The Venue With a name picked from the latitude number of the Balkan Peninsula and the area code for owner Stasha’s home town in Serbia (as well as a historical reference to the weight of the human soul), 21 grams is a bakery and café that opened earlier this year, situated on the ground floor of the Park Regis Boutique Hotel on Jumeirah Road. Billing itself as an urban Balkan bistro, it was born of Stasha’s desire for an ‘edible piece of her heritage’ and aims to offer an authentic experience inspired by the diverse ethnicities, cultures and cuisines of the Balkan Peninsula.
The Design Embracing a cosy aesthetic true to its humble bistro/bakery roots, 21 grams simultaneously manages to feel stylish and fresh, with glimmers of sunlight filtering in via windows overlaid with a white mashribiya-style design. In the main seating area an industrial concrete floor and architectural iron tables are softened by a mishmash of traditional Balkan rugs and beautifully grained wooden chairs. Colour is gently introduced to the simple white walls with a millennial pink and orange bench running along one side of the bistro, while carefully placed accessories add a homely touch without overcrowding. Glass vases and small earthenware jugs sporting sprigs of leafy green plants are positioned on the tables. On the back wall, which is painted in an accent shade of taupe, slim floating shelves display a curated collection of books, antique kitchen utensils, sheaves of wheat and photographic portraits of women in traditional Balkan dress.
The bakery, tucked away by the entrance, displays its wares via glass cases and cloches overlooked by a letter board listing the day’s bakes, as well as the playful instruction ‘For Vitamin Sea, go next door’. Small, spherical pendant lights overhang the whole bistro, positioned over individual tables for what we’re promised is a magical ambient glow in the evening, alternatively guests can sit out on the small terrace.
All this maintains the café’s goal of staying true to its Eastern European roots while remaining confidently contemporary, an identity clearly marked by two framed maps hanging on the wall, one of Dubai, one of the Balkans, respectively labelled ‘Our home’ and ‘Our roots’.
The Experience For those unfamiliar with Balkan cuisine, much of it is classic European soul food with Middle Eastern influences courtesy of the Ottoman Empire. The result is a unique combination of ingredients and spices sorely under-represented in the Dubai restaurant scene - until now.
The eclectic menu covers breakfast items, soups, salads, mezze, mains and desserts, boasting food handmade from family recipes using seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers whenever possible. The chicken liver pate with pear puree and forest fruit reduction is deliciously tangy, sitting well with other picks from the menu including urnebe – a kind of chilli cheese – olives, red pepper and eggplant. For mains we recommend the homemade gnocchi with Dalmatian pasticada – a slow-cooked beef stew with prunes and apples. This dish is at once appealingly simple and pure comfort food, making us rather wish we were consuming it on a cold winter’s night. Fish, lamb and chicken are also on offer, while vegetarians can opt for the tasty summer zucchini moussaka. From the diverse dessert selection the chocolate hazelnut baklava is a must, combining sweet crispy layers of pastry with lashings of sublime ice cream.
A wonderful spot for a catch up and a coffee or for a dinner that invites you to try something a little different, 21 grams hits all the right notes.
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