Hellenic House: The Not-So-Secret Gem of Brisbane
The Paniyiri Greek Festival is one of the most popular cultural festivals in Brisbane, with over 50,000 Greek (and honorary Greeks) attending each year, immersing themselves in a self-described kaleidoscopic cultural explosion of colour, dance, music and food. Started in 1976, the Paniyiri Greek Festival pays tribute to the Greek community and their cultural traditions here in Brisbane. The Festival runs in May every year in Musgrave Park, South Brisbane.
Words by Sarah Duncan
“Is that a bullet hole?” I ask, looking at one of the windows as we sit in a restaurant waiting for dinner. I use the term restaurant lightly, though. It’s a poorly-maintained hall space that appears to be furnished with items taken from a kerbside collection.
Mismatched chairs with ripped seat cushions are placed around plastic tables, all scuffed and scratched. While faded images of past Greek soccer heroes hang on the walls that flake as layers of paint curve like the petals of a fragile flower.
A group of men in their thirties sit around a plastic table toward the less well-lit side of the hall. They drink, talk loudly to each other in Greek and laugh; one pats another on the back as he joins the table, arriving after having a smoke outside.
“The food is excellent, friendliest service, and prices very reasonable”
“The food is excellent, friendliest service, and prices very reasonable”, one regular diner at Hellenic House wrote in their review on a restaurant search app, assuring the interior is not a reflection of the quality of the food served. “Do you go to a restaurant to eat the curtains? Or perhaps nibble on a chair?” the reviewer asked. “No, you actually go there to eat food!”
Further reviews encourage low expectations when it comes to the furnishings, but when food’s mentioned it’s with love and appreciation.
“What would you like?” a friendly woman says from behind the kitchen counter at the centre of the room. The menu is written in faded marker pen on a whiteboard which leans against the stainless-steel counter on the floor. Dips, breads, seafood and meats are all on there, all the Greek food staples. We choose our favourites the sit down and wait.
The salad is full of oil-soaked olives, fresh feta cheese, tomato and cucumber. The lamb, squeezed with the all-important lemon, was cooked over an open flame. The octopus is plump and moist, and sprinkled with paprika. My partner and I look at each other with disbelief then don’t manage to say another word until the last bite.
“Secret gem in the quiet streets of Brisbane”
We use our hands and lick lemon off our sticky fingers, feeling like we’ve discovered some secret gem in the quiet streets of Brisbane’s inner-city suburb of West End. But, Hellenic House is no secret. The community hall has been a place for the Greek community of the area to get together for decades.
The elderly men gather on the balcony by day and play backgammon while drinking their strong, thick coffees. The hall has been part of the local Greek community since 1922, when the building was purchased with the intention of transforming it into a Greek Orthodox Church, the first in Brisbane. But its place in the Greek community is set to change.
A large poster out the front stands as a sign that the hall is to be knocked down to make way for a residential apartment building called Olympia.
Hellenic House manager Steve Kassiou called Hellenic House the “true heart” of Brisbane’s Greek community, “If you want to find a Greek person you come here,” he said. “If they demolish it, it will be a disgrace to the Greek community.”
To read the full story:
“Goodbye Backgammon, Baklava and that Questionable Bullet Hole” and other great articles.