If the word 'souvlaki' just conjures up visions of late night lumps of meat wrapped with chips in pita bread from a Kings Cross takeaway before Mike Baird ruined Sydney, Kerasma Souvlaki Merchant is going to come as a bit of a surprise. This Cypriot restaurant turns charcoal grilled meats into something quite fancy.
More than half of this modestly sized space is taken up with a kitchen, the front part of which houses a charcoal grill. Diners are protected from the heat of the flames by a glass screen, though some tantalising aromas do curl ‘round it.
Before you become mesmerised by the glowing embers, take a moment to notice the hanging sausages. They’re called Loukaniko ($13.50) and they are cured in house. These pork sausages are soaked in red wine and contain spices like coriander seeds and shino. The latter is only grown in Cyprus, and looks a bit like a peppercorn. Shino has an aromatic and spicy flavour, as do the resulting sausages.
We eat our well-flavoured sausages as Cypriot mezedes or little delicacies, small plate style, accompanied by an array of dips, salads and bread. We choose Artos ($3/each) though you can have a pita pocket if you’re wedded to those late night souvlaki experiences. The bright orange Sweet Potato Skordalia ($8.50) is smooth and semi-sweet, contrasting nicely against grilled meats. Made from roasted sesame seeds, Tahini ($8.50) is even better, especially against a bright and delicious Tomato Salad ($11.50).
The Sheftalies ($14.50) we watched cooking earlier are even better than I expected. The skinless pork sausages are wrapped in caul fat that helps ensure they get a good sears from the charcoal grill, while their insides stay moist and juicy. Produce – like crisp green parsley, and the vibrant, flavoursome tomatoes – is excellent across the board. “We make all the bread, all our cheeses, all the sausages and smallgoods, all the dips – everything in made in-house,” owner/chef Peter Michael explains.
His captivating stories add a richness to the cuisine, connecting the dishes you’re eating to their origins in Cyprus. They’re well worth listening to with a Keo Lager ($8.50) in your hand. This Cypriot beer is made from maize (corn) and is a delicate, refreshing quaffer. Wine – in case you hadn’t guessed from the sausages – is both enjoyed with food and put to good use as a marinade in Cyprus. The well-priced list here contains a number of Greek wines, with the 2015 Roditis/Malagouzia, Kir Yianni Paranga ($12.50/glass) proving my favourite.
Now if you go hard with mezedes you should probably consider scaling down to a single shared main. We tackled two, starting with Ofto Kleftiko ($35). This is a summer-style lamb shoulder dish known as the ‘thief’s meal’; so named because it was cooked in underground in a pit by Cypriot guerrillas who were keen to avoid smoke alerting the Ottomans to their hideouts. The slow-cooked lamb is dusted with salt and cooked with water, making a gentle broth that suits the accompanying waxy potatoes. It’s one of the most well rendered, moist joints of lamb I’ve tried, and it positively sings against tzatziki.
So by the time we hit Tavas Lefkaritikos ($35) – basically Cyprus’ answer to the Spanish paella – we’re pretty much stuffed. This is criminal because this aromatic rice dish packed with spiced lamb, juicy tomatoes and okra, and served with hung yoghurt and pickled wild dandelion leaves (mangalous) really deserved our full eating attention. Luckily they were happy to package it up for lunch the next day, and we left, promising to return again soon.
Don’t make the mistake of walking past this restaurant – located just few doors up from Newtown Station – without stopping in.
Kerasma Souvlaki Merchant
Retail 2, 324a King Street, Newtown
Ph: (02) 9517 2403