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324 Bridge Rd, Richmond, VIC 3121
How does this sound? It’s late in the week and you’re feeling a bit blah, like you need a reset that may very well involve a glass of wine.
You’re drawn to Laikon’s cheery red bricks, bow-tied waiters and poppy music on vinyl. You get that glass of wine and choose a few bites, served up by owner Jon Pandoleon who shaves prosciutto on a handsome flywheel slicer, scoops up olives marinated with fresh herbs and chilli, dolmades rolled by his mother Kathy, and a wedge of lovely room-temperature cheese. It’s simple and hospitable and it makes you feel nice. The blahs ebb, the smiles come. That’s Laikon.
Jon Pandoleon grew up here. The shop was opened by his grandfather John in 1976 as a butcher and his grandson remembers meat hanging from rails and big barrels of cheese.
After five or six years, Jon’s parents Michael and Kathy took it over and, for 28 years, they sold feta, olives and baklava to the local Greek community. It was Jon’s second home: he packaged nuts, stamped bags with the Laikon logo, swept up, “all the jobs mum and dad could push onto me”, but then he went off to study sports injury rehab.
Over the decades, the Greek community that Laikon first served started to thin out, Richmond gentrified and, when the family business lured Pandoleon back a decade ago, he broadened the offering to pan-Euro delicacies.
Just recently, he pivoted again, taking over the Mexican restaurant next door, punching a hole through the wall and expanding the deli offering with a full-service cafe. It’s lovely.
You can still come for take-home antipasto, pantry goods and bread but you can also sit down for brunch. The baked beans are great: big, fat lima beans in a tomatoey sauce with chilli, dill, feta and a perfect poached egg for sunny ooze.
Otherwise, there are smashed peas, a bolognese jaffle and pretty black-sesame-sprinkled avocado with golden fried saganaki.
The baklava porridge is stirred through with the walnuts, cinnamon and sugar that you’d find layered in the Greek pastry. It’s creamy and satisfying, but I reckon it would be even better with a crunchy filo garnish.
Kathy Pandoleon still makes the cakes. Her bougatsa, a crunchy filo pastry filled with sweet semolina custard, is a traditional breakfast bite in Thessaloniki where the family is from. Do like they do in the old country and sweeten up your morning.
The lemon semolina cake is mysteriously light with a moist crumb and persistent syrupy citrus notes. The deft hands that roll the Laikon dolmades also roll the baklava fingers: there’s a good proportion of nutty filling, pastry and syrupy soak.
Lunchy stuff includes sandwiches, salads (maybe herbed burghul with grilled corn), or hot dishes like white bean soup and baked gnocchi. None of it’s complicated but everything is executed with care and pride.
There aren’t many third-generation businesses in Melbourne and that alone makes Laikon a place to treasure. But its winning edge – and one of the secrets to its longevity – is the open-faced rapport with customers.
Some cafes act like you’re lucky to be there. Everything about Laikon says they feel lucky you stopped by.
My score: 3.5/5
See their website.
First published in Good Food, 24th October 2018.