Jim's Greek Tavern
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This frenzied Greek tavern is still as popular as when it first opened in 1980
The décor of paper tablecloths, Greek goddess statuettes and whitewashed walls may still be from the 80s, but Jim’s Greek Tavern is embracing the dining trends of the day by implementing set dining times – the first at 6.30pm and the second at 8pm. Not that it’s strictly adhered to, mind...
The frenetic service at Jim’s is part of its charm, as is the absence of a menu. Without much pricing guidance, prepare to pay anywhere from $50 to $70 per person for the banquet, with ala carte dishes ranging from $10 for entrees to $30 for meat mains. A waiter casually strolls up to us and reels off a list of dishes: “Dips, saganaki, calamari, gyros, Greek salad…” to which we nod in affirmation. Past experience has taught us the grilled tiger prawns are a must so we tack that onto the list as well. Big groups are encouraged to get the banquet, but small groups can pick and choose what they want from the waiters’ suggestions. House wine is available, but it’s best to BYO, especially when corkage is free.
The star of the meal arrives first: a medley of dips – taramasalata, tzatziki and baba ganoush – accompanied by olives, stewed carrots and beans, and diced bits of boiled, tender octopus dressed in olive oil, parsley and lemon juice, with a basket of crusty bread for mopping up anything that remains.
A wedge of lemon-seasoned saganaki that is served alongside is springy yet sturdy. The sizeable tiger prawns are plump and chargrilled to a gently smoky effect; we want more but at $6 a pop they’re not cheap. And we were powerless to resist ordering a mountainous plate of rotisserie-cooked lamb. As expected, it’s rich and pleasantly salty, but also way too much food at this point. No matter, waitstaff are ready with takeaway containers for the tables that never reach the finish line.
Surprisingly, vegetarians are well catered for with lightly battered slivers of deep fried zucchini, thick chunks of beetroot doused in a vinegary dressing, moreish butter beans braised in olive oil, and, of course, the quintessential Greek salad with feta, olives and tomatoes.
It may be into its 37th year of operating, but Jim’s hasn’t lost any of its initial appeal. Hordes of people continue to cram themselves into the restaurant to commemorate special occasions; even on the weekend of the apocalyptic #melbournestorm, Jim’s is packed to the rafters with loud groups of families and friends; some of them Greek, most of them not. Diners who have reserved tables from 6.30pm to 8pm often overstay their welcome, much to the chagrin of the second raft of diners, but the later cohort are allowed to stay past curfew.
With George Calombaris’s slick and expansive empire now shorthand for Greek food in Melbourne, Jim’s Greek Tavern is a reminder of what traditional Greek cooking is: comforting, unpretentious and gargantuan in its servings .