Elia offers a charming, Greek taverna atmosphere and well-cooked, traditional fare.
Elia: Mediterranean fare with flair
I admit that I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped out of the lift at the Majestic Hotel Tower and entered Elia. With its wooden whitewash tables, pretty flickering candles and outdoor terrace filled with people, it all looked rather charming. Even if this was a Greek restaurant without views of the Aegean Sea, it still felt a long way from the noisy streets of Bur Dubai.
Soon after we were seated, our complimentary pre-starter arrived; a small, moist meatball in a piquant, herby tomato sauce meant that the meal began well. We ordered hot peppers creamed with soft white cheese, aubergine salad and a feta pie. The portions seemed small (we were glad that we'd ordered three dishes) but this is because they're intended to be shared as part of a mezze, rather than eaten as individual starters. The feta and filo parcel was particularly well received; tangy pieces of salty cheese wrapped in crunchy pastry and drizzled with honey, the sweetness of which was a good match for the savoury feta. Even though the aubergine salad turned out to be more of a chunky purée, I was particularly enamoured of its fresh, smokey flavour and potent garlic kick. The hot pepper and white cheese dip, meanwhile, was thick and smooth with a fiery aftertaste. Along came a wooden platter bearing olives and a selection of bread (the crumbly carob variety was the favourite) and all was well in this particular taverna.
I'm not sure what we'd been expecting from our main course of limonade chicken, but chicken and mushrooms in a white sauce certainly wasn't it. The dish was well-cooked and properly seasoned, but it bordered on the bland and felt like a mediocre offering after the success of the starters. Beef fillet souvlaki was another story; the tender meat was served rare, as requested, and was accompanied by puffy triangles of warm pitta, scorched red peppers and a pot of refreshing tzatziki. Homemade chips were also a hit. They were presented with their skins on and tasted as if they'd been baked in a hot oven, rather than dunked fleetingly into a fryer.
I'd love to say that the dessert was an out-and-out triumph, but it wasn't quite. I ordered baklava, which is traditionally made from layers of syrup-drenched pastry studded with nuts. Elia's version was slightly different - a mound of apple, cinnamon and walnuts sandwiched between two pieces of crisp filo, and although it was fine, it wasn't an improvement on the original. Our other choice of loukoumades (Greek-style doughnuts) accompanied by a citrussy yoghurt mousse, divided opinion. My companion professed to like the deep-fried golden balls (although he only managed six of the 12 on his plate) while I found them to be overwhelmingly greasy. One further comment on the desserts: when the chefs working in the kitchen are obviously talented, it seems a shame to serve ice cream that looks and tastes shop-bought.
That aside, I left Elia feeling rather smitten and vowing to return again soon. It's not perfect, but sometimes with perfection comes sterility; here the atmosphere is convivial, the staff attentive, and the food cooked with care.
Elia, Majestic Hotel Tower, Mankhool Road, Bur Dubai. For reservations call 04 501 2690. A meal for two, not including service, costs Dh244. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by The National.