Today’s review is about a new concept in Bahrain, authentic Greek cuisine with a contemporary artistic twist: Helios restaurant, the latest addition to the culinary scene in Bahrain. The word Helios means ‘sun’ in Greek, and in Greek mythology is the name of the young Greek sun God, who rode across the sky each day in a chariot pulled by four horses.
When I first entered the restaurant, I was warmly greeted by the restaurant staff and was led to my table. As soon as I sat, I immediately noticed a large map of ancient Greece plastered all over the ceiling. What a wonderful idea, I simply love it! The décor is elegant and simple with dark wooden flooring mixed with vintage tiles, a pop of colour from the mustard yellow chairs, small olive trees scattered around the restaurant, Greek coins and ancient face masks of Greek mythology goddesses hanging on the wall, and a decorative traditional Greek-style boat used in Greece during Christmas sits proudly near the entrance of the restaurant.
I met with the person behind this concept, Ms. Rowaa Al Moammer, a Saudi ex-banker-turned-entrepreneur who lives in Bahrain. She was passionate about cooking from a very young age and is delighted that she finally got to pursue her dream in having her own restaurant. Rowaa studied in Ottawa Canada and even as a student, she dabbled with the idea of cooking and catering Arabic cuisine to the Arab expats in Ottawa, but her dreams were put on hold as she started her married life and attended to her growing family. Rowaa moved to Bahrain in 2007 and worked in GIB (Gulf International Bank), followed by working in an investment company called The Family Office before leaving to finally pursue her original passion. This passion was awakened after travelling to Greece for two years in a row, island hopping from Mykonos to Paros to Santorini and back to Athens; getting accustomed to the food and how it varied from one island to another, and discovering how the geography or history of the place affects the cuisine. All these elements fascinated Rowaa and through a mutual friend she got to take her interest and curiosity to another level and that is when she met Roussos Thanasis.
Thanasis is the mastermind of the delightful menu at Helios. He is a founding member of the culinary academy of Greece with 20 years of experience of cooking Fine Dining cuisine. He was born in Crete, raised in Evia, and comes from a family of doctors and dentists, and even studied Dentistry in Belgium. Thanasis is a certified dentist yet he chose to work in the culinary field, as this was what his heart desired. He used to cook since he was a child but he strengthened his skills by studying cuisine in Belgium, France and Italy. He worked in different restaurants until he found the niche he was comfortable in and that was private dining. Sitting and talking to Thanasis is fascinating as it felt I was talking to a culinary sage. The more I talked to him the more I appreciated the finesse and hard work that went into the stupendous meal I had in Helios.
And now let me tell you more about that meal: I started the meal with a delicious fizzy blueberry maple mojito that comes from a list of interesting mocktails such as Frost Bite (pineapple, mint, lime soda), Sentiment Fusion (pomegranate, citrus fruits, and apple) and Delicate (rosemary and pink grapefruit). I had an amuse-bouche of pistachio bread with courgette, scented with lemon and lavender in sesame oil in a small glass jar. The bread basket had a large selection of bread but my favourite was the feta tomato bread.
For my starters I began with the Mousakadaki or the more popular name moussaka, which is the traditional dish of some Mediterranean countries made with layers of eggplant, potato, minced beef and tomato, and bechamel sauce. This dish has been transformed by the chef into a modern version of hand pulled braised beef rolled in thin slices of aubergine covered with herb infused yogurt (instead of the typical bechamel), served with matchstick fries. One word: amazing.
The next appetizer I had was the fried feta cheese (brought from Greece) with a semolina crust and red grapes confit. The contrast of the saltiness of the feta and the sweetness of the red grapes is divine. There are other items on the appetizer list that I will definitely order next time, such as the Sarmadakia (stuffed braised onions with lamb and almond foam), Kritharaki (orzo pasta with mastic cheese and sumac), and Chtapodaki (octopus with fave beans and caramelized onions).
I had the Greek salad, which I am sure that the first image that came to your mind was that of the typical oversized Greek salad with a giant piece of feta cheese on top, right? Wrong. The Greek salad here is something else. You must try it personally for I will not give it justice. A thin stemmed cocktail glass with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olive oil, onions and topped with a feta cheese foam: an explosion of taste.
Another dish that was very unusual yet very delicious was the calamari with spinach and berry sauce. The unique but perfect combination of thinly sliced calamari with the forest fruit and grape reduction was just right and was a delight to look at.
For the main dish, I had the Lavraki, a sautéed sea bass with crispy salami, green peas and a lemon sauce. The softness of the fish bites with the subtleness of the lemon cream sauce and peas contrasting with the sharpness of the salami and fish roe, what a treat! Thanasis is the master of his game. The second main dish I tried is the slow cooked beef or Moscharaki gastras. This dish is a signature of Helios, cooked for 24 hours, this dish arrives to the table covered with a glass dome cover and when the server lifts the glass cover, the succulent beef appears through a cloud of smoke served with baby potatoes, asparagus and butter squash coulis. There are many more beautiful main dish selections to choose from, for example Fargi (poached sea bream with zucchini and olive oil), Tsigariasto (slow-cooked lamb shank with a layered pie made from Greek cheese, zucchini and mint) and Kotopoullo (chicken roulade with lemon sauce and vegetables).
My favourite part of any meal is the dessert and coffee and in Helios I was not disappointed at all. I got the Socolata, which is a chocolate pallet with a vanilla bean sauce. This chocolate dish had layers of taste and texture ranging from the sourness of the cranberries mixed with the crunchiness of the crushed nuts and chocolate, the softness of the white mousse, the whole dish is a painting. I also had the Gastrin, which originally is an ancient Minoan version of baklava made with sesame, but of course Thanasis, the genius chef turned it into something else. Thin crispy layers of filo pastry standing up vertically on the plate with layers of dried fruit and nuts served with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce. The Greek coffee was the perfect finale for that wonderful meal. Great food and great company, one of life’s simple yet understated pleasures.
For more information:
Argan Village, Buqowa
(00973) 3362 4108
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