Liz O’Reilly headed to the new Rigani to indulge in some outstanding Greek cuisine.
I love Greece: the country, the people, the food and the vibe. It reminds me of youthful holidays spent island hopping, so the chance to try out a new Greek eatery is always very welcome.
However, Rigani, at the InterContinental Regency Bahrain, is not your regular restaurant. During the week, it’s virtual, offering takeaway and delivery. But a new ‘Just Greek’ by Rigani Brunch, which sees restaurant and poolside space serving up authentic Hellenic fair, has just been launched.
On arriving at the eatery, you encounter Greek-style paper frescos adorning the walls. But, to be honest, the décor is not what’s important. Here, it’s all about the food. The menu is designed by Food and Beverage Director Emmanouil Kyriakidis, Ambassador of Greek Gastronomy, who is there to greet you.
We were welcomed by Chef Rajesh Kumar, who is well versed in Greek culinary lore. And, though the brunch is buffet style, we were treated to traditional Greek service for our appetisers, which were brought to the table on the large, aged-wood trays, called Paramana, that you will spot in any Greek taverna.
What an abundance! Olives and bread, Tzatziki, Gigantes – baked lima beans in a perfectly balanced tomato sauce with onion, garlic and dill – Fava, Santorini yellow split peas, and so much more.
My dining companion was particularly impressed with the Taramosalata – a dipping sauce of fish roe, olive oil, lemon juice, onion and potatoes – which she very happily combined with the Keftedakia, crispy Greek meatballs blessed with a subtle combination of herbs to bring out the taste of the meat, which were utterly delicious.
For myself, the standouts would have to be Panjaria & Yiaourti, a delicately flavoured beetroot salad featuring yoghurt, green apple, olive oil, garlic and vinegar – a great combination of flavours that literally made my taste buds sit up and take notice – and Flogeres Tyri, which are breaded baklava phyllo rolls with herbs and feta cheese. Biting into the crunchy outside to unleash the melting cheese within is just such a comforting feeling and the taste and texture combination was super satisfying.
Though I’ve noted our very favourites, everything on this first course section is worth trying and, since it is buffet style, there’s absolutely no reason not to. But, be warned, these delicious little nibbles, gorgeously displayed on a buffet counter stacked with goodness and piles of fresh veggies, can soon fill you up and you really, really must leave room for the mains.
Of course, we were served the obligatory mixed grill, lightly seasoned lamb chops alongside chicken and beef skewers – all perfectly cooked with that slightly charred outer leading to a soft, yielding centre.
But, for dramatic value, there’s no beating the Arni Gastras, Patates Ladorigani – that’s slow-cooked braised lamb shank with potatoes and oregano to you and me – we watched as the chef poured over a delicate lemony sauce and could hardly wait to tuck in to meat so delicately tender it literally melted in our mouths. The lamb is cooked with barely any seasoning allowing the sweet flavour of the flesh to stand out.
The Sofrito, beef escalope with garlic and parsley sauce and mashed potatoes, was a triumph – though I am, perhaps, a little biased as I hold the strong belief that you can never have enough garlic. The meat was perfectly cooked, not quite pink but not overdone, and the flesh had absorbed every ounce of flavour from the sauce without losing its own distinct taste.
The Youvetsi, a casserole of chicken drumsticks cooked with Manestra pasta, herbs, tomato sauce and Greek goat cheese was really like a taste of home for a philhellene (it means lover of Greece and all things Greek, in case you were wondering). The meat fell off the bone and the pasta, in its wonderful sauce, was just so satisfying and comforting.
The veggie option was Melitzanes Imam, stuffed eggplants (of which I have always been a huge fan) with tomato, onion, garlic and dill. Now, dill is an interesting herb and far too often seems confined to gracing salmon dishes, so I was delighted to detect its delicate yet distinctive flavour accompanying my beloved eggplants and this is a dish that’s perfect in both texture and taste that should be tried whether you’re vegetarian or not.
Last, but very definitely not least, came Garides Saganaki – something I had not tasted before since youthful me was, foolishly, not a fan of seafood. Oven-baked shrimps in a divine tomato and feta cheese sauce which had me fighting my dining companion for the last morsel – despite us both being full almost to bursting point. The shrimps were perfectly cooked and meaty and the sauce was a flood of delicate herby flavours complementing the sharp tang of the feta. Of all the dishes we tried, I would have to say this was my absolute favourite and a very good reason to return.
Sadly, despite our earlier longings as we passed the dessert station, we simply did not have space for anything else but the classic millefeuille stood out amongst so many other truly tempting options and guarantees that return visit. ✤
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