Without realizing it, I’ve been doing an around-the-world culinary tour over the past week. I’ve been to Vietnam, Malaysia, England, India, Mexico, and since my stomach is handling the jet lag well, figured I might as well make a stop in Greece. Fortunately, their country’s current financial crisis does not impact their legendary food. You in for the trip? Wonderful.
As with fish and chips shops, there are a number of rival Greek restaurants in Richmond. I decided to start with Mad Greek on Westminster Highway, for no other reasons than it was recommended to me by friends from Prince George, and it’s conveniently located. Unknowingly, my friend Megan and I happened to stop in during their 15th anniversary promotion, for which they have dinner specials – including dessert – on for $15. OPA!!
Our server was a beautiful woman named Nicky, whom we later found out is the owners’ daughter. For the past 15 years, the restaurant has been her entire family’s life, and she said (happily) that she pretty much grew up there. Her father came from a village in the Peloponnese over 40 years ago, and they modelled the kitchen’s faux exterior after his childhood home. I thought that was lovely.
The restaurant occupies a huge space, with cathedral-like ceilings and plenty of tables. The service was friendly and accommodating. We decided to try the appetizer platter ($25) in order to get a taste for many of their starters, and then had the Shish Kebab platter with rice, roast potatoes, and Greek salad (usually $18, on for $15 right now).
Our starter platter was laden with homemade dolmades, spanikopita, keftedes, garlic prawns (which they graciously substituted for kalamari – I wasn’t in the mood for deep-fry), tzatziki, and homous, all served with a side of pita bread.
The first thing I’d like to note about Mad Greek is that they know how to season their food. This might seem like an obvious thing for a restaurant to do, but far too many chefs either don’t taste the food they’re making, or if they do, just seem to really enjoy bland flavours. It’s hugely refreshing when food has genuine and dynamic flavour, and most of the items on this platter did.
Our favourite of all was the spanikopita, which had more feta inside than spinach (bonus points!) and a buttery, crunchy shell of filo pastry. The keftedes (Greek meatballs) were good, and the dolmades in lemon sauce (grape leaves stuffed with a beef and rice mixture) had wonderful flavour, though the leaves were a little tough. The tzatziki was almost whipped – not what I’m used to – but we happily spread it and the humous on everything.
Our main dish, the shish kebab, was a skewer of grilled lamb, beef, and chicken souvlaki. Interestingly, it wasn’t as flavourful as I’d expected it to be, especially considering the lemony-richness of the roast potato and savoury rice. The salad was tasty, a standard mix of cucumber, tomato, onion, and feta in a sharp vinaigrette.
For dessert we had the tiramisu that came with our dinner special, which wasn’t made in-house and just ok,
and also went with Nicky’s suggestion of the “Ekmek,” a chilled dessert of Turkish origin.
The base was dried white bread that had been reconstituted in a simple syrup (a classically Greek/Turkish practise), then topped with custard, cream, toasted almonds, and sugar. It was incredibly light, not too sweet, and aromatically flavoured by the spiced, crunchy nuts on top. Just the dish for a hot Greek/Richmond night.
Mad Greek does Greek food well, though it’s on the expensive side so you may want to save it for a special occasion. It’s family run with excellent service, and I’d like to congratulate them on their 15 year anniversary!
And now, if you’re in the mood for cooking up some Mediterranean food yourself, here’s a recipe for meatballs from the wonderful Popi, a Greek classmate of mine in Italy. She made these for a potluck we had at school one day, and I could have eaten the entire plate. They’re simple, and rely both on the quality of ingredients you use to make them, and the amount of olive oil you fry them in. Do not attempt a diet version. Efharisto!
-1⁄2 kilo (600 grams) minced meat, half pork/half beef
-1 big onion, or two small, finely diced
-1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
-1 spoon dried mint or half a cup of fresh, chopped
-1 loaf of two day-old bread, insides scooped out and moistened with water
-salt and pepper -flour
In large bowl combine first 5 ingredients. Shape into balls and coat with flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Fry in plenty of olive oil til well browned and serve with….
Tzatziki (combine to taste)
-Mint or dill, chopped
-Salt and pepper
Mad Greek Restaurant
Vegetarian options available
Cash and cards accepted
Reservations recommended on weekends