DIANE DE BEER
The stars were aligned when chef supreme Stavros Vladislavic and fanatical foodie Inge Pretorius decided the time was right to start their Tshwane culinary venture. They had been talking for years.
He is an old favourite in the capital city but left in 2003 for neighbouring Cullinan where he has been pulling the crowds, especially for lazy weekend lunches. And that is still an on-going enterprise with wife Vonni keeping those fires stoked.
Now he’s back and for Pretorius, a woman with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, it is a dream that she has been nurturing for many years. She has always wanted to run a restaurant. Her head is filled with food from the moment she wakes up, when she starts planning the family’s evening meal.
“It’s been a huge learning curve,” she says of the restaurant enterprise, but the two partners knew from the start how it would work. Stavros is the chef-patron and the one who makes all the food decisions, while Inge does the admin and the management. She but also worked her butt off to get the place looking the way it does – with a little help from many friends, starting with her husband and Vonni, who has an artistic eye.
They wanted to keep it relaxed, a typical Greek taverna, no frills, yet bursting with charm. How to do the dining side wasn’t a stretch. Chef Vladislavic has been doing his spectacular kitchen wizardry for many years and his customers wouldn’t want any of that to change. Why mess with something that works?
The big man with the booming voice knows better than that. His food is as generous as his heart and Inge, who is left doing the sums, had to accept his wisdom and better judgement. “It was tough for me to relinquish control, but I knew I had to listen to him,” she says.
And that’s their strength. She has allowed the chef who knows how to feed his people to take the lead while she gets stuck into making it all work. It’s a winning recipe and the way she likes it. All the while she’s also improving her cooking skills and knowledge, something she’s passionate about. Sampling food from the kitchen is what she loves best. That’s how she got to know Stavros, eating at his different restaurants.
On the night, we went, the chef had prepared a feast. It’s all about produce and passion. It started with a light fresh salad of asparagus, avo, coz lettuce, and spring onion with a rocket pesto dressing. This had to counterbalance the meat dishes to follow; a Cajun burnt pepper fillet and a chilli, garlic and ginger chicken succulent and perfectly cooked with beetroot and spinach as a tasty accompaniment.
No Stavvie meal would be complete without some seafood. This time it was a platter generously packed with a selection of kingklip and hake loins, prawns, mussels done in white wine garlic and cream, calamari in a light chilli sauce, rice salad, pita bread and tzatziki.
These were his choices for a welcome feast from his state-of-the-art kitchen, from where a kiddie’s size moussaka, some freshly made pita and a few dips were as complete at a later lunch meeting.
From his meze menu (including artichokes, dolmades, melitzana, tiropita, spanakopita, saganaki, calamari and beef slouvaki chicken boerekia or keftedes) to the Greek national dishes ranging from brizoles, moussaka (traditional and a veg option), pastitio and the melt-in-the-mouth kleftiko, there’s the whole other side of the menu to explore. Or you could feast on a starter of squid heads (a personal favourite) or sardines. Prawns, snails or chicken livers are also an alternative sensation and along the way, the chef will be cheering you on.
Even in today’s coffee crazy world, restaurants aren’t always reliable but finding themselves in the heart of Tshwane’s cuisine culture (in the centre of Greenlyn), they tick all the boxes. And the sweet side offers halva, baklava and Greek biscuits, Kourabiedes or Melomakarona or you could simply finish the night off with Ouzo and dates – there’s no better choice.
As with many of the city’s restaurants where the chef-patron is such a large part of the success, with Prinsloo in tow (sometimes quietly in the background), they pack a punch. It’s not often that someone who doesn’t need looking after is set free simply to make magic with the food and on the floor with the patrons.
On the wine side, the choice is as sassy as the food with different needs and pockets catered for. Under each section, there are options with Hermanuspietersfontein Kaalvoet Meisie Sauvignon Blanc tough to resist for the name alone; a prosecco at R230 also an option on a celebratory night; wine served by the glass which means carafe; and then you’re yet to dip into the cocktails (Stavvie’s special of vodka, lemon, mint and lime would be my choice) or even one of their special gins or whiskeys – you’re spoilt for choice.
As Greek as It Gets is as much about Stavvie as it is about the food. You could just slip in quietly and have a meal, you might even get away with it. But if you’re one of those diners who likes talking food, prefers someone guiding you with the menu, or perhaps wants to try something extraordinary, this is your place.
He will talk the talk but also walk the walk. And now he has someone there to keep everything running sweetly, deal with administrative hassles (we all have those) and just keeping an eye and checking on the sidelines whether the night is playing out as gently as it should for everyone involved.
*First published in Sunday Times Lifestyle Food, 16/6/2019.