Greek restaurant Ergon at Erth Abu Dhabi puts the charm back into casual dining

From leisurely breakfast to delectable peinirli, the international venue is a favourite with discerning diners in London, Athens and now the UAE

Ergon, 'a cute restaurant by the water', is open at Erth Hotel, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Ergon / Erth Hotel
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Anyone who has gone to a restaurant without a reservation knows the key to getting a good table is to arrive early. The first diner showed up at Ergon Deli and Cafe Abu Dhabi at the end of December, a good two months before the Greek eatery officially announced itself as the latest addition to the capital’s culinary scene.

At the time, co-founder and chief executive of Ergon Foods, Thomas Douzis, and his team were inside trying out different dishes and mocktails, finalising the menu that would be served at the brand’s first outpost in the UAE. While the restaurant at Erth Hotel was not yet up and running, Douzis had something whipped up for the eager visitor, who posted about his experience on social media, whetting the appetite of many others.

“The next day there were 50 cars outside. I’m so happy for that,” Douzis tells The National.

We are Michelin Guide material. Our food is worth travelling for
Thomas Douzi, co-founder and chief executive, Ergon Foods

There has hardly been a quiet moment at Ergon since, with breakfast quickly becoming the most popular meal of the day for the restaurant and its devoted diners. This is a novel change from the brand’s outlets elsewhere in the world, where dinner and Greek street foods such as peinirli (the nation's answer to pizza or Turkish pide) are the biggest draws.

Ergon Foods was born in the port city of Thessaloniki – where Douzis founded it in 2008 alongside his brother, George – and its name now adorns restaurants and cafes in Athens, London and Doha. There are also plans to expand into Bahrain.

The UAE is the latest stop from small Greek business to global brand, but the Abu Dhabi restaurant’s roots are still firmly in Thessaloniki.

“If we could exchange the palm trees for olive trees, it’s pretty similar to our hometown. There is privacy, nice weather, outside seating,” Douzis says. “The first time that I saw it, I was wondering: ‘Is it a romantic spot? Is it for families? What?’

“We are also curious about what the final identity of the restaurant will be, but for now it accommodates everyone.”

He describes the dishes on offer as “traditional, but made in a modern way”, with enticing plates of chicken souvlaki among those doing the rounds at the official opening. He also champions the Greek salad as being the best in the world.

That would be a bold claim for a typical restaurateur, but Douzis has long since crossed ordinary off the menu. The soaps and scented candles on sale inside the Abu Dhabi restaurant offer a whiff of Ergon Food’s broader reach, with its other businesses including agoras – or markets – and a hotel in Greece. Douzis says he also aims to open a hotel and bakery in Athens.

“In Greece, Ergon is more than a restaurant, it is a lifestyle brand,” he adds. “What I really enjoy is that people outside of Greece get to know what the brand is, what we really do. They are looking for more products and they ask: ‘Hey guys, when are you opening an agora? Are you opening a hotel in Dubai?’

“Now they’ve tasted our food and it’s like, it’s a nice, cute, small restaurant by the water. They say: ‘That’s amazing, but what’s next?’

“The brand grew this way. People in Greece don’t ask us when are you opening. They ask us: ‘What are you opening?’ It’s always something new, something bigger.”

There is room to grow in Abu Dhabi, with a Michelin Guide launched in the capital in 2022 and raising the profile of its culinary offerings. Ergon’s outlets were featured previously in the guides of Athens and London, so could its latest restaurant receive similar recognition?

“The Michelin Guide is such a wide variety, from the restaurants that are worth eating at, to the three-star, high-end tasting menus,” Douzis says. “We are into everyday, casual dining. This is Ergon, this is its heart. But we’ve been in the Guide in London and in Athens, so we are Michelin material. Our food is worth travelling for.”

Updated: March 06, 2024, 3:58 AM