Dubai favourite Gaia opens in Marbella as founder plots global expansion

Evgeny Kuzin reveals $140m plans for Fundamental Hospitality to own and operate 100 venues

The classic setting of Gaia Marbella. Photo: Fundamental Hospitality
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With its whitewashed walls, bright flowers and the beach a couple of minutes walk through the palm trees, the latest addition to the Gaia stable of luxury restaurants lies in a classically Mediterranean setting.

The Dubai favourite recently opened at its newest site in Marbella and already the tables are full.

The Greek-Mediterranean restaurant was lured to the Puente Romano luxury resort in the upmarket Spanish town and is at the heart of its creator’s plans for global expansion.

While Dubai has long been a magnet for high-end restaurants, it seems as if the traffic is now going the other way.

The eatery belongs to Fundamental Hospitality, whose chairman Evgeny Kuzin has bold plans for the group to spend $140 million on an expansion under which the company would own and operate 100 venues across the Middle East, Europe, UK and the US within five years.

The group also runs Shanghai Me La Maison Ani, Piatti by the Beach and Izu Burger but it’s Gaia that’s currently leading the charge in Mr Kuzin’s quest to “develop the biggest [food and beverage] luxury lifestyle company globally” to come out of Dubai.

He tells The National that Fundamental Hospitality was “approached by the owners of the Puente Romana Hotel” to open a Gaia there and the operator believed the restaurant’s lure would be a good fit for the resort.

Alongside renowned chef Izu Ani, Mr Kuzin opened Gaia in 2018 with the first international export in Monte Carlo in 2018, followed by Doha and London.

The chef's passion for French food, picked up while working in the country and immersing himself in its gastronomic culture, has translated itself into La Maison Ani. The restaurant is another of Fundamental Hospitality's brands reaching out and one is due to open in London's Knightsbridge later this month.

"Gaia is our flagship brand with five restaurants globally and there’s a huge pipeline coming in the next five years with lot of openings," says Mr Kuzin.

"People love the product and people know the brands. They want to have them in every major city."

Mr Kuzin moved from his native Russia to Dubai in 2005 and started by running a franchise of London hotspot MoVida in Dubai, before turning his attention to restaurants.

He has seen the city's restaurant scene transformed to the stage where it can serve as the springboard for his expansion plans.

“Today Dubai is, in my opinion, now the culinary capital of the world," he says. “The quality is sensational and people travel from around the world to experience the dining and five-star products that Dubai has to offer.

“So, we have been blessed in having Dubai as our home base, as a platform for developing our brands and scaling them globally.”

The setting up of Gaia Marbella has been overseen by a team with the same meticulous eye for detail that has seen branches open in Doha, Monte Carlo and London with the aim of recreating the same immaculate service.

The Puente Romano venue offers fully open frontage for the restaurant with tables outside in immaculate gardens shaded by palm trees.

Customers can choose freshly caught fish from the ‘fish market’, an eye-catching display that greets them as they enter.

Many are clearly familiar to the staff, who welcome them back as they take their seats.

“We have a lot of our customers who come to Gaia in Dubai, they’re also coming to London and they’re coming to Marbella,” says Mr Kuzin. “So I would say we have a big percentage of the same people all around the world visiting our restaurant.”

Staff claim all the classic dishes that have made Gaia such a popular destination in Dubai are all available in Spain.

The National tried items from the fish market including carpaccio of sea bream with a truffle oil dressing and prawn tartare that were shared with our hosts as appetisers.

Grilled octopus and a pie with three cheeses stuffed inside a light pastry followed for starters. A main course of roast baby goat was slow cooked in a classic Greek style for 12 hours.

"I would say we have a big percentage of the same people all around the world visiting our restaurant," Mr Kuzin says. “We're trying to be consistent with the brand so that you get exactly the same product. No matter whether you're in Dubai or you're in London, the quality of the food will be the same.”

The Puente Romano beach resort is in the Costa del Sol and is named after a first-century Roman bridge that still sits at its heart. The resort began life as apartments before it was take over by Syrian-Saudi Mouffak Al Midani and opened as a hotel in 1979.

Puente Romano was sold to London-based businessman David Shamoon in 1995 and is now run by his children Daniel and Jennica.

The resort has evolved into a complex of suites and villas in a serene setting, with guest able to chose from a variety of high-end restaurants, all with an easy stroll through the gardens.

As well as Gaia, there's the sleek luxury brand Nobu, Italian classic Cipriani, Sea Grill, beach club Chiringuito and COYA, which offers traditional Peruvian cooking blended with techniques from Japan, China and Spain.

Mr Kuzin explains that one of the reasons he's confident in the success of his expansion is the way tastes have changed over the past two decades or so.

"If you look at 15 or 20 years ago, when people were travelling around the world, they would mostly try to find some local restaurant that was only in that particular city.

"But today there is a certain calibre of restaurant that is producing a lifestyle product. And people want to stick with the brands they know and not to have any surprises."

Part of the expansion is the opening of its first beach lifestyle venue, Maison de la Plage at The Palm Jumeirah. Later this year the group will open Sirene Beach Club with a Gaia restaurant at its heart.

He says he hopes to emulate brands that last the course and cites Zuma as a “great one”.

But it’s Cipriani, the operator of the celebrity-packed restaurants and members clubs, that Mr Kuzin truly admires, with Fundamental Hospitality operating a franchise in Dubai. Giuseppe Cipriani opened his first spot, Harry’s Bar, in Venice in 1931 and it has since seen namesake venues open around the world.

“Cipriani is an institutional and historical brand. They do a fantastic job and I’ve always admired them. We’ve learnt a lot from them and this is the model we're implementing today.”

A Gaia branch in Miami will be the next stop in the journey and Mr Kuzin is adamant Dubai can teach the world a thing or two about five-star dining.

Video - Inside Dubai's Greek-Mediterranean restaurant Gaia

Inside Dubai's Greek-Mediterranean restaurant Gaia

Inside Dubai's Greek-Mediterranean restaurant Gaia
Updated: May 05, 2024, 5:14 AM