Hearty, flavoursome Mediterranean sharing plates and elegant cocktails served in a buzzing, chicly minimal dining room mark SOWL Restaurant out from the other establishments along Carnegie’s vibrant eat street.
Location: 92 Koornang Rd, Carnegie, VIC 3163 Ph: (03) 9530 4036
If you love good food and you aren’t familiar with Koornang Road in Carnegie, you are missing out. For between Carnegie Station at the top, to the junction with Neerim Road at the bottom, lies a mind-boggling array of cafes, bars, restaurants, bakers and specialised food shops. From heat and zip of Vietnamese hotspots Saigon Mamma and Pho Huong Viet 3 to baking brilliance at Huf Bagelry and Korean fire at Mrs Kim’s Grill.
Then there’s the ace in the pack. SOWL Restaurant with its polished Greek and Mediterranean cuisine.
As you enter SOWL Restaurant, there’s a bar to the right with a tender mixing Cocktails and rows of dark wood tables retreating towards a slither of bright kitchen.
The long, elongated dining room is starkly undecorated. There are no artworks on the textured concrete walls. Instead the lighting design is allowed to star in the moody space.
It’s a bold, choice. More like something you’d find in hip Richmond or moody Fitzroy, but it works. Industrial chic it maybe, but it’s certainly not unwelcoming. The intimate space feels cosy and is warmed by the hum of happy chatter.
For Cocktails, Aperitifs and Absinthe, check out Bar Ampere in Russell Place
SOWL Carnegie identifies as a Mediterranean restaurant. Chef Yiannis Kasidokostas hails from Athens and his Greek heritage is sprinkled across the menu. The result is a harmonious mix of Snacks, Pastas, Mains and colourful Sides.
As with many establishments, you can either eat a la carte, or choose 1 of 2 Sharing Menus. Obviously, the kitchen should know what their strengths are, so both times we’ve visited we’ve put ourselves in the hands of the chef. And both times we’ve been more than happy.
Snack & Entrees
Is there a more Mediterranean opener than Bread, Pickles & Olives?
Here, the Bread ($6) is a bubble-pocked, chewy, truly delicious Spelt Sourdough. Not an easy thing to pull off, I can tell you. What’s more, the Pickles are housemade and are an ideal combination of acidity, sweetness and crunch.
On the side, there’s an oil-lacquered dollop of Fig & Olive Tapenade ($6). Again, the briny bitterness of the Black Olives finishes in a sugary hit of Fig. With the Bread, it’s irresistible.
Another plate arrives holding slices of soft, charred Zucchini anointed with splodges of creamy Hummus. A drizzle of Balsamic and good Olive Oil completes the plate.
On another occasion, we sampled the Saganaki ($20) which hit the right salty, pungent notes.
If Hummus and Pickles make your mouth water, see our recommendations for the Best Middle Eastern Food and Restaurants in Melbourne
Mains & Sides
Having dined at SOWL Restaurant more than once, we’ve had the opportunity to test a few of the Mains.
The Lamb Of The Gods ($34) is rightly the go-to dish for many customers.
If there is a more succulent, fall-apart-divine hunk of Lamb on a menu anywhere else in Melbourne, I’d like to meet it. Clearly cooked for a very long time with a liberal dose of love, it arrives bathed in a pool of umami-heavy gravy.
Another winner is the Chargrilled Chicken ($31).
With a golden, crispy skin and juicy meat, this particular chicken packs a tingly surprise. It’s marinade carries the heat of chillis which works beautifully with the herby Salsa scattered over it and the Yoghurty Dip to the side.
The Fish of the Day also a crispy skin, but there the similarity ends. Rather than the pleasing burn of a feisty rub, tempered by a cooling salad- as with the chook – we have delicate, opaque Barramundi. The buttery flesh rests on a bed of wilted Fennels and Greens – an island in a sea of saffron bright Beurre Blanc. After the rich, savoury flavours of the Lamb and honest punch of the Chicken, it’s a sophisticated dish that tastes as refined as it looks.
To accompany these central plates, there are Oven Baked Potatoes ($13) and Seasonal Leaves with White Balsamic Vinaigrette ($13). Both of these are great matchings with the our Mains.
Any Beet fans, are sure to devour the Beetroots & Goat’s Curd ($13). Vibrant and refreshing, the earthy root veg is lifted by sweet Watermelon and a flourish of Dill.
Make sure you save room for the Espresso Martini Tiramisu ($17). This decadent treat arrives in a super-sized wine glass and is intended for sharing – unfortunately!
In contrast, the Basil Panna Cotta with Madagascar Vanilla Bean and Honey ($17) makes its appearance on an old-fashioned glass plate. Crowned with Berries, its wobble proves that the pastry chef knows exactly what they are doing behind the pass.
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As someone was shaking up a storm when we walked into SOWL Restaurant, it seemed rude not to order a Cocktail.
Happily, the Fiery Margarita ($18) was exactly that. Meanwhile, the Mulberry Royale ($17) was an incredibly sippable triumph.
The bar staff also do a very likeable Smoked Negroni ($19), if you love the usual Gin, Campari & Cointreau classic, but fancy something a little more adventurous.
There is also a comprehensive Wine List, along with Beers and Soft Drinks, for those not taken with Cocktails.
Here’s our rundown of the Best Cocktail Bars in Melbourne
SOWL Restaurant standouts from the other venues on Carnegie’s teeming dining strip for all the right reasons.
The food is generous – both in execution and quantity. The drinks are strong and well-priced. The ambience is fashionable, but friendly. And nothing is too much trouble for the obliging staff.
In fact, if you hang around until the evening rush is dying down, the chances are that Chef Kasidokostas will make his way out of the kitchen to check that all is well with the diners front of house.
And if that’s not a sign of someone who cares about his clientele, I don’t know what is.
Location: 120 Koornang Rd, Carnegie, VIC 3163 Ph: (03) 9563 3375
Little Athens Old School Souvlaki is the Greek street food-focused baby sister of SOWL Restaurant. And you know you’re in good hands as it is also overseen by Chef Yiannis Kasidokostas.
When we spoke to Chef Kasidokostas about his side hustle whilst dining at SOWL Restaurant, his enthusiasm for this more modest eatery was clear. He wants to elevate the humble Kebab and Kofta from the slightly dodgy food van staple that we all know (and love!) to a truly wonderful eating experience.
And it shows. At the heart of Little Athens is the desire to bring a quality version of one of the simplest and yet tastiest of street foods – the glorious souvlaki – to the people of Carnegie and beyond.
Whether you decide on the Spicy Lamb Kofta Wrap ($13.5) – complete with the moreish Secret Tomato Sauce – or the Chickpea Kofta Plate ($21.50), everything is fresh and delicious.