The décor of Cleo at The Forum at The Avenues rejoices in the juxtaposition of a variety of aesthetic influences, a visual metaphor of the Mediterranean menu that is to be savored and shared. A hint of North African, a sprinkling of Italian, a touch of Greek and an abundance of talent with a charcoal grill delivers dips, mezes, mains and desserts that will have you clamoring for more.
Believe bazaar when we tell you that the best way to experience Cleo for the first time is with a bunch of close friends so you can sample as much of the menu at once. The ‘miza’ choices are ideal for sharing and come accompanied by taboon bread, served piping hot and steaming in its very own brown paper bag.
Not just any facilitating accompaniment, this is a flat bread that deserves your primary attention. It’s that good that you’ll want to order it as an extra from the ‘sides’ menu.
As we knew that everything we ordered was going to be tasted at once by everyone at the table, caution was thrown to the wind, and the kitchen instructed to bring whatever was ready to the table. We’d ordered a selection of small plates, kebabs and mains and to our delight, everything arrived exactly as you would have wanted it to had we wanted a more formal serving structure.
The kitchen is well organized, and prepared for every eventuality. In addition, the wait staff are well trained, eager to serve and knowledgeable about the menu, cooking methods and sourcing of their finest quality ingredients.
Everything is created in-house in Cleo, so there are little touches that you simply will not find anywhere else. The pickled vegetables come in an array of color that has to be seen to be believed such as fuchsia, cerise, and amethyst; cauliflower has never looked this royally resplendent.
The best use of color must be in the Roasted Vegetable Quinoa Salad, where each element is a star in itself. Light, fresh, crunchy where it needs to be, loaded with powerful antioxidants from kale and nigella seeds, and protein-rich Faro, this dish must be as healthy as it is utterly delicious. High fives all around for using Romanesco in this salad.
Great care is taken with the presentation of the plates, and it must take time to lay the crisped artichokes neatly like soldiers in a foxhole of hummus; the two textures complementing each other well, ready to attack the senses from all sides. Preserved lemon adds bite to the super-light almost mousse-like chickpea meze. Each one of the Green Falafel is exactly the same size as the other and the crunch alone is worthy of a mukbang Instagram post.
Moist and with flavor, color plays its part again here with beet-pickled fennel and a nutty citrus tabbouleh accompaniment. With three hearty portions sitting in a rack, the Lamb Shawarma looks like tacos but is in reality a succulence of slow-roasted lamb loaded onto Taboon bread. Juicy, the meat is wonderfully herbed and spiced to perfection. bazaar tip: take a huge bite and eat whole one of the mini pickled peppers on top of the shawarma. Nothing is just for decoration at Cleo, everything is edible and adds layers to the flavor profiles of the dishes.
“Small plates” may be slightly deceptive as the Rigatoni Bolognese is sizeable due to the al dente pasta tubes being artfully piled high. The Angus Chuck Roll Australian beef for the meat sauce is ground on site and seasoned well, the fresh tomato sauce one that “mamma” would be proud of.
A true test for any restaurant is how skillfully they cook their prawns and the kebabs of tail-on prawns were perfect; gloriously succulent and on the grill for exactly the right amount of time. The dipping harissa sauce is a must try with two types of chili used, parsley and extra-virgin olive oil. Simple and fresh. Another fish dish where the expert hand of the chef cannot be denied is the Branzino. The skin-on serving was at once both crispy and melt in your mouth, the flesh moist and flavorsome with warming and aromatic Vadouvan spices coming gently to the fore.
Absolutely never leave Cleo without finishing off your meal with at least one of two desserts; the apple pie or the date pudding are each topped off with the restaurant’s home-made vanilla ice cream. The pudding lounges in a butterscotch sauce, the mere hint of a burn contrasting with the sweetness of the sticky dessert, a mixed nuts Florentine adding crunch to the ensemble.
The apple pie comes fresh out of the oven, the filo-pastry basket surrounding spiced apples hot with sugary sweetness. We also love the Yoghurt Panna Cotta for a twist on a classic. A delightful way to end an exquisite gourmand adventure through the countries lapped by the seas of the Mediterranean.
Cleo Mediterráneo is located in The Forum – The Avenues. For more information and the latest updates follow the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram @cleomiddleeast and DM them for inquiries.