Food is of utmost importance to the Greeks and, unless you were hiding under a rock in 2002, you knew this after one viewing of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But it’s only now, in the past couple of months, that Dubai residents are understanding what the fuss is about – almost every other new restaurant seems to serve the cuisine of this Mediterranean country. Jumping on the bandwagon, we sampled everything from souvlaki and saganaki to dolmadakia and keftedakia at the six new Greek spots in town. Here are our verdicts.
We started our ‘tour’ at the recently opened Ammos in Rixos Premium Dubai, where the setting – a spacious terrace and killer views of Ain Dubai – sets high expectations. Ammos is all about authentic Greek food made with “soul, creativity, and love” – and it shows in the starters menu alone. The selection is vast and you’ll want to sample a bit of everything, so we suggest taking a group of friends in tow. The two in particular that we’ll be returning for? ‘Melitzanosalata’ (a smoked-eggplant spread with crispy shallots, pine nuts, and parsley) and ‘Feta Tyropita’ (feta cheese wrapped in filo pastry and unexpectedly served atop watermelon and with a drizzle of honey).
If you’re the adventurous type, order the ‘Octopus Carpaccio’ or go straight to the mains. This is where it gets good. For one, the display of fresh seafood includes king prawns, wild sea bream, and Alaskan king crab. The lobster pasta is a very popular signature dish at Ammos, as is the ‘Stuffed Calamari’ with orzo pasta in a tomato-saganaki sauce. The ‘Orzo Seafood’, meanwhile, is an interesting take on seafood risotto. And, if seafood isn’t your thing, then the impeccably prepared ‘Baby Chicken’ makes for a great back-up. Naturally, you’ll want something sweet to round off your meal, and there are great options like chocolate mousse and lemon custard to choose from. But take our word for it: order the panna cotta topped with tomato jelly. It sounds so, so wrong – but it’s so, so right.
Restaurateur Natasha Sideris of Tashas and Flamingo Room fame is slowly conquering the city – and we’re not complaining. Avli, her newest venture, has set up shop in DIFC, hosting everyone from Hollywood actors and members of the royal family to anyone seeking great Greek food. We fall in the latter bracket, and came to the conclusion that Avli is the definitive spot for dining in a big group, since the Mezedes section is where the menu really shines. We enjoyed the ‘Feta Saganaki’, ‘Ladenia’, and ‘Beetroot Dip’ equally, and were pleasantly surprised by the contrast of crisp potato – as opposed to filo pastry – against spinach purée in the ‘Spanakopita’.
Sampling the seafood at Avli is a must, and it’s the ‘Fried Calamari’ (served with a gorgeous black garlic and squid ink aioli) that we recommend. Over in the meats, opt for the ‘Pastitsio’ that offers a cool, deconstructed take on lamb cannelloni. Oh, and is a Greek meal even complete without gyros? Here, they’re miniature in size, but brimming with flavor due to fillings like roasted-garlic yogurt and black radish. You absolutely cannot skip dessert on your way out. And if you won’t linger for the decadent ‘Lemon Semifreddo’ – where honeycomb, warm custard, and crumbled biscuits collide – then do it for the ambience. The music is loud, the lighting is dim, and the décor is inspired by Cycladic art – it feels like a trendy little courtyard in Athens that only the locals are privy to.
The ubiquity of Greek restaurants in Dubai translates to yet another great new Greek spot in town: Ena. Located at The Pointe on Palm Jumeirah, the concept is a contemporary take on founder Lena Maniatis’ Greek roots. This means that her childhood favorites are revisited, edited, and updated with a modern twist. Almond-crusted feta cheese is drizzled with pomegranate honey, aubergine is layered with manouri cheese, and avgolemono foam elevates what you think is a simple combination of rice and chicken.
What do 50 Cent and HH Sheikh Hamdan have in common? Not much, except for the fact that both have given Gaia their seal of approval. And why wouldn’t they? It’s only the hottest hotspot in town. Led by the renowned Chef Izu Ani, this upscale taverna in the always lively DIFC aims to showcase “the true essence of Greek-Mediterranean cuisine” – and it delivers. There’s a clean, contemporary simplicity to both the pared-down decor and unfussy menu that revolves around the finest ingredients.
Take your time with the starters, arguably its most diverse section. The ‘Cheese Pie’ is more decadent than mundane, courtesy of black truffle and a blend of three different cheeses. Crowd-pleasers come in the form of ‘Grilled Octopus’ and ‘Prawns Saganaki’, while the ‘Truffle Potatoes’ pair beautifully with the star of the show: the fresh seafood that sits proudly on display in Gaia’s main dining room. Trust the recommendations of the “Fishelier” with regards to both your pick and the best cooking technique amongst raw, baked with spiced tomato, charcoal grilled with lemon oil, and steamed in a salt crust. Heartier fare, meanwhile, can be found in the mains – think: lamb cutlets, grilled tomahawk, and black-leg chicken. Admittedly, it all comes with a rather hefty price tag, so save this one for a special occasion. And definitely save room for dessert.
The Opa experience begins before you’ve even stepped foot inside. First, there’s the private elevator that whisks you up, setting the scene with its stone-floor entryway, Grecian blue doors, and a wall mural depicting coastal scenes. Then the doors open, and you’re hit with the scent of jasmine and the sight of bougainvillea. Once through the garden, you’re in the actual restaurant that – in true Greek style – is all white walls with accents of rich, vivid blue. It’s hard to believe this is the same space that Catch used to occupy.
But it’s not just the dreamy decor that had us hooked, it was the food. We’re still dreaming about the ‘Opa Baklava Sundae’ – it might just be the best dessert in the city. The menu has everything you could possibly want from a traditional Greek eatery: melt-in-the-mouth halloumi with fig and grape dressing, creamy tzatziki with cucumber and dill, freshly baked flatbreads, crispy fried calamari, and feta-topped salads. Confession: We may have enjoyed the starters and small plates so much that we skipped the mains, but we lived vicariously through the platters of fresh fish passing our table. Oh, and the waiters (all Greek, naturally) delight diners with traditional plate-smashing and Zorba dancing, which you can get up and join – provided you’re not stuffed, that is. Santorini, eat your heart out.
Taverna Greek Kitchen
Its doors have been open for only two months, but Taverna Greek Kitchen at Souk Madinat Jumeirah is already making waves amongst Dubai’s foodies, and it’s not hard to see why. Perfect Location? Check. Picturesque views of those stunning waterways? Check. Dreamy décor? Check. And let’s not forget its open-style kitchen, rustic touches, and Mediterranean hues, all of which make for a truly authentic experience. The kitchen is headed up by Greek chef Theodore Rouvas, who has worked at numerous award-winning restaurants in Europe and designed a menu centered around sharing – you’re encouraged to order a variety of meze, cold plates, and salads to whet your appetite. The only problem this poses? They’re all so good that you’ll want them to yourself.
Start with some freshly baked pita and a spread of traditional Greek dips (the rich and creamy ‘Taramosalata’ and garlic-infused ‘Tzatziki’ are not to be missed) before sampling the ‘Ksidato Octopus’ that is braised in vinegar, herbs, and olive oil. Another must-try is the ‘Flaming Cheese Saganaki’, which – as its name suggests – comes complete with flames and a delicious orange marmalade. It’s here that we dined not only on perfectly chargrilled ‘Gulf Prawns’, but also the heartiest ‘Moussaka’ in the city. Just be sure to save room for the ‘Greek Yoghurt Pavlova’ with berries and yogurt ice cream. It would be rude not to.