Can chef Izu Ani continue to impress with his new restaurant in DIFC?

Several years ago, a French restaurant by the name of La Serre opened in Downtown Dubai. It was an instant hit. Packed from the first night, it deservedly won What’s On Awards galore. The chef at the helm back in those heady days was Izu Ani, a lovely, smiley chap who believed strongly in La Serre’s dedication to fresh, high quality produce, which he used to create unfussy dishes that captured the hearts and bellies of Dubai diners.

When Izu left La Serre, he seemed destined for Dubai domination. Within a couple of years, there were a string of openings: Izu Brasserie in City Walk, Carine at Emirates Golf Club, swiftly followed by Izu Bakery in Dubai Mall. Now he’s opened Gaia, a striking Greek restaurant in the heart of DIFC.

It really is a beauty. With its muted colour palette of smooth concrete greys, white painted woods and cream walls, warmed by perfect lighting and brought to life by the whiff of fresh seafood, Gaia is arguably the most attractive new restaurant in town.

Most important of all, the restaurant was packed on a Sunday night, less than a month after the doors opened: and the diners, happily chatting away, looked like they had been eating there for years.

So, Izu has another new restaurant, but his cooking style, thankfully, hasn’t changed at all. Neither has his generous nature, which prompted him to send us a lot of wonderful dishes that we didn’t order. (Seriously, who in the right mind can eat six desserts?).

Raw tuna (Dhs55), if you have the right ingredients, is an easy dish to get right, and the version Izu served up to start didn’t disappoint: eight thick slices of smoky tuna glistening in truffle oil. A small bowl of fresh lobster salad (Dhs135) with baby gems, asparagus and light mayo dressing, was zesty and salty in perfect measure, but it was the baked feta cheese (Dhs50) luxuriating in a honey sauce, that we will be returning for. We also thoroughly enjoyed the garlic prawns (Dhs90) – a dish not too dissimilar to one he serves in Carine (hey, if it ain’t broke…), where the tomatoey sauce is mopped up using the delicious oily bread that Izu is now practically famous for.


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The grilled turbot was fine, if a little underwhelming, but the sides – a portion of chili sprinkled broccolini and whole grilled potatoes –gave the mains life.

As for desserts – which arrived with the help of two waiters – there are several standouts: The caramel apple cheesecake (Dhs55) is a small, dainty affair that is literally just cream and crumbly biscuit, but what a wonderful little dish it is. Closely following in second place is the surprisingly delicious fillo mille feuille (Dhs55) made up of filo sheets, pastry cream and pistachio. Delicious.

There’s a lot we haven’t been able to talk about here, like the delightful chef’s dining room made to look like a small Greek tavern, or the kitsch gift shop selling magnets, lighters and notebooks. We haven’t even mentioned the oh-so-secret, VIP bar hidden behind a wall in the basement. Then again, some things are worth finding out for yourself.

Gaia, DIFC Gate Village 4, Dubai, daily 12pm to 3am and 7pm to 2am. Tel: (04) 241 4242.

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