In the 2022 Gold Rush of restaurant openings, it’s easy, for even the most enlightened foodie to lose sight of one, two, or even a handful of new places. For me, one of these was GAIA. So, much so that half way through my recent dinner there, ensconced in its Instagram neutral plush dining room, I had an unsettling feeling that perhaps I was the last to actually visit this place.
For on this holiday Monday, by 9pm, the room was heaving. Nearly 300 covers would be done that night – a feat that will have chefs and restaurant managers across Doha quickly do the sums in grudging admiration.
I had heard whispers about GAIA and that it was good. Very good in fact. One of Dubai via London Chef Izu Ani’s growing Doha empire, it is named for the Greek mother goddess and the personification of the Earth, GAIA bills itself as a “refined taverna”. I don’t actually know what that means but the menu is just two pages and covers all the Greek favorites.
A starter of creamy and garlicky Tzatziki (QR45) is serviceable but it’s the accompanying freshly grilled triangles of pita, with a light sheen of olive oil, that elevates it. Their take on Greek salad (QR65) comes with fat (and pitted) kalamata olives and salty capers.
A smartly dressed plate of cheese and spinach wrapped in filo – spanakopita (QR70) – is served with a glossy orb of sharpish yoghurt. The off menu special of vine leaves stuffed with sauteed seafood arrives adorned with plump mussels and tiny clams – it’s a little briny and texturally interesting, the sauce is deliberately, subtle. Not everyone’s cup of tea though.
The front of the dining room houses a small “fish market” where you can choose fish or shellfish, charged by weight, then select a cooking style for preparation. We opt for the Greek sea bass with a spiced tomato sauce. It arrives with a flourish in a pan the size of the Aegean. Our server deftly debones it – the flesh a fraction of being overcooked, the sauce tangy.
What’s listed as “Filo Mille Feuilles” (QR65), is a free form stack of perfectly browned and brittle pastry interspersed with light as air Chantilly cream, a dusting of crushed pistachios. A mound of spheres of fried Greek donuts (loukoumades) (QR55) are on the right side of doughy and sit on a bed of caramelized walnuts and honey.
The wine list pricing is punchier than I would like – reds start from QR90 by the glass, cocktails from QR70. Service is slick, unobtrusive and precise – there is no plate smashing and no DJ spinning 90s style Zorba remixes.
Tables in the dining are nestled closer than I have seen in a Doha restaurant for some time – so close I can follow the ticking hand on the expensive Swiss timepiece on the wrist of the gentleman at the next table. But it feels cozy rather than constricted. The mostly male service team weave in and out effortlessly deboning freshly grilled fish and other labor-intensive starters.
So….the verdict? Is GAIA Doha Great?
I agree with the well informed whispers that GAIA is good. And yes, I concur it’s very good and in the running for the title of the best of the growing number of Greek restaurants in this city. But…and this is a highly qualified but… it felt a little “corporate” or “by the numbers”.
This could be because of the size and volume of the dining room’s seating and the required effort to turn out the dishes. There were no less than four birthdays celebrated on my visit, we also saw nearby tables “turnover” at least once.
Fully aware it’s Greek inspired food, I’d love to see a bit more personality in the dishes on the menu. There is time for that though because in the current incarnation, Chef Izu and his team already have a winning formula.
The details and ratings:
📍GAIA at W Beach West Bay
⏰12pm to 3pm and 7pm to 11pm
🍽️the fresh fish and seafood is the star here
While you are here…
Yes, a return to restaurant reviews on this blog! It’s been a hot minute and it feels good.
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- Summer eats and where to go here.
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