Photography/ Ken Downie
Photography by Ken Downie
Far be it for me to lump the Italians and the Greeks together, but at Lokanta, there’s a familiar vibe: the owners must have spent months scouring Trade Me for every last shot or image of Greece; these hang in a haphazard sort of a way above brass knick-knacks. There’s a particularly good one in the lav, and also a bemusing one of an octopus on a rock.
Lokanta is owned by the same people who have the Tasca restaurants in Newmarket and Dominion Rd and Carmen Jones on Karangahape Rd, which are Spanish-ish, so it might surprise you to know that they are, in fact, Greek and this is their own food, from the coastal areas of Greece near the border with Turkey. When you learn this, you think: why on earth did they not do this before?
Because Tasca is good enough, I suppose, but frankly it’s got nothing on the gutsy, home-style cooking of this little taverna. Auckland has needed decent Greek food for a very long time, and it’s needed more unpretentious, mama-style places that aren’t all art-directed and slick. Olive oil, fish, goat; slightly Turkish influences in the street pizza and filled breads; wooden bistro chairs and bare tables, and a handful on the street and in a courtyard; waiters who wear shorts. There’s a children’s menu, and our toddler’s food comes out blessedly fast. It’s like going to dinner at your grandmother’s if she was Greek, and I mean that in the best possible way.
You can book, and the service is friendly thanks to two Mexican waiters whose wine knowledge is exemplary and who remember your face a couple of weeks later. On weeknights, it’s filled with locals and big tables of families; if you go early on a Saturday afternoon, the owner might be sitting there drinking tea with a friend over a game of backgammon.
The menu is shortish: six or seven smaller plates, three breads, four or five mains. The wine list has a couple of great Greek wines and a couple of Greek beers, but there’s also Amisfield and Dog Point and Croucher, and sometimes they go better with the food.
That starter of octopus seems a little dry at first blush, but the fava bean purée is exemplary — citrusy, oily and perfectly seasoned: you realise it’s not really about the octopus. There’s another starter of taramasalata, beautifully smoky and served with wafery bread and chunks of cucumber. There’s an amazing — and huge — smoky eggplant dip, the eggplant delicately holding hands with the olive oil.
The ox tongue skewers are great: they come with a rub of salt, chilli and cumin and a salad that needed more acidity, though the tongue was a revelation. The saganaki comes with grilled capsicum under the halloumi, which is a nice addition.
I love the breads. You don’t need them, but order them anyway because the staff will bring you a doggy bag without you having to ask, and then you can have it for breakfast. One is stuffed with feta, spinach, egg and onion; the lahmajun street pizza — a flat bread with minced beef, rocket, fresh tomato and plenty of lemon — is at once light and meaty, the beef served rare-ish.
Mains are homely classics. A six-hour goat shank, falling apart and tender, is full of sticky flavour and served with a barley risotto and pan juice. Then you can hoe into the sticky, sweet coconut-and-almond baklava.
The other evening, we sat out on Richmond Rd and ordered fish of the day, which was grilled snapper with mashed potato and a lemon-caper sauce. I wanted to hate it: it’s the kind of thing Mediterranean restaurants have been serving for decades. It was perfectly executed, tart and buttery and salty and nicely cooked, the fish beautifully caramelised around the edges. We ate the whole thing.
137A Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn.
Ph 360-6355. lokanta.nz
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 4pm.
Dinner bill: Small plates $7-$19; breads $13-$21; mains $25-$33; desserts $12.
This article is published in the March- April 2017 issue of Metro.
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