Explore the essence of Mediterranean-Greek gastronomy at Yamaz, meaning ‘to your health’ or ‘cheers!’, as Fernanda Langhammer discovers the restaurant’s unique take on this rich cuisine.
Greece is the country that I have visited the most. The proximity to Bahrain and diverse scenarios such as paradisiac islands and magical mountainous areas make this country a place to explore over many trips. However, if you want to taste Greece without leaving Bahrain, the newly opened Yamaz restaurant at Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa will take you there.
Chef Nikolaos Koulousias is the maestro of the culinary experience at this authentic Mediterranean-Greek cuisine destination. In his words, what makes his menu so special is that he uses fresh local ingredients and makes them authentically Greek.
Yamaz is located below Maison Sushi and underwent a major transformation to resemble a laid-back restaurant by the Mediterranean Sea. In this case, the vast Arabian Gulf is what you see from your table. The décor is full of natural elements in tones of blue and sand that take over cushions, chairs and lamps – tastefully designed to make you feel welcomed. The ample space is covered by retractable glass doors and ceilings that can be closed in summer or left open during nice weather for a delightful dinner under the stars, with the sound of the ocean and Greek tunes – most definitely the place to be during sunset.
The restaurant is gorgeous, but we went there with one mission: to eat! The first dishes to reach our table were various cold and hot starters prepared with multiple techniques. In the hands of Chef Nikolaos, the Greek Salad comes with compressed tomato juice and capers (traditionally added in his hometown in Leros), organic feta cheese and oregano. The Yamaz salad is one of the signature dishes and comes with crunchy mixed leaves, honey dressing, sweet fresh figs and smoked halloumi (smoked in-house for 48 hours), a combination of flavours that takes you to Greece with a twist. There is a section on the menu called Crudos (raw). From that, we had the Ceviche Tsipoyra, thinly sliced seabream marinated in lemon, stacked with mango carpaccio and adorned with passion fruit – an unexpected mix which was super refreshing with an exotic touch – and the Lepto Mosxari, thinly sliced beef, truffle paste, rocket leaves and kefalotyri cheese. The presentation is crucial, as the ingredients are layered so you get them all in one spoonful.
The hot starters arrived. Perfectly fried calamari, baby squid and seaweed accompanied by garlic and lemon aioli, a favourite of the table, as we kept chatting and returning for more. The Arni Crochetta, two pieces of slow-braised lamb croquette with feta fondue, pecorino cheese and smoked paprika. A clever addition to this dish is the subtle tanginess of lemon and orange zest in the breadcrumbs encasing the soft interior; a small detail can transform a dish. However, the best was the Troyfopita, a phyllo pastry stuffed with organic feta cheese, black truffle and honey glaze. This dish combines Greek staples that I adore: flaky pastry, high-quality feta, delicate sweetness from honey and the earthiness of truffles – love at first bite!
After a show-stopping start, it was time for mains. We tried Xtapodi, octopus cooked to perfection, accompanied by white beans, celeriac purée and lemon potato, which was set on fire in front of us to add a grilled and smoked flavour, divine! For meat lovers, Filetto Mosxari was a succulent piece of beef tenderloin that went very well with fried polenta sticks, olives and tomato confit. The traditional Mussaka, the Greek ‘lasagna’, prepared with layers of minced meat, zucchini, potatoes and eggplant topped with a smooth bechamel sauce is a comforting dish for many and was done to perfection. From the mains, my highlight goes to Kritharotto made with orzo and seasonal seafood that’s saffron and orange scented. Chef Nikolaos said this is a recipe from his grandmother, a one pot dish created with love. It is very creamy with hints of tomato and mint, with each seafood element cooked at its best and a beautiful citrus flavour.
The desserts were made not only for our stomachs but also for our eyes. The Portokalopita is a traditional orange semolina cake topped with frozen Greek yoghurt Chantilly and orange jelly; very dense with a robust orange flavour, perfect to be eaten with a cup of coffee. The Mykonos Karavi is a fun-looking chocolate concoction – a chocolate boat filled with all sorts of chocolate recipes, from mousses to sponges balanced with hazelnut. And the last and everyone’s favourite, The Athens Castle, a reinterpretation of one of the simplest and yummiest desserts in the world: Greek yoghurt and honey. At Yamaz, it comes as a Greek frozen yoghurt with honey and a surprise interior of poached apple – an ingenious dessert and the perfect end to this Greek feast.
I can say that Chef Nikolaos’ creations took me to Greece, with flavours I recognised in a heartbeat. However, they were so well-reinterpreted that they became something completely new and unique. I am already craving some dishes and will need many more visits to satisfy that yearning!