Review: 21 Grams, a Balkan Bistro makes its mark in Jumeirah
Intrepid eaters will be wonderfully surprised by the lightness of touch at this Balkan spot…
There’s a common misconception that Balkan cuisine is all meat and potatoes, but the food of Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and their neighbouring countries often stars fresh vegetables, homemade relishes, and light salads.
These are the kinds of qualities and dishes you’ll find at 21 Grams close to Umm Sequim beach, where the kitchen is run by Chef Uros from Serbia. Yes, the menu does feature more familiar sounding dishes such as crispy skin chicken thighs (Dhs64) and oven-baked seabass (Dhs76), but we suggest you order the dishes you don’t recognise.
As we sat down in the corner of the beautiful, minimalist space, our waiter brought us a carafe of water flavoured with pomegranate, rosemary and lemon. It was like drinking from a piece of art. A foreshadowing of things to come from 21 Grams.
We started our Balkan expedition with mezze – kajmak (Dhs14), a traditional, much-loved clotted cream, ajvar, a red pepper relish (Dhs18), white bean hummus (Dhs24), and chargrilled peppers (Dhs24) with garlic drops and parsley oil made, as the waiter proudly told us, “just like how our ancestors used to make it”. It’s always nice to be served a cuisine by people who know it well.
The white bean hummus came smeared on a round marble plate. It was laden with fresh oil and a little sprinkling of spices. We mopped up the entire dish in record time thanks in part to the freshly baked bread that accompanied it. Meanwhile, the chargrilled peppers were perfectly sweet and paired brilliantly with the little dollops of garlic.
Definitely order a slice of the börek. The croissant-pie hybrid is stuffed with a white cheese and makes for a carb lover’s dream. It’s salty and savoury and worth every calorie.
Not to be outdone are the mains, where local – slightly odd-sounding – delicacies (such as the sarma, a sour cabbage roll stuffed with ground beef) sit alongside more familiar dishes we mentioned earlier. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the homemade gnocchi with Croatian pasticada (Dhs76) – slow cooked beef stew with prunes and apples. While it looks like a simple dish, it actually requires long and meticulous preparation: first, the meat is pierced and stuffed with garlic, cloves and carrot, then salted and marinated in vinegar overnight. The labour intensive dish is a standout. Never would we think to combine sweet apples with pulled beef, but it works beautifully.
Is this the place we’ll book for our next weekend lunch? Without a doubt. In fact, we have already e-mailed many of our intrepid foodie friends to suggest they try it. We’re still thinking about the gnocchi.
By the way, if you’re wondering about the name, owner Stasha Tonchev explains: “That’s the weight of the human soul, and that’s how we cook and serve our food here – with soul.”
Park Regis Boutique Jumeirah Hotel, Umm Suqeim Park, Dubai, daily 7am to 11.30pm. Tel: (04) 3490744. Taxi: Beach Road and Al Thanya Road intersection. 21grams.me