Hydra: The Best Restaurant I Have Little Interest In Returning To

A friend’s birthday party with 12 people was booked at Hydra several weeks before the infamous and inflammatory vanmag.com review came out. It’s quite an entertaining read, and I use the word “inflammatory” on purpose because they entitled it, “Hydra Estiatorio Is a Dumpster Fire of a Restaurant”. But I think it was all a great teachable moment for the restaurant because I didn’t experience any of the major issues brought up in that review. Whew! (Mia Stainsby’s earlier review is a nice counterpoint.)

Still…Hydra (being a more upscale restaurant — although the food isn’t necessarily upscale, elevated, or refined) isn’t quite my cup of tzatziki. It’s like there’s a rich-person WhatsApp group and they all said to check out Hydra. Not my scene.

Hydra is across the street from the basement Aussie pub, Moose’s Down Under.

“Estiatorio” aka “Greek restaurant”.

The entrance opens into their ground-level cafe & mezze bar, which was a dead zone at 8pm on a Saturday night. We went up the spiral staircase to enter the actual restaurant, which was fairly busy but not packed.

Yeah, a bit of money went into this room. I’d consider Hydra if I had to book a work function. The TV screen on the right was playing Mediterranean scenery, to give you that vibe.

Bar on the left side of the restaurant.

…and towards the back on your way to the washrooms is a frickin’ Instagram wall with a gold & white Moët bathtub.

The seafood counter in the back, with (I gotta admit) some really nice tall mirrors. Seafood on ice on display. The raw bar and the seafood is a big part of their menu but actually their meats were just as good.

NOTE: this was a custom tasting menu dinner. Your experience may vary if you’re ordering à la carte. My friend who made the reservation just told the restaurant to send out whatever they wanted in order to feed 12 people with a $50 per person budget. I gotta say, they handled it great and we all left stuffed. And the one person in our group with a peanut allergy didn’t have to worry because there’s zero peanuts in the entire restaurant.

NOTE 2: No menu shots because it was a tasting menu thing. Most dishes seemed to be the same size as if you were ordering à la carte. I’ve provided listed menu prices where applicable, FYI.

Beer list is ok. At least there’s some Dageraad and Persephone. I’d even get a Unibroue La Fin Du Monde if the mood struck me.

Cocktails.

Zero proof. There’s also a huge wine list that I didn’t bother taking pictures of.

That classic Greek colour scheme.

Our first course was the Spreads. They’ve got a list of six, which you can order individually for $10 each. Rather expensive once you see how big the actual serving is, but the flavour and quality is there.

They brought out three of these platters for our table and it was actually more than enough to share, even though it doesn’t look it:

Clockwise from top: Melitzana (grilled eggplant), Tarama (salted fish roe on a smooth potato base), Xtipiti (spicy creamy feta), Fava (yellow split peas with sundried tomatoes and capers on top), Menta (feta with mint & lemon), and Tzatziki (Greek yogurt with cucumber & garlic, duh).

A couple of the dips are chin-scratchers with flavours that were new to me or I couldn’t quite place. At $10 each, there is sticker shock but at least the taste and quality is there. The Tzatziki was a straight-up classic tzatziki that didn’t reinvent the wheel but maybe put new shiny rims on it. My favourite was the Menta with bright zing of mint and lemon, but really I thought they were all tasty in their own way.

The pita was really good — soft, light, slight chew, slightly warm, kiss of toasting and seasoning on the outside. No Silpat “chemical note”.

This Xtipiti (spicy creamy feta) had sliced chilies that had a strong kick and had me coughing a bit.

Tomato Salad ($19) with vine-ripened tomatoes and feta. Vine-ripened, my ass. Flavourless bricks. After coming off of a great local tomato season, eating this felt like a kick in the gut.

Grilled Octopus ($21) with lemon, oregano olive oil, capers, sun-dried tomato, microgreens, and fava bean purée. Mostly tender but slightly dried out. Salty with an acrid char, like it was seasoned with carbonized stuck-on grill char. Not great.

Lobster Pasta ($69) with a whole lobster, fresh pasta, tomato, ouzo, and lobster sauce. At first glance, this looks like a Greek/Italian version of Chinese lobster on yee mein.

Lobster was overcooked, approaching a dry, rubbery state but still edible. Pasta was an interesting mix of spaghetti and linguine, which I hope is on purpose because I’ve never seen pasta mixed like this before. Too bad the pasta was a bit soft for my taste and I wasn’t sold on the sauce. Maybe using a fresh pasta is unnecessary in this dish?

I enjoy the mix of two textures of noodles in Singaporean laksa (some places give you the option of combining wheat or egg noodles and rice vermicelli), so applying this concept to pasta might be interesting if they used two more contrasting noodle textures like linguine with angel hair.

After the great appetizer spreads and pita, dinner seemed to take a nosedive. Luckily, the big meaty family style “Hydra Platters” is where Hydra shines:

Forno Roasted Whole Leg of Lamb ($89) marinated with oregano and lemon, and served with “natural drippings”. Brought out of the kitchen for the “mains parade”, then brought back to the kitchen to be carved:

The lamb was juicy, tender, and a crowd-pleaser. The taste of the meat shines, rather than the seasoning. There’s charred lemon, roasted garlic, a rich jus, and this powder if you want more flavour:

All the roasted meats came with this fun “seasoning bae” powder.

There’s also rosemary and thyme stalks, if you want:

I had to admit to myself that this place was not bad! Another surprise dish:

Whole Forno Roasted Chicken ($48) marinated with herbs & lemon. Another crowd-pleasing dish but I didn’t quite like it as much as everyone else. A bit overcooked imho with the meat almost falling apart. The jus, charred lemon, roasted garlic, and extra seasoning powder make it all go down very nicely though.

They also brought out two fish-of-the-day dishes:

One salt baked…

…and one grilled. This fish deboned in less than 3 mins by the lead server who was very direct, confident, and in-charge.

Grilled Sea Bream ($MP) with olive oil & lemon sauce.

Whole Salt-Baked Sea Bream ($MP). My favourite protein of the night.

The fish obviously is way less food to share between 12 people, so I only got a forkful of each to try but they were both cooked right on the money. I preferred the succulence of the salt-baked one over the grilled, but both did the fish justice. For a name like “Hydra”, you’d damn well hope they could pull off fish.

Side of sauteed greens, lightly lubricated and a bit of char. Good.

Greek fried potatoes. Nothing to write home about.

Now for dessert:

Ice Cream and Baklava ($14), bite size nut fillo pocket with pistachio ice cream and cinnamon syrup. I’m not a dessert person but I found this adequate. Other people loved it. Good manageable size after all that meat. Nothing was too sweet.

Mostly devastated by the time I got back from the washroom. Apparently it was served, cut, and sauced with quite a flourish, tableside.

Bougatsa ($15) with semolina custard, caramel-chocolate ganache, and cinnamon icing sugar. Semolina custard inside has a banana-like texture. Bottom layers of phyllo a bit thick and hard to cut through. But the smooth chocolate ganache cured a lot of sins.

The food isn’t as refined or elegant or fancified as you might think. Dishes like the leg of lamb are dead simple in concept but executed  well. Service was great. They handled our big group well. The washrooms were very clean and had audiobooks of Greek fables playing to keep your mind occupied while you drop-ship last night’s dinner.

Looking back on the pita and dips, I do feel a pull to return…not to the restaurant but maybe the downstairs bar for some daily featured spreads and some pita. But even then, it’s so glam, glitzy, and monied…just not my scene.

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