Spring has sprung on this side of the world, and it’s the season for new restaurants, new menus, a new zest for simple and fresh flavours, and no other has created so much anticipation more so than the new S.owl Restaurant which opened its doors in Melbourne, Australia last week.
With details about the restaurant carefully shrouded in secrecy until the launch, diners knew they were in for something special from the lauded Athenian chef Yiannis Kasidokostas, who tantalised his almost 40K Instagram followers with a slow stream of information months before launch.
With S.owl, Kasidokostas is revolutionising the traditional dining experience, channelling his passion for food, hospitality, and the ideal customer experience into one unique venture. His prowess with food is well known, completing studies in culinary and pastry arts, gastronomy, hospitality and tourism, and has worked at the helm of award-winning restaurants in Athens, including one which had been awarded 2 Michelin stars.
Instantly likeable with a repertoire of anecdotes that match his menu, he believes hospitality is not just a job, but a culture, and it’s a testament to this that he has achieved success in everything he has pursued, including his own private catering business, Acropolis Hospitality, which he is still involved in.
Born and raised in Athens, he comes from a good lineage in the industry, with his family owning several businesses and large fishing boats. “This is where I had direct contact with food and with the kitchen,” he says. “My mum would cook every type of ingredient. My favourite flavours to work with have always been seafood and fish but due to researching a variety of products, including Mediterranean and French cuisines, I have come to also love lots of other ingredients.”
After completing his studies, he went on to create quite an empire which included cafes, clubs, restaurants and a chain of internet cafes, all of which he had to leave behind because of the financial crisis in Greece. Thus began a new chapter in his life, starting from scratch, in Australia.
He quickly realised that filoxenia and hospitality in Australia have very different meaning to the customer and worker, as well as the whole mentality and culture. “The tourism market in Australia thrives in a lot of areas and in different ways, which allows many businesses to excel,” he says.
It is immediately evident that Kasidokostas has poured all his heart and soul into S.owl. “Patience and filotomo have always been and will continue to be my roots, my foundations and the foundations of this new concept,” he says.
“Soul is the soul, without which we are nothing. Without which we cannot have emotional substance, and depth of our inner self. Without soul, we are empty. The second part of the word is owl, which is the symbol of wisdom for us Greeks, as well as for other people around the world. Without wisdom, there is no future. We gain wisdom with our efforts to learn, to see deep into time but also, more importantly, to look at the distant past, where all the lessons that taught humanity occurred and made us proud. There where we made mistakes, lost but then humbly won.”
Making quality dining and filoxenia accessible to everyone, not just a select few is a driving force of this new restaurant. “The heroes of our restaurants are always hidden behind a wall or door of a busy kitchen,” he says. “At S.owl, diners will have the chefs at their disposal to make the most beautiful dishes, and they’ll have the chance to understand who is behind all these creations, and the hard work, love, and soul they put into the food. Here, diners will meet those who care and love what they do. From cooking or serving food to pouring wine, or preparing a drink these people will approach and discuss their passion with diners.”
Diners can expect a delectable selection of Mediterranean flavours, including mouth-watering sharing menus, a special saganaki, a variety of quality seafood, pasta, and a hero ‘Lamb of the God.
Like all the Greeks who have flocked to Australia’s shores, Kasidokostas misses his patrida, where his mum and sister still reside but is happy to have met and fallen in love with his now wife Maria, who he credits with being always by his side in good times and bad.
“I miss the Greece which made me what I am today, which taught me to say thank you in easy and difficult circumstances,” he says. “Australia, like every country in the world, has a future in dining and filoxenia, but it demands hard work. It needs soul and wisdom, sacrifices and patience.”
As for his favourite meal, Kasidokostas does not hesitate in his response. “In the Mediterranean Sea, there is a type of shellfish which the old fishermen used to call the mothers of crayfish which resembles a lobster with calipers. This crayfish has a specific aroma and taste and a special feeling. This is what I would want to eat as my last meal, and is my favourite.”
S.owl Wise Cuisine, 92 Koornang Road, Carnegie, Victoria