Divido is a long time favourite of GG and mine. It holds a special place for us because it’s the first place we enjoyed a degustation dinner together in March 2009. Now Divido had actually been open since 2005 and way back then their specialty was very popular wood fired pizzas. I didn’t get to sample the pizzas back then, but fortunately this year after much pressure from local fans they held two pizza evenings. I made it along to one of those and I can definitely see what all the fuss was about. Yummo!
So along with their salute to their former pizza glory, Team Divido led by Jason and Elena, also decided to hold some “Back to Balkan” evenings to highlight the multicultural culinary styling of the kitchen team, from Croatian to Macedonian to Greek. The Balkan dinners allowed the team to showcase dishes that were special to them, to their families, those memorable recipes were all part of a series of very unique menus.
The Balkan Peninsula, popularly referred to as the Balkans, is a geographical and cultural region of Southeast Europe. The region has its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch from the east of Bulgaria to the very east of Serbia.
I was incredibly fortunate to be asked, along with GG, to the last Back to Balkan evening for 2013 – Back to Balkan IV ‘The Feast of St Andrew of Constantinople’. We were both so excited! All the more so when we spied the menu – talk about tasty! And such an interesting and different range of foods for us to try, many for the first time – bring on the adventure :)
When we arrived a touch after 6.30pm there was already a decent crowd in attendance, all clearly in a very festive mood. It almost had the feel of a big family gathering – it was warm and welcoming and the air was filled with the aroma of delicious food cooking in the kitchen.
I love the fit out at Divido. They embraced filament lighting long ago and it still works a treat. It’s a small, intimate venue that works well for special occasion dinners for two and now, as I was finding out slightly more raucous shared dinners.
We were seated at a cosy table for two and it wasn’t long before our entrée arrived. In a delicious wave, from table to table, an enticing array of dishes were presented. Wowsers! With it all spread out over the table I immediately wondered how in the world I was going to have any room for mains. But I couldn’t wait to launch in! Hard to know where to start.
So what was on the entrée menu?
Sarme – Pickled cabbage rolls, veal mince, rice and smoked ribs Entirely delicious! Generous parcels, bursting with flavor and quite filling. I recall having cabbage rolls years ago and not being particularly wowed by them. Cabbage isn’t exactly a glamour veg (though it is clearly the star in coleslaw). These cabbage rolls had considerably more wow factor. They were early on in the entrée report, but they were one of my favourite dishes.
Tarama – Fish roe dip Now I was perhaps overly excited about the food arriving and may have forgotten to snap a quick pic of this dip along with the accompanying dish of crostini (I can assure you though it looked nice – here’s a pic that Divido took). But I’ll be the first to admit that I was somewhat nervous about trying any sort of fish dip. I had my concerns that it would pack quite a fishy flavour. However I was pleasantly surprised. The fish roe dip was actually very mild on the fish flavour front. I actually quite liked it. It was nice along with the crunchy slices of bread.
Kalzunakis – Cretan feta and mint pies with honey These precious morsels were another favourite. Light pastry and a delicious filling of creamy feta with a refreshing minty kick. And the slight salt from the feta paired so well with the drizzle of honey on top. As we later learnt from a chat with one of the chefs this was a dish that he’d learnt from his grandma. We felt so privileged that we had the chance to try a special dish that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Bakallarossalata – Spring salad, broad beans, peas, salt cod This was another dish that because of the salt cod I wasn’t entirely sure I would like. I’ll confess that I loved the broad beans and the other greens, all so crisp and refreshing, but I’m not a lover of salt cod. It’s ok though I loved everything else :)
Guba – Macedonian pumpkin pastries And speaking of things I loved, it turns out that I am a massive Guba fan! Delectably sweet, roasted pumpkin encased in perfectly light pastry. They were divine! If this was my first taste of Macedonian food then I couldn’t wait for what was still to come!
Timing was down to a fine art with their Balkan menus and after enough of a sojourn to renew appetites and make mains seem achievable they made their illustrious appearance. It was another impressive spread.
Moussaka – Layers of eggplant, rabbit stew and potato The eggplant had been thinly sliced and lovingly grilled and was a delicious topper to the hearty layers of melt in your mouth rabbit stew and chunky spud. Was a nice way to enjoy rabbit and the rich tomato sauce ensured the meat had no chance of being dry. All very tasty.
Now the star of the mains was the Arni – Woodroasted while lamb, garlic, anchovy and rosemary As the dishes were presented to the tables the room was filled with the heady scent of lamb. Sam Kekovich would have loved it! The meat had been sous vided for 12 hours before it was placed in the wood oven for an hour and a half. This, as we later found out, was a nod to the Greek tradition of dropping off your leg of lamb at the bakers on the way to Greek Easter mass and picking it up on your way home.
Me oh my it was lovely lamb! Just fell off the bone and was so full of delicious flavours. We loved it and not a skerrick was left behind :) A perfect centre piece for the mains line up.
But a mention has to go to all the delectable sides that also featured. Fidhe – Greek macaroni cheese This was an interesting spin on a macaroni classic. It still had the same indulgent cheesy flavour to it but instead of macaroni the Greek version was made with rissoni. It worked! Actually made it a little bit lighter than when it’s made with macaroni.
Grosak sa slaninom – Green peas and bacon I quite like peas but the awesomeness factor of these sweet green lil gems was definitely further enhanced by the inclusion of bacon. Ahhh bacon, you do good work.
Kupus Salate – Croatian coleslaw This salad was welcomed for the refreshing finish it provided. Crunchy greens, thin strips of carrot and radish made for a colourful dish.
Wow. What an epic meal it had been. And it really did have a wonderful, festive feel to it. Like at Christmas time when you grab your plate and do a loop around the food table and soon enough it’s piled high with a bit of this and a bit of that, you don’t want to miss out on anything, not when it all tastes so good :) While we waited for dessert we got a little creative with cutlery. Tres arty I know :)
Thankfully by some sort of miracle we had just enough room for dessert. Yay said the resident sweet tooth. We worked our way through the rich, buttery flavor of the Kourambiethes – Greek shortbread
And then onto the Kosniak – Macedonian brioche with almond filling which was a fairly different dish to what I had imagined but nonetheless very tasty with all it’s fruity goodness. Kind of like a really fancy fruit toast.
And finally the Palacinke – Baked crepes with Spring fruits the delicate layer on layer of crepes with a delicious citrus kick from the orange and vanilla marmalade. I’d say of the three this was my favourite :) Again very spoilt on the dessert front with these three special morsels.
Oh what a night! I cannot thank Jason and Elena and all of their wonderful team enough for the invitation to be their guest and their incredibly generous hospitality. After all that delectable food they had to roll us out of there. It’s been a long time favourite for a reason and I’m sure that we’ll be making many return visits.
A big thank you :)
Oh and if you fancy a chance to sample Divido’s Balkan fare then head along to their Melbourne Cup Lunch. They’ll have all their most popular Balkan dishes on the menu – sure to be very yum!