Outlet 360: Avli
Front of house
This is my proudest restaurant”, Natasha Sideris tells Caterer Middle East. For a woman with a couple of dozen concepts scattered across two continents, it’s a big statement.
Set in the ultra-competitive DIFC area of Dubai, where Izu Ani has also recently opened the Greek Gaia, Avli needs to stand out and Sideris has gone all out with the interiors, comparing it to the Acropolis.
“When you think of a Greek restaurant you think of blue and white, breaking plates, taverna style on the beach. People don’t know that the centre of civilisation and democracy came from Athens. All the streets in Athens are paved with marble and that’s what we did here.”
She’s certainly happy with the “quite regal and quite ancient” result, saying she “burst out crying” when she saw it finished. “When the lights go down and you breathe in these different textures of creams and white, I feel like I’m in Athens.”
It’s this interior that Sideris believes “sets us apart”, as she admits that in DIFC “everyone is giving a great quality product”. The space is dominated by a long bar in the middle which seats 22 and offers light bites — they backtracked on plans to do a full service at the bar due to how busy it gets — with Sideris aiming to offer a more sophisticated place for DIFC workers to come for after-work drinks.
Everything in Avli was created “bespoke” says Sideris, with the chairs being made locally by the team at XVA Gallery in Dubai and the rest of the fit-out carried out by BW Interiors. Sideris has even brought in pieces from the Museum of Cycladic Art to give it a more authentic feel.
The whole venue can hold up to 150 covers including the bar area, and Sideris says it has already received support from the crowd that usually frequent Sideris’s other Dubai concept store Flamingo Room.
“I’m overwhelmed with the support,” she says. “Anyone who says the UAE is a market where customers are fickle, I have to beg to differ. If you’re selling a quality product and giving great service and recognising customers they’ll give you loyal support.”
The aim of Avli is to showcase that Greek food is "not one dimensional", with traditional dishes from Sideris's childhood given a modern twist to fit with contemporary expectations.
With several Greek members of staff also on the team, authenticity shouldn't be a problem.
Back of house
Jill Okkers has been the development chef for the Tashas group for over two years and brought Flamingo Room to life in Dubai before turning her attention to Avli.
The research included a food tour of Athens, with South African Okkers saying it was more about getting a flavour of the culture more than a taste profile of the food. That culture is an important thing to impart on a menu that Okkers says is “very personal” for Sideris. “She’s very hands on with all the menus. It’s fun because she gives us freedom to do whatever we want but also keeps us on track. Because it’s so personal and like going home for her with this menu, each plate she approved.”
Okkers prefers to call the menu “Mediterranean” rather than Greek, saying that the aim is “not to replicate” classic dishes, but rather to “keep the taste profile and evoke those emotions when they eat it”.
She explains: “We’re hoping when you see some dishes you wouldn’t think that it has a link to the Med, but when you taste it and you understand the profile of what’s on the plate that it becomes something you can picture eating in Mykonos.”
The back-of-house team is from all over the world, with Okkers admitting they “had a vision of getting everyone from Greece and employing a Greek executive chef” but it hasn’t transpired that way. Not that Okkers is concerned, saying “it’s awesome because it opens this cosmopolitan kitchen that is not just driven to be one way of food”.
Each team member has been encouraged to create dishes which they would tweak together before presenting to Sideris for approval.
Having come into the space vacated by LaLuz, Avli’s kitchen space was already pre-determined. Okkers says: “We’ve got a prep kitchen downstairs, which is quite factory run. We’ve got a beautiful octopus terrine on the menu which we can’t be prepping upstairs so the guys do all that work downstairs and get it cut and prepped and portioned and the guys finish it upstairs and cook it and do the sauce.
“It takes a whole lot of workload off the top kitchen because we’re not having to prep, prep, prep. So it’s a two-tier team and we hardly see them sometimes but they are the machine room and they’re so crucial to what we are doing.”
To get that terrine just right, Okkers and team went through four different types of octopus, and six types of squid for the calamari. Ensuring the highest quality is utmost for the team and they work with a number of Greek suppliers to get the right dried herbs, olives, and other base products.
With the restaurant up and running, Okkers’ time in the kitchen is winding down. “I normally stay with the team for about three months just to make sure they are on their feet,” she says, but tells us that Sideris has asked her to relocate from South Africa to Dubai permanently as the brand looks to grow in the region.