Long time neighbourhood favourite, Joe's on Draycott Avenue, has long housed the chicest locals and ‘ladies that lunch’ who break up an otherwise strenuous day of shopping with a spot of lunch in this monied part of town. Packed to the rafters on weekends with glamorous types and yummy-mummies, it has recently seen Greek Cypriot TV Chef Maria Elia take the helm and I popped along to see what interesting new things Maria has done with the menu.
I didn't really know what to expect to be honest; a lot of the food in the area is overpriced, over-hyped and generally somewhat lacklustre for serious food devotees like myself. I was actually incredibly surprised to discover how innovative, well balanced and beautifully conceived the dishes were. I couldn't wait to try them! Chef Maria Elia was a gracious hostess and popped up to say a brief hello before sending out little ‘tasters’ – dish after beautiful dish of seductive plates just waiting to be savaged by a ravenous Persian girl like myself.
The first course, served on an elegant slate platter, was a beetroot and Beluga lentil salad with a sharp Greek yoghurt adorned with both golden beetroot as well as the classic deep purple beetroot also. This is just the kind of food I love to eat. Not heavy, not greasy, light and healthy but without sacrificing flavour or enjoyment. I could have eaten this 10 times over and been eternally happy.
The next course is possibly one of my favourite delights of the sea; the humble octopus. Scary looking for some but absolutely delicious and a staple of Greek culinary culture. If you haven't tried Octopus before, you are absolutely missing out! A delicate curled tentacle gently resting on a mix of braised barley and onions with a scattering of fennel seeds and elegant strands of fresh dill. What a treat; a fantastic combination and a great dish that I simply wouldn't have expected on a menu in this part of town.
Now admittedly pigeon is not one of my favourite things but every once in a while, I enjoy it, provided it is cooked properly and paired with the right accompaniments. Delicate but meaty chunks of pigeon breast with a vibrant green sauce (the name of which escapes me) akin to pesto but not pungent with excess basil of coarse in texture. The pigeon itself rests on a green gage tatin that provide the perfect sweet yet sharp fruit flavour that so often works well with pigeon. I must say, I was surprised at how much I liked this dish. I still day dream about it everytime I see pigeon on a menu anywhere.
More food? Absolutely. Maria Elia is Greek after all… And you know from my Greek adventures that they love to feed people… A LOT. This is not a problem whatsoever for me. In fact, I absolutely welcome it as long as it comes at a slow and sensible pace. Asian fish stew proved an almost virtuous 4th course, with a clear ocre-tinged seafood consomme infused with eastern aromatics like ginger and lemongrass with generous chunks of seabass, mussels and a scattering of puy lentils, coriander and bean sprouts to finish. It's the kind of food that feels healthy as its going down… do you know what I mean? Cleansing… rather zen, if you will. Enough said really as lets be honest, this is my 4th course with no end in sight so it's pretty safe to say I was now WAY past Zen/Virtous eating!
The 5th course (yes, there was yet ANOTHER course) was beyond intriguing for me… a savoury baklava! “Madness!” I hear you say… Layers of filo pastry with green beans, feta cheese, tomatoes and honey. Two word; ABSOLUTELY DIVINE. Even I wasn't initially sure of this little creation but it was the perfect balance of sweet versus savoury combined with the wonderful sharpness of brilliant white feta cheese. Totally moreish and yet another nod to Maria Elia's heritage. If I could have, I would have ordered another portion as takeaway. I'm pretty sure I cold try and attempt it at home although less confident about it turning out even half as decent as Maria's dish.
Last but not least came dessert, which at this point was a lost cause simply wasted on me. I ordered it but to be perfectly honest, I was so stuffed that they could have put George Clooney on a plate and I'd have little interest in tackling him. A simple slice of treacle tart with vanilla ice cream and an apricot puree was nice but I'd have to say Maria's talent shines in the savoury portion of the menu. Maybe I'm just not a dessert person as much as I am a savoury lover or maybe I'd just eaten my BODY WEIGHT in food!
Either way, Joe's exceeded my expectations on every scale. The menu was beyond reasonably priced which led me to wonder why on earth I never come here? Perhaps the illusion that the crowd of diners would be annoying Yummy-Mummies? UNFOUNDED. Perhaps the food wouldn't be anything of interest to me? UNFOUNDED and more importantly, perhaps the prices are ludicrously high because of the plush South Kensington location and the fact that it's owned by Joseph boutique across the road… UNFOUNDED. Very glad to have discovered this great little spot not so far from home and I can safely say, I will genuinely be coming back and look forward to sampling more from the regularly changing, seasonal menus created by Maria Elia.