Situated along the meandering waterways at Madinat Jumeriah is a new Greek restaurant from the team behind The Meat Co and Bentley’s Kitchen. With the demand for Greek cuisine showing absolutely no signs of slowing down in Dubai, it was only a matter of time before the arrival of a restaurant such as Taverna Greek Kitchen.
Passing the turquoise waters dotted with traditional wooden abra boats we soon find ourselves at the restaurant inside a building topped with traditional Islamic wind towers and marked by a small and unassuming entranceway. Leaving behind the Arabic architecture of the exterior, we enter into a wholly traditional taverna, as if crossing the threshold of the restaurant had teleported us to a mountainous village overlooking the Aegean coast. The feeling is immediately homely thanks to a combination of whitewashed walls, tiled floors, simple wooden furnishings and hospitable staff.
We firstly notice the crockery which has been cleverly branded with the Taverna logo. Across the room, fresh fish lie on a bed of ice and in an elemental contrast, flames dart in the warm fires of the large open kitchen. Much like the atmosphere of the dining room, Taverna’s menu boasts a rustic charm that is only heightened by the team on the restaurant floor, with many of the staff hailing from Greece these are guys you should consult for recommendations on the best dishes.
Any meal at Taverna begins with a tray of cold appetisers that are presented to the table upon a glittering silver tray. With each dish is thoroughly explained before guests are invited to make a selection. We cannot resist the tzatziki (AED 25) a cool mixture of Greek yoghurt, cucumber and garlic that works so well slathered upon a piece of warm pita bread. The taramasalata (AED 25), a fish paste mixed with cold pressed olive oil and salmon roe is also enjoyable but its the ksidato octopus (AED 35) that has us scraping the plate clean, thanks to the preparation technique which sees the mollusk slowly braised before being pickled in vinegar.
The appetizers bring an unexpected modernity to proceedings as we see traditional dishes re-interpreted to varying degrees of success. A traditional spinach pie is transformed into an interesting salad, while the squid ink soup makes for a visual treat. Textures come into play with the tuna carpaccio (AED 60) which presents the thinly sliced fish with rosemary croutons and dollops of lemon marmalade, before Greek coffee is grated on top as if it were pepper. The resulting plate has a lot going on but somehow the ingredients harmonize and work in unison to create something special.
The kadaifi prawns (AED 60) pose an interesting plate to diners with the filo wrapped seafood served alongside almonds, sesame and a fresh seaweed salad, which is unfortunately overpowered by a strawberry sauce that is a touch too sweet.
Despite being a Greek restaurant you won’t find any plate smashing or Zorba dancing at Greek Taverna although theatrics certainly come into play with the flaming cheese saganaki (AED 58). A dish where pan fried Greek Kefaltyri cheese is soaked in ouzo and set alight at the table to infuse the aniseed flavours into the dairy which is then served with a sweet tomato jam that brings a nice sense of balance to the plate.
Being of Greek heritage we cannot resit the moussaka (AED 110) which is one of Greece’s most recognizable (and popular) dishes. Presented in a large ramekin the simplicity of the presentation belies the true nature of the dish which boasts a well-seasoned beef mince, layers of thinly sliced aubergine and a béchamel sauce that is soufflé light and shows how well the classic dishes are treated at this particular Greek Taverna. A range of wood fired grills and a seafood selection round out the main course options.
While we have struggled with desserts at some of the other Greek spots around town, Taverna appears to have turned the tide when it comes to the traditional doughnuts known as loukoumades (AED 38). Sixteen sweet dough balls sit in a deep dish, slathered in thyme, honey and a delightful walnut crumble that are nowhere near as heavy as they appear. Additionally, a Greek yoghurt pavlova (AED 38) is undeniably light and the use of yoghurt to balance a notoriously sweet dish is a smart move. You could easily imagine this is what eating a cloud would be like.
With the likes of Gaia, Ena, Opa, Opsu and Ammos all opening their doors in the past 12 months it would appear that Dubai’s appetite is well and truly enamoured with all things Greek chic. This trend shows no signs of subsiding, yet Taverna Greek has proved a successful entry into the Mediterranean marketplace and one that has managed to stand out from the crowd in the relatively short time since opening. The Taverna experience is casual, rustic and a whole lot of fun and with Greek language tapes playing in the bathrooms, it’s highly likely you’ll pick up a phrase or two to try out on your next Aegean adventure.
Out & About UAE were guests of Taverna. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.