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Head to Oakleigh to restock your bread baskets and biscuit tins with Hellenic treats
Melbourne’s southeastern suburb of Oakleigh is synonymous with Greek culture and community, which makes the Greek Bakery’s nondescript moniker all the more curious on a strip where Greek bakeries are a dime a dozen. Visitors to Oakleigh may be more familiar with Nikos Oakleigh Quality Cakes, the Greek equivalent of Brunetti’s in scale and variety – but walk a little further down Portman Street away from the hubbub and you’ll chance upon the unassuming and more traditional Greek Bakery.
Despina Genimaki established the bakery in late 2015, having uprooted her life and moved from Greece to Australia five years earlier. Multigenerational families order loaves of horiatiko (which translates into Greek traditional bread from the village) and lagana (Greek flatbread), while carting the wares of Oakleigh’s infamous Rotary Sunday Market.
Spanakopita, where diced feta, spinach and onion are sandwiched between crispy and flaky filo pastry, prove to be the order of the day – so much so the Greek Bakery has almost run out of them by the time we visit. Display windows of Greek baked goods jostle for space with broader European-inspired fare such as petit fours and sablé Breton – a thick and buttery French shortbread cookie with strawberry or apricot filling. And of course, there’s no forgetting Greece’s famous syrup-drenched baklava.
With scant space to stand, let alone sit, we get our mishmash of pastries to go and enjoy them in a nearby park. That bestselling spanakopita justifies the hype – pleasing bursts of saltiness from the feta and onion are outdone only by the crisp and buttery deep brown pastry straight out of the oven. Koulouri, Greece’s equivalent to Turkey’s simit, is a sesame-crusted bread ring that doubles as a popular street food and breakfast staple. The one we buy from Greek Bakery has a noticeable crunch to it and soft, chewy insides.
But it’s in Greek Bakery’s sweet selection where the most breadth of flavours is to be found. Its version of moustokouloura, a cookie made from either grape juice or concentrated grape syrup and shaped into a coil, is firm on the outside but buttery and crumbly within. With a strong lingering aftertaste of cinnamon and clove, it tastes not unlike a gingerbread cookie. Similar flavours are reflected in the melomakarona, an egg-shaped walnut orange biscuit dipped in honey syrup, which brings to mind the heady aromas of Christmas. A surprising highlight is the bakery’s coconut macaroon, proving that Greek flavours aren’t the only thing it does well, with the balls of sweetened shredded coconut tasting like a homemade Raffaello without the chocolate.
Subtlety gives way to decadence upon sampling Greek Bakery’s famed baklava and galaktoboureko. Layers of golden brown filo pastry that have been sprinkled with melted butter, packed in with crushed pistachios and walnuts and submerged in honey syrup is as sticky and treacly as every good baklava should be. In the latter, two layers of submerged pastry encase creamy, melt-in-your-mouth semolina custard. We can’t take more than a few bites of each without feeling like we’re on the precipice of a severe sugar crash.
Every inch of pastry on Greek Bakery’s premises is made by hand, from scratch and according to well-worn family recipes passed down through generations. If you decide to visit for a taste of Hellenic heaven, be warned that many items are sold out from as early as 11am.
53a Portman St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat 6am-6pm; Sun 6am-2pm|