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My Melbourne: George Calombaris

2 Sep 2016

He’s a familiar face to anyone who’s watched MasterChef, and the subject of an award-winning artwork. With restaurants across Melbourne, everything’s coming up Calombaris.

Celebrity chef and restaurant entrepreneur George Calombaris is doing more than his quota to boost Melbourne’s reputation as the country’s culinary capital. With his finger in a lot of pies (both metaphorically and literally), George is instantly recognisable as the energetic and likeable host of MasterChef, but he’s also a savvy businessman, father, author and subject of 2016’s Archibald ‘Packing Room’ Prize-winning portrait by Betina Fauvel-Ogden.

Raised in the outer Melbourne suburb of Mulgrave, George’s strong work ethic and flair with food was quickly recognised at Box Hill Institute of TAFE and he subsequently won the prestigious Bonland scholarship in 1999.

Fast-forward 17 years and George owns a restaurant empire, including The Press Club (the ‘jewel in the crown’), Hellenic Republic in Kew and Brunswick as well as the Hellenic Hotel in seaside Williamstown.

“The Hellenic Hotel is a remarkable 1909 building and former home the Hobson’s Bay Hotel, and we’ve tried be respectful to its history – the DNA of the place,” George explains.

“The menu and atmosphere is homely and unpretentious. The style of food is traditional pub favourites with a modern Hellenic twist. We’re doing updated version of 1970s favourites like oysters Kilpatrick and pavlova.”

Upstairs is a public bar and wide veranda where you can dine and drink alfresco style with views of the city whilst enjoying the daily $15 meal specials (think moussaka, beef stifado and roast chicken). Or if you’d prefer to eat on Williamstown Beach or in a park, there’s a take-away menu too.

George's Melbourne Picks

Restaurant Vue de Monde – Shannon Bennett is a brilliant chef doing awesome things with food.

Coffee The coffee at D.O.C. Espresso in Lygon Street is incredible. You stand up while you drink it and watch the world go by, then leave to go about your business.

Team I love Melbourne Victory to bits and cheering for the boys at their games at AAMI Park. We really are lucky to have so many world-class stadiums in the one city. It’s quite phenomenal.

Bar Lui Bar at The Rialto has a smashing drink list and tapas menu as well as awesome views over the city.

Building The Royal Mint (now the location of the Hellenic Museum) is one of the most beautiful in town.

The Best of the Rest of Masterchef

Gary Mehigan’s riverside establishment, The Boathouse [7 The Boulevard, Moonee Ponds], is just a few kilometres away from where MasterChef gets filmed, so it’s not uncommon for him to pop his head in to the family-friendly pizza-and-coffee spot on the Maribyrnong River.

As a food writer (not a chef), Matt Preston’s strengths lie in his ability to identify a winning restaurant. His Melbourne picks include Lee Ho Fook [11-15 Duckboard Place] and the Asian-fusion Anchovy in the reawakening Bridge Road [330 Bridge Road, Richmond].

Aside from the various incarnations of Hellenic Republic and The Press Club’s array of fine dining options, George Calombaris' Gazi [2 Exhibition Street] is a modern, fun and casual Greek restaurant with a lively atmosphere and plenty of ouzo. Of course, if it’s a quick souvlaki you’re after, Calombaris’ Jimmy Grants [various locations including Emporium Melbourne, 287 Lonsdale Street] is sure to satisfy.