Kali Orexi: Dinner at Elia
In the Mankhool area, amidst various small cafes and shawarma joints, Elia carves out a space of its own and, for a couple of hours at least, transports you away from the busy Bur Dubai streets and onto the shores of Creta. The rustic décor of the restaurants uses rocky walls to create the feel of a seaside cliff, and the covered terrace, with trees planted outside the length of one glass-covered wall, evokes the magic of a moonlit garden.
The restaurant manager (who is Greek) welcomes us in warmly and is more than happy to discuss Greek cuisine and culture with the diners. The head chef at the restaurant is also Greek, and from Creta in fact, and her love of the ingredients and the cuisine shines through in the food that we’re presented.
The humble tzatziki dip has an amazing depth of flavor and the pita bread, coated in olive oil and oregano, is delicate and delectable. One of the current specialties of the restaurant is Wild Greens Pie, pita triangles stuffed with a vibrant mixture of seasonal greens specially brought in from Creta every year. While normally served with feta ice cream, ours comes with a side of Greek yogurt as there’s plenty of feta in many of the other dishes.
A slightly different spin on Beetroot Salad uses three textures of beetroot (slow cooked, dried and pickled) to create beautiful flavor variations, which harmonize perfectly with the feta mousse that it is served with. We’re not quite done with the cheese yet, as we get some Baked Feta, wrapped in parchment paper to preserve the flavor and aroma of the dish. Our last appetizer of the evening is Tomato Kefta, a traditional ‘meatball’ made of diced tomatoes from the island of Santorini. As the manager checks in on how we’re finding the food, we let the empty plates speak for themselves.
We’re told that there isn’t a great variety of vegetarian main courses (only two, in fact), but they’re more than happy to prepare something else on request, depending on what fresh ingredients they have that day. We opt to stick with what’s on the menu, and we’re glad we did. Chestnut & Mushroom Stifado includes bulgur in addition to the two other key ingredients to create a beautifully earthy and protein-packed dish. It’s more substantial than it looks, but not overly heavy. Combine that with their second main course option, Gemista, and you wonder why anyone would order off-menu at all. This Greek dish of rice-stuffed tomatoes and peppers is made even more mouth watering thanks to a side of delicious roasted potatoes and feta mousse. If you’d prefer, you can skip the mousse for a vegan version.
Baklava is another well-known Greek dish that everyone’s had at some point, but Elia takes it to an entirely different level. Aside from chopped nuts, the phyllo layers are stuffed with dried fruits and raisins and the whole thing is topped off with a ‘seven spice’ ice cream that includes ground cloves, cinnamon, cumin and black pepper! It’s an unusual blend of flavors that breathes new life into an old classic. We also order one of Elia’s newer (and also quite popular) desserts, Galaktoboureko, a simple custard pie that is comfort food at its finest.
Greek cuisine is a rarity in Dubai in spite of the city’s cosmopolitan food culture, though it might be hard to compete with the kind of fare that’s available at Elia. It’s hardly surprising that Mythos, the only other major Greek restaurant that comes to mind, is helmed by the same people. Hidden gem is a term that seems an apt description of Elia. There is some maddening traffic to get through, and finding parking can be a bit of a struggle, but it’s worth it in the end to step through a relaxing portal into Greece.
Veggie Friendly: ✔ Vegan Friendly: ✔
Pros: Amazing food, very friendly service, relaxing rustic ambience
Cons: Bur Dubai traffic
Price: $$ (50 - 200 AED)
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