Vanilla Upstairs

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Having grown up in the Greek capital of Melbourne, Oakleigh, the cafes along Eaton mall were a fixture of my childhood. Weekends meant that the patrons of the cafés spilt out into the mall, and the tables outside were full of Greeks, eating, drinking and enjoying themselves. These days, Eaton Mall has expanded further, there are many more eateries, and patronage is skyrocketing with the outdoor area full almost every night of the week.

Vanilla was one of the cafes from the old days, but they have recently expanded the premises to include a modern upstairs area, creatively (!) named Vanilla Upstairs. I was lucky enough to be invited to a media dinner there, where we were able to sample many of the foods and I was thoroughly impressed.

From the outset, what impressed me most was the friendliness of the staff. Like many immigrant cultures, family values were at their core, and this was evident in the way they ran their restaurant. Father Thanasi works the floor making sure everyone is happy, whilst his three children and their partners are responsible for the running of the restaurant. They also now have Chef Oresti at the helm of their state of the art kitchen, and is responsible for the amazing food they serve.

Our menu was designed as a sharing menu, which suited the Greek style of food perfectly, and it meant that we could taste a large range of dishes. Some of the dishes were old favourites, like the yemista, but Chef Oresti also took the opportunity to add some flair to some traditional dishes. One example was the Greek salad. Whilst typically this would involve tomatoes, cucumber, olives and fetta, our version had all of these ingredients but with a completely modern interpretation without any compromise on taste.

We were also lucky enough to taste a selection of Greek wines to match our food. I had never realised that Greece produced fine wine, so I was extremely impressed. Sommelier, Sheridan, shared with us her vast knowledge of wines, and by the end of the night, I’m sure most of us were convinced that Greek wines were comparable to their famous wine cousins in France and Italy!

Whilst Greek food may be assumed to be very focused on the meat, Vanilla Upstairs had no issues catering for me, the solo vegetarian on the table! I started with some beautiful pita bread and a trio dips. There was a tzatziki, a hommus and a baba ganoush. The hommus was a clear highlight, beautifully smooth and creamy and with the perfect amount of garlic flavour.

I also enjoyed the dolmades that were wrapped in a conical fashion and filled with a creamed rice. The creative flair on these enhanced the flavours, and despite loving the traditional dolmades, I was really impressed with these.

As a cheese lover, I had my eyes on the saganaki. In a new twist for me, the saganaki was pan fried and drizzled with honey and black sesame seeds. The honey added a lovely sweetness to compliment the heavy creaminess of the cheese, and it certainly was an unusual but very clever combination. I will be trying this one at home!

Obviously the meat eaters were also well looked after, and most of the table was busy eating all the delights presented to us.

The desserts we were offered were also quite impressive. We tasted a kazan dipi, which is a Greek take on the crème brulee. It was smooth and creamy, and served with kaimaki ice cream.

We also got to taste one of the chef's dessert experiments, a tahini mousse with sesame toffee crisps. It was very interesting to have sesame as the dominant flavour in a dessert, and for those that don't like their desserts sickly sweet, this would be perfect.

The evening was a fabulous one, mainly due to the warm hospitality, the delicious food and the lovely venue.  Vanilla Upstairs has certainly raised the bar in the Oakleigh dining precinct and there is no doubt that the patrons are flocking.

Note: I was invited to dine at Vanilla Upstairs as part of a media dinner and did not pay for my meal. I have however returned on subsequent occasions where I have paid the full price.

Vanilla Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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