What is 21 Grams? The answer is simple: 21 grams is the weight of the human soul, the latitude of the Balkan Peninsula and also the new Balkan bistro close to Umm Suqeim Beach in Dubai. Located within the Park Regis Boutique hotel, as you enter you are immediately welcomed by the host and made to feel very much at home. Most of the customers are primarily Balkan, so there’s an added advantage for us to hear our mother tongue being spoken throughout the bistro, making us feel as if we’ve been whisked away back to Croatia.
The interiors are contemporarily well put together and the Balkan roots are visibly clear in each and every corner of the space – from the neutral wood finishes, pink and orange sofa seating, to the stark concrete floor and traditional Bosnian rugs. The walls are curated with a selection of art and, books and magazines such as Tito’s Cookbook, Serbian Cooking, and Bread is Gold.
There’s a common misconception that Balkan cuisine is all meat, bread and potatoes, but the food of Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and their neighbouring countries is more reminiscent of Mediterranean cuisine – featuring fresh vegetables, homemade relishes and lots of oils. These are the kinds of qualities and dishes you’ll find at 21 Grams.
We started our Balkan brunch with mezze – kajmak, a traditional and much-loved clotted cream; and ajvar, a red pepper relish served with freshly baked bread (which we refer to as lepinja). The entire dish was devoured in record time thanks in part to the lepinja that accompanied it. The kajmak was deliciously creamy and rich in flavour, whereas the ajvar was pleasantly fragrant and smoky.
A signature Balkan dish, and a must-try here at 21 Grams is their Burek (whether with cheese or meat). The salty and savoury baked goodness is created using layers of filo pastry, cheese, egg and butter. Every bite is a mouthful of nostalgia, reminiscent of the way my baka would prepare burek.
Not to be outdone are the mains, we opted for two dishes – the Grilled Cevapi, a minced meat sauasage served with a red hot chilli cheese, onions and peppers; and the Orange and Balsamic Vinegar Marinated Octopus served with baby potato and carrot puree. The octopus was wonderfully tender, well paired with the carrot puree, and the balsamic vinegar marinate lended the perfect tartness to the dish. All together both dishes are not to be missed.
To end a satisfying meal on a sweet note, we opted to share the Chocolate Hazlenut Baklava. What is already a rich and sweet dessert pastry is even more so with its untraditional chocolate filling. Regardless of the sweetness, it is a brilliant twist on a classic Balkan dessert and certainly a tasty way to end one’s meal.
Is this one of our new favourite weekend lunch spots in Dubai? Without a doubt. In fact, we have messaged all of our friends to suggest they try it. I’m still dreaming about the kajmak and burek.