If the name of George Calombaris' latest eatery, Mastic—a cafe on Kew's Cotham Road, sounds a little like chewing the cud, that's because it sort of is.
Drawing on his heritage that already plays its hand in different ways at his other venues, including Hellenic Republic, The Press Club, Gazi, and Jimmy Grants, Mastic takes its name, and its ethos, from a rare oak tree resin found only on the Greek island of Chios.
Famed for its unique health properties, including good digestion and promoting clear skin, mastic, as the resin is known, was the world's first chewing gum, though far better for you than the stuff we consume nowadays. Chefs from all over the world travel to Chios to study its positive effects, and Calombaris is transferring some of the knowledge into his healthy eating cafe. Just don't call it Paleo.
'People ask me if it's a Paleo café and I say, 'no, no, no, it's the good food shop, a healthy Hellenic store,' Calombaris says. 'It's about how I am at the moment and the beliefs I've adopted, all melted into one.'
That includes his current passion for table tennis, which regular collaborator Rodney Eggleston from March Studio has accommodated into the colourful design for Mastic. By now, it's taken for granted that any venue of Calombaris' will have a feature ceiling. Here two tables will be winched up to the ceiling and can be dropped down for a swift game while you sip your coffee, provided by Will & Co.
'When I told Rodney I wanted table tennis in Mastic, he looked at me funny and then said, 'right, we'll get two in there,' Calombaris says. Never short of a few out-there ideas, there will also be a flower-shop-like stand that will sell bunches of herbs, so people can take them home and get cooking.
Open 'til 4pm, seven days a week, despite it being the opposite end of the daily grind from his other venues, Calombaris says he'll be treating it with the same attention to detail as his other Melbourne restaurants. 'Obviously The Press Club is very close to my heart, and we always base things on what we do in there and try to filter that down. I want Mastic to have the best service we possibly can for a humble little cafe in Kew that's serving really yummy fare.'
That fare will include wholemeal flour organic crumpets with sweet potato butter, ricotta, plus salted and toasted pumpkin seeds, salads with salmon and beetroot, and a big range of fresh juices. 'This month, when we open, berries will be in season, so we'll source the best from Red Hill and you'll see berries in a lot of things. They're delicious and they're good for you. People are adopting this idea of having a good meal for breakfast, which I think is fantastic, and then having something lighter for lunch'.
There will be whole coconuts on offer with a straw to drink them fresh, and as for the Will & Co. coffee, you can have for goats milk or even second-pressed coconut milk. 'Even though I'm all for full-cream milk, it's about going, 'guys, you know what, there are options in life and there's a reason why these ancient Greeks drank goats milk and lived for a long time.'
His parents preached a lot of what Calombaris practices while he was growing up. 'My parents have been doing this since I was born. They lead a very healthy life, full of good grains, pulses, fish, and meat,' he says. 'Will we be using butter? Yes. Will we be using margarine? No. Will we be using olive oil? Yes. Will we use some inferior corn oil? No.'
Calombaris is serious about the health kick he's on, and wants to share his knowledge, even in Jimmy Grants. 'Don't get me wrong, Jimmy Grants is a takeaway version of a souvlaki bar, but everything is wholefood, we know where the potatoes come from, the bread's made from wholemeal flour, it ain't mass-produced. Is it a bit naughty? Yeah.'
Clearly bursting with ambition for Mastic, it's hard not to get swept up in Calombaris' vision. 'I've always said that if I don't want to eat there, why would I open something? I want to eat at Mastic. We're very lucky we have great cafes in Melbourne, but I also want my own place I can be proud of and not copy the others, but build a place that fits my beliefs.
'I want to give the punter something they'll enjoy, that has the George Calombaris touch. My amazing team, that supports me in all my projects, are behind it, they understand it and they believe in my dream.'
We're pretty sure we do, too.
Mastic | 26 Cotham Road, Kew
Opening around Nov 27