the galaktoboureko. This is a Greek milk custard baked in filo, but it’s a world away from a crème caramel – in some ways the flavour seems more subtle despite the use of nuts (I can really taste pistachio) and possibly rose or orange water, while the texture is incredibly soft.
The atmosphere at Ouzo 88 is casual yet slightly upmarket. On the one hand there’s a TV on the wall showing a Greek video on sardine fishing (at least, it did when I looked up at it) and yet the décor is smart and minimalist – think dark wood paneling and mirrors. If you want to try Greek wine (or ouzo) and have a bite to eat as well, then this is a good upmarket alternative to the tavern-style Greek restaurants peppered around the city.
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate this bar?