• Jonathan Barthelmess' Greek Octopus, fennel, olives
    Jonathan Barthelmess' Greek Octopus, fennel, olives

In this month's masterclass, three top chefs reveal how they give Australian seafood the global treatment at their hit Sydney restaurants. The Apollo's Jonathan Barthelmess brings Greek food flair to the table.

In 2012, two industry stars teamed up to do the food they grew up with. Slick and sexy The Apollo was born and Greek in Sydney was given a much-needed, long-awaited shake up.

Longrain co-owner Sam Christie took charge of front of house, while Jonathan Barthelmess, who traded his former fine-dining digs at Manly Pavilion to come on board as partner, steered the kitchen. The striking interior was given the treatment by another Greek lad, George Livissianis.

Two and a half years on, the modern Greek taverna in Potts Point still heaves with locals and loyal followers. The emerging hospitality force recently opened its second joint, the contemporary (and equally sexy) Japanese Cho Cho San, just up the road. They get what Sydney wants to eat – and where and how.

At The Apollo, Barthelmess’ style is more rustic than the refined approach he’s taken elsewhere. At the same time, his sophisticated treatment of classic dishes is a far cry from traditional Greek fare.

“Half the dishes are Greek staples, like taramasalata, vine-leaf parcels and pita bread,” Barthelmess says. “They evolve with better produce, better technique and improved consistency. “The other half use a Greek flavour profile, but we’ve turned them into our own. Like, you wouldn’t find them anywhere else.”

An elegant interpretation of simple chargrilled octopus falls into the former category. “Octopus is eaten all through Greece and the Mediterranean. It's something we felt we needed to put on a Greek menu.”

The dish features year-round, but is adapted with seasonal ingredients and weight. “In summer, it’s more of a salad. In winter, it might have braised chickpeas and turn into more of a stew-style dish.” Right now, he’s paired it with fresh fennel, olives, capers and smoked paprika.

Barthelmess describes it as one of The Apollo’s most popular seafood dishes along with the grilled calamari. The octopus is one of the menu’s biggest sellers overall, too. He puts it down to the Hellenic setting.

“It’s not as popular as a piece of white-fleshed fish is with Australians generally, but we're very Greek and people have expectations of octopus. Anyone who has been to the Greek islands has eaten it there. It reminds them of their holiday.”
Barthelmess thinks it would even outstrip that white fish if he ever put something like that on the menu.

Octopus isn’t seasonal seafood, but it has taken the chef nearly two years to find the right product. “In the Mediterranean, it’s a different species of octopus and they can just grill it and it's still tender,” he says. “If we do that here, it comes out like rubber.” He hit upon the bounty with a supplier from Fremantle. “The product was very consistent,” explains Barthelmess.

The octopus was also the perfect size, with large hands, and the texture was right on. The chef also discovered that pressure-cooking the cephalopod on high for a short period of time, rather than braising, offered more consistent results. 

Before it’s served, the tender octopus is cooked a second time until it’s slightly charred and crisp. It’s a hit dish, but not necessarily an easy money-maker. “You think of octopus as being cheap, but the product we get isn't cheap at all. You also have to factor in that you lose half the weight cooking it. There’s not a really high profit margin, but we cost it right on the mark.”

By Jonathan Barthelmess, The Apollo  | Serves 4 (as a share plate)

“We marinate the octopus in all the traditional flavours – vinegar, bay leaf, garlic – and then pressure-cook it. It cools in and absorbs its own liquid, then it’s cooked again until crisp and finished with a classic Greek dressing.”

    1kg octopus hands
    100ml red wine vinegar
    100ml olive oil
    2 bay leaves
    2 cloves garlic
    50ml water
    pinch of salt

Wash the octopus hands under cold running water until the water runs clear. Place all the ingredients in a pressure cooker and cook at high pressure for 14 minutes or until the octopus is cooked. Place the octopus and its liquid in a container and refrigerate until completely cool.

Spring onions
    1 bunch spring onions
    50ml chilli oil
    50ml chilli vinegar
    pinch of salt

Place all the ingredients in a sous vide bag and cook at 85°C for 45-60 minutes or until cooked. Place the bag in iced water and set aside to cool completely.

    100ml olive oil
    100ml chilli oil
    100ml lemon juice

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined.

    2 tsp baby capers
    vegetable oil, to deep-fry

Rinse the capers under running water, then dry. Deep-fry in the vegetable oil until puffed and crisp. Remove from the oil and set aside.

To assemble
    1 medium fennel bulb
    ½ bunch parsley
    1 quantity cooked octopus
    1 quantity cooked spring onions
    100g good-quality pitted black olives baby basil and baby coriander, to serve
    1 quantity dressing
    pinch of smoked paprika

Thinly slice the fennel. Wash the parsley, pick the leaves, then roughly chop.

Cook the octopus in a frying pan until golden and crisp. Cut into serving-size pieces.

Cut the spring onions in half. Cook in a frying pan until caramelised. Separate into rings.

Place the warm octopus and spring onions, fennel, parsley, olives, basil and coriander in a bowl. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving plate, top with the fried capers and serve.