A CULINARY ODYSSEY
Liz O’Reilly jumps the queue to find out what’s causing a 10-day wait for tables at new Greek restaurant Opa.
Arriving very early evening to secure one of those oh-so-elusive tables, I was immediately struck by how much work has gone into making Opa, at the Royal Saray Resort Managed by Accor, look like the real deal.
In a sweet touch, you stroll along a path brimming with bougainvillea and ride in an almost hidden, greenery covered elevator to the first-floor lobby.
Once inside, the scheme, as might be expected, is blue and white. But this is no lip service version with the common designer’s sprinkling of turquoise and white, lazily used to evoke a sense of place. Oh no! Opa actually looks like the traditional tavernas of my youth spent working in the Greek islands.
From a wall of busts behind the bar, to giant Greek maidens as pillars seemingly holding up the roof, a recreation of the libraries of the ancients and a fresco that could well be Aphrodite, it’s all there. Yes, it might sound over the top, but trust me, it’s really not. Taste and a sense of authenticity have dictated the décor. More bougainvillea draped across the seating areas and around the DJ booth, hidden behind an arrangement of large white, water pots, truly took me back to outdoor dining and late-night dancing and plate smashing, more years ago than I care to mention.
Add the fact that the chefs and virtually all the staff are actually Greek, and I knew I was in for a treat. In a true echo of Greek hospitality, we were urged to sample virtually the whole menu. So, please excuse me if I wax lyrical a bit and highlight some true classics with an haute cuisine twist. First up was the Feta Kataifi, vermicelli wrapped feta cheese with lemon, thyme and honey. If ever an appetiser was designed to excite the taste buds for what was to come, then this was it. The crunch of the outer coating melting into the salty cheese, topped with tart, piped lemon curd really needed the sweetness of the honey drizzle to complete an outstanding flavour combination. Prawn Saganaki was possibly one of my favourite dishes though, in truth, it would be hard to choose.
A very traditional serving of big, juicy, perfectly cooked prawns in what seems to be a simple sauce of tomato paste, roasted peppers and feta. However, Opa GM Victor explained that the triumph of this sauce is in a secret mix of herbs, which raises it to a whole different level. Do as we did, grab some of the delicious homemade pitta bread and mop it up as the Greeks do.
Another quintessential dish, which will be familiar to anyone who has ever travelled to the Greek islands and highlands, is the spinach and feta pie. It’s a family favourite and served everywhere from the fishermen’s wharves to Stavros’ beach café. But, of course, the Opa kitchen goes further. Served as spiral wraps of delicate, crispy filo pastry, it is packed with that oh so familiar, comforting mix of chopped, wilted spinach, soft gooey feta and a creamy topping of spun cheese with dill and leeks. It might not look like the ones the Greek Yia Yias make, but it sure tastes like them.
Before I talk about the mains, I must mention the hummus. Yes, I know this humble dish can be found in every restaurant on the island. But, at Opa, as you’ll have gathered, things are done differently. The Opa hummus is a signature, tableside show preparation in which the chef arrives with a tray laden with accompaniments, including crispy lamb, spring onions, pine nuts, mint, coriander and pickles, and creates a stunning ensemble before your eyes.
Perfectly executed marinated salmon with fat beads of spinach rice in avgolemono (egg and lemon) sauce and, clearly homemade, saffron aioli is a treat for the taste buds. And, sticking with seafood, for my dining companion, the Marinated Grilled Octopus would take some beating. I stole a bit, just to check, and was delighted with both taste and texture – delicate and sweet with not a hint of rubberiness, the fisherman who caught this would be rightly proud.
Vegetarians will not go wrong with the Imam Bayildi, roasted aubergine, caramelised onions, roasted pine nuts and Greek yoghurt. If you like Baba Ghanoush, you will love this. The smoky taste of the aubergine is teased out by the pine nuts and the onions add a delicate sweetness to render this dish a palate pleaser. And so, to what, for me, was the star dish of the day among so many outstanding possibilities.
The Kleftiko Lamb quite honestly took my breath away. The name translates as ‘stolen’ and comes from the days of the Greek revolution when the rebel fighters [Klefts] would steal a lamb from the hillsides to survive. Marinated in garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, it is slow baked wrapped in parchment to seal the flavour. And this slow process results in flesh so tender that it literally falls apart to the fork and melts on the tongue – absolute perfection! Last, but very definitely not least, came the dessert, which is also served as a chef showpiece at the tableside.
A crispy filo shell filled with baklava, scoops of multi-flavoured homemade ice cream and topped with dark chocolate flakes. The silence at our table said it all! Truthfully, there is so much more I could say about this exceptional eatery, such as that this is mostly just the soft-opening menu! There will soon be traditional Greek plate throwing and dancing. There’s a gorgeous terrace which will be open when the weather cools a bit… and so on. But to learn more, you’re really going to have to get in line for a table. I promise you won’t regret it! ✤
GO: CALL 3355 5244 FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO MAKE A RESERVATION.
Comments are closed.