21 Grams an urban Balkan bistro

21 Grams is the freshest thing trending in Jumeirah right now

The Concept: We are in love! In love with this cute 30-seater bistro cum restaurant tucked in the corner of Park Regis Boutique Jumeirah hotel, a few stones away from the sea. As we walked in, we are hit by a strong aroma of specialty coffee and fresh bakes, the recipes of which have flown all the way from the Balkan peninsula. 21 Grams, the Urban Balkan Bistro has completely swept us off our feet from our buzzing urban landscape of Dubai to an urban hideout that is small enough to make us feel cozy and vibrant enough to tempt us to gather here for a casual hangout with our friends and family, or sneak out for an one off out-of-office workspace, almost by the sea – with good coffee and homely Balkan food to keep company. The name itself hides a lot of inner meaning – literally. 21 Grams is apparently the weight of the human soul, explains Stasha Toncev, the founder and ‘Chief Soulkitchen Officer’ of the new bistro. Later, we do find some references in the internet to some soul weight experiments which directs us to similar digits (the 21 grams experiment). Soul talk apart, 21 degrees also indicates the latitude of the Balkan Peninsula and 021 also happens to be the area code for Novi Sad, Stasha’s hometown in Serbia (my house no is quite similar too – O21!). Can it all be a coincidence?

The Food: It is very clear that nostalgia hangs over every dish in the menu, and each has been created using family recipes that have been handed down lovingly over generations. Seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers are at the essence of each dish and pleasant presentation by Head Chef Uros adds a new look to popular regional classics – which are either served as street food or as family meals cooked at home.

We snuggled into our breakfast with a jug of infused water. My fried egg came gently sandwiched between two homemade flat breads – soft, fluffy and round, with kajmak (clotted cream) by the side and a beef jus softening the base. Although this was enough, I also had to order a Burek, after having heard so much about this legendary layered dish of phyllo and a filling. My first burek didn’t disappoint me, and the treat came in the form of a generous portion of phyllo pie, each layer crisply tucked with delicately spiced meat. Debbie is currently following a keto diet and hence opted for a Bouyourdie which is baked feta Cheese topped with tomatoes, peppers, olive oil and oregano from the mezze menu. And did I mention that I also couldn’t resist a dessert for my breakfast – a subtly favoured Elderflower dessert?

Fried free range egg on homemade flat bread with kajmak & beef jus (in front) and Bouyourdie baked feta cheese with tomato, pepper, olive oil and oregano (behind)

Traditional Burek with meat in the Bread Menu

The romanticisation on Burek continues!

It is very evident that the emphasis is in serving home cooked Balkan ‘soul food’ – gypsy toasts with kaymak and ajvar, Kifla or the butter rolls, grilled ćevapi, meat and cheese bureks, traditional Balkan pies and an array of desserts stirred soulfully like the chocolate hazelnut baklava, Cheese strudel with rosehip jam, Tufahije – walnut stuffed apples with whipped cream and many other traditional delicacies. The menu is elaborate and the Mains itself borders on exoticism – oven-baked seabass with green chard puree and baby potatoes, the slow-cooked lamb in milk with horseradish sauce and poached apple, the orange and balsamic vinegar marinated octopus with baby potato and carrot puree, the homemade gnocchi with forest mushroom mix or Dalmatian pasticada, the slow cooked beef stew with prunes and apples!

Signing off: As one settles down in this vibrant yet calm ambiance of the restaurant, the menu is a sort of a gentle introduction to a cuisine that is not very known to Dubai diners, although the Ottoman or the Middle Eastern influences in Balkan cuisine has introduced us to the Baklava, Somuns and other dishes. The authenticity of the taste and the flavours have been certified by the handful of Dubai residents who are walking in and who come from Serbia and other Balkan countries. This is perhaps the biggest stamp of approval for 21 Grams!

[A bit on Balkan Peninsula: The Balkan Peninsula, as defined by the Soča–Vipava–Krka–Sava–Danube border and is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea to the west, the Mediterranean Sea (including the Ionian and Aegean seas) and the Marmara Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. With a combined area of about 470,000 km2 (181,000 sq mi) it is more or less identical to the region known as Southeastern Europe. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the Balkans are usually said to comprise Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. Info: Wiki]