I’m calling it. This is one of the best places I’ve eaten so far.
Here I was. Miles away from home, even further from the office; in the heart of Bukit Timah at eleven in the morning. Set against a cool, severely overcast skies, I came to Blu Kouzina, the only Greek restaurant in Singapore for the debut of wellness brand, Apivita, a fitting location since Apivita’s Greek. With stores spanning across the globe, with a wide array of products from skincare to food products, Apivita, Greek for “bee life”, is built around the mystifying and miraculous properties of the life of bees. There are admittedly, a number of honey-based brands, but the reason for the Greek company’s skyrocketing success is its integrity. In an industry that’s commonly built on deception and marketing, Apivita’s “nothing to hide” philosophy is a refreshing spritz.
Blu Kouzina, I’m told, is wildly popular. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear diners making reservations up to two months prior, so any attempt to walk-in wouldn’t be advisable. The restaurant, located in a shophouse, has three-tiers each with its own theme – be it the azure blue and white contrasts that characterizes Santorini, to the more homely Athenian kitchen setting – no matter, it’s your home away from home.
Greek cuisine might “spell” and look completely alien, but the truth is that it has its origins in Mediterranean flavors. Instead of relying on intense spices and flavors, emasculated in tajines and the like, Greek’s focus is on enhancing the natural flavors, so it’s no surprise that lemons are an all essential component of virtually every single dish in some form. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, or rather the Greeks since I’m in a Greek restaurant, so naturally, my poison was the ouzo, a symbol of Greek culture just as vodka is to the Russians, sake to the Japanese and soju to the Koreans. It’s an anise flavored aperitif that when added to water or ice, turns to a milky white color. The “forty-percent” alcohol seems intimidating, and put off several, but I thought it was relative, particularly since our uozo was served with ice which quickly thawed. Sipping it, uozo seems to have a unique demeanor that’s not dissimilar to licorice.
For starters, we had Pita Bread accompanied with Tzatziki, a yoghurt mixed with cucumber, extra virgin olive oil and flavored with garlic; and Melitzanosalata, a smoked eggplant mixed with herbs – all three clearly influenced by Persian, Arab and Turkish cuisines. You have these as spreads, or taste them on their own. While both Tzatziki and Melitzanosalata have different personalities, they’re pumped with a similar tangy and light kick that awakens the palate. Unlike, say, Indian cuisine, the flavors never really linger. Instead, it feels like more of a cleanse. Yes, the tastes and textures were foreign and even weird, but the invasion’s never hostile. As I munch on, I feel myself closer to Jesus as a human. One can only imagine that in his heyday, he must have had these very same dishes, and I wondered what he had thought of them.
Refreshed, it was time to tease the senses a little more. I think patties are quite frankly, universally loved. It could be from a beef patty at your local fast food chain, or the more traditional ones like that of the Malay begedil, there’s something innately homely and comforting about these little balls of goodness. We’ve the Kolokithokeftedes here – zucchini mixed with herbs, extra virgin olive oil and feta cheese, and deep fried, it had a meaty flavor but still keeping to that vegetarian vibe.
The next course was rustic, seemingly lacking any sophistication in comparison. Xorta was a cold, simple vlita salata drenched in little besides a squeeze of lemon and sea salt. On its own, it was as unfriendly as a bout of lemon drops but on retrospect, it could complement the lightly seasoned seafood perfectly. While I didn’t take to this at all, and I’d say it’s not something that’d find favors with us here in Asia, it’s not a criticism of the dish.
The next salad was a lot more familiar. The Xoriatiki was a classic Greek salata with tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives, feta cheese and green pepper topped with extra virgin olive oil and organic vinegar. I’d willingly confess that Greek salads are the second least favorite of mine (Turkish salads are my least favorite), but as I pace through this whirlwind introduction of Greek cuisine, I have a deeper understanding of its motivations. Without the feta cheese, it was a rejuvenating ratatouille. With the cheese, the salad teased the cuisine of a more exotic nature. Every course thus far had been a comfortable, inviting nudge into a world and culture that’s been generalized under the moniker of “Mediterranean”. With each nuance, I was being properly introduced not to “Mediterranean” food, but Greek cuisine for what it was, and I was ready to take my next steps.
Just when I thought the session was coming to a close, the mains arrive. Having not rationed room for so much, it became increasingly difficult to stomach everything. The first serve were the Jumbo Prawns – not bad, I thought, I could easily handle seafood. Grilled in extra virgin olive oil and with a squeeze of lemon, it was simple yet satisfying. Neatly grilled, the charred texture gave the succulent flesh an earthy flavor and depth. Seasoned with what looks like nothing more than salt and pepper, the open fire really epitomizes the dish.
The ingenuity of the simplicity of seasoning continues with the Psari Stin Sxara or Greek Grilled Fish. I know what you’re thinking – I know, for some reason, Blu Kouzina forgot to give the Jumbo Prawns earlier a Greek name. Uncomplicated in its preparation, the fish had a robust flavor, being crispy on the outside, tender, juicy and full of personality on the inside. You hear about various cuisines and all their theatrics about reduction, concentration and sous vide, and the purpose is the same – to recreate the natural flavors and all. Spitting in the face of all that, is a simple grill, a technique given thousands of years to perfect. You can’t but not appreciate the mastery, skill and experience that goes into even the simplest of things. Yes, it’s a grilled fish, and you’d find grilled fish on the streets of Bangkok. On the surface, the two might look similar but there’s a nuance; how one handles the fire and the heat – nobody’s wrong, it’s just the little differences that define us.
The final (thank God) main course was the Kreatika Anamikta, a meat platter which consists of Kalamaki Souvlaki, which is a Greek beef kebab; Paidakia stin sxara, grilled lamb chops; Bifteki stin sxara, grilled beef patties; and meatballs. Blu Kouzina’s now home to the second best lamb chop I’ve ever had (the first is Ruth’s Chris Steak House) – the meat was gamey yet tender, and the sharp flavors that characterize lamb was completely absent here. The beef kebab and patty tasted a little too familiar, but were nonetheless juicy and flavorful.
I was very glad I paced myself as there was dessert. The Baklava looks alien, but it had a familiar taste which evoked just endless waves of nostalgia. It’s hard to describe, but if you’re around my age range (in your twenties), then you’ll feel like you’ve returned to your childhood again, somehow.
I wasn’t planning on giving the Greek yoghurt a go, but I was just blown away when I had my first spoon. It had a depth, thickness, creaminess and taste to it that just paled in comparison to the stuff I’ve been eating from the supermarket. Even the most expensive yoghurt I’ve bought (and I have bought some expensive yoghurt) taste disgustingly cheap in comparison. Simply exquisite.
To top it all, fruits.