Near+Far’s best restaurants series explores the very best culinary options in the Middle East, and the world. The series offers top restaurant tips and reviews for those looking for the best restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and the most exciting and beautiful destinations across the world.
Near+Far rating: 9/10
Why book Gaia
The life of a Dubai restaurant can be a tumultuous one. There’s the opening buzz when the city’s cool and foodie crowd flock to share on their socials, but then there can be a lull as the city looks to the next new thing. While Dubai is not short on restaurant openings, some of the best are the ones that have stood the test of time, sitting quietly without flash or pretence. This is the case for Gaia, Dubai’s fine dining Greek-Mediterranean restaurant in the swanky Gate Village development of DIFC that opened in October 2018 – a lifetime ago in Dubai restaurant terms. The restaurant is one of the city’s biggest home-grown success stories, a favourite with Dubai royals and celebrities, perennially buzzing and even expanding out of the city – opening Gaia Monte Carlo in 2019. Despite its success, the restaurant remains low-key. It feels like a humble eatery – the service is impeccable, the staff charming and engaging, the food is the freshest, and the interiors are always impeccable. While timeless, there’s always something new to come back for – a seasonal menu or outdoor terrace activation to explore.
The interiors: 9/10
Much like the brand, Gaia’s interiors are classic, timeless and Grecian inspired – but with an elevated twist. Large Grecian pots and olive trees flank the entrance, which resembles a traditional trattoria with white-wash walls and shutters. There’s a stylish bar area separate from the restaurants to perch at and enjoy a spontaneous Santorini Spritzx – no bookings needed – with beautiful marble walls and low-hanging pendant lights and the main dining room. The white-washed walls and statement lighting create a seductive elevated vibe. Evocative black-and-white photographs and shelves with illuminated olive oil bottles give it a design-led aesthetic. There’s a market-like fish counter with colourful, fresh catch, and guests are encouraged to come up and participate in the process – an interactive touch typical of Fundamental Hospitality (formerly Bulldozer Group) restaurant. There are two outdoor dining options to choose from – both with a distinct vibe. The back courtyard is more peaceful and Xx, while the front terrace offers the buzz of Gate Village and is a perfect spot for people-watching. Those who stay late enough might get the chance to visit Nyx, Gaia’s secret basement nightclub visited by including Rita Ora, 50 Cent and A$AP Rocky, a kaleidoscope of pinks, reds, blues and velvets.
The food: 10/10
Gaia’s menu is typically Greek-Mediterranean, with lots of fresh flavours, ingredients and a focus on meat and fish (though there are plenty of options for vegetarians). The menu is the work of culinary stars Chef Izu Ani and Chef Orestis Kotefas and focuses on simplicity, drawing the most loved dishes and flavours of Greek-Mediterranean cuisine and elevating them to a Dubai dining standard. Starters trot the Greek Islands and the country’s diverse regions and include Greek dips, raw dishes and fresh salads like the classic Greek, alongside richer, more hearty served like moussaka, prawns saganaki, cheese pie and fried calamari. There’s classic lamb, homemade pasta and traditional meat dishes for mains. Still, there’s nothing more simple and pleasing than a freshly caught piece of fish, picked from the counter and prepared with a choice of Raw and thinly slices, grilled with lemon oil, baked with spiced tomato, salt crust, harissa style or pan fried with lemon, dill and capers. Even better with a glass of Greek wine or a fresh, Mediterranean-inspired cocktail (of which Gaia offers plenty of both). Pair this with a side of homemade oregano fries and fresh salad or vegetables, and you’ll want nothing else. That is until you see the desserts – which include Greek delights like Loukoumades, Gaia cheesecake, orange cake and frozen Greek yoghurt, paired with Greek spirits and sweet wines.
The signature dishes
Simply divine and unmissable dishes include the sea bream carpaccio (AED170), thinly sliced, perfectly pink and served with little vials of flavoured oils (lemon, truffle, to name a few) to create a different taste with each bite, and a simple piece of seabream or bass served with harissa or salt-baked style with a crunchy Greek salad with creamy, salty feta. For dessert, nothing compares to the Frozen Yoghurt (AED120) – homemade frozen Greek yoghurt drizzled in honey, caramelised walnuts and freshly fried loukoumades – and one of the most famous desserts in the whole city.
The vibe: 9/10
Gaia Dubai masters the art of having a constantly elevated and buzzing vibe without pretension or alienating diners in search of an intimate dining experience. The restaurant is always quietly busy, though it never feels packed, picking up at around 9pm when locals and well-heeled residents come in to dine.
Gaia is a constant in a city that constantly changing – the food is always impeccable, the same effort, theatrics, and passion poured into every dish, every day, and the food is elevated, modern and suited to the Dubai crowd while staying true to its Greek-Mediterranean roots and principles.
Gate Village 4, DIFC; gaia-restaurants.com