Food

A Pantheon of Dishes — Opa! unveils new menu items

Thursday, June 28, 2018

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One of the great things about eating out in Kingston is that an international experience is always just a few kilometres away. Since it opened its original doors on Hope Road, almost five years ago, Opa proved that Jamaica was definitely ready for Mediterranean cuisine. Not resting on their laurels, Mr Opa — Alexx Antaeus — and his right-hand, Orlease King, have decided to refresh the menu by adding more delicious and, in some cases, atypical items.

Antaeus and King invited the judges of the 20th Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards to Opa on Wednesday, June 20, to preview the new menu items and offer feedback. “We've removed the Greek from our name; we are now Opa Restaurant and are doing more non-Greek menu items,” Antaeus told Thursday Food. Antaeus continued, “Devon House is a heritage site and we serve both locals and tourists looking for a Jamaican experience.” And, with “out of many, one people” fuelling this update, it's no surprise that Opa is taking a more global perspective.

The incorporation of Jamaican ingredients like callaloo in the spanakopita and Asian influences via coconut and soy shows that Opa isn't entrenched in its original history but is willing to show that it has benefited from having Jamaica as home.

The chilli potato fritters (more of a croquette) were creamy with a light crunch and mild chilli flavour reminiscent of the Japanese izakaya fave, korokke. The carb-free gyros sliders brought us, ever so slightly, back to the heyday of the Atkins diet craze. This health-conscious appetiser was definitely missing a bready vehicle — echoed by guests Jodi Henriques and Mala Morrison. But, as it stood, the pork patty with bacon, crisp lettuce, fresh tomato and tzatziki dish was tasty. Antaeus was very much open to feedback and decided to tweak the dish so that the name “slider” isn't a mislabel. The new appetisers were rounded out by grilled octopus which was knife-tender, bright with acid and aromatic. It just needed a pinch more salt.

The creamy coconut shrimp soup could easily be described as vichyssoise returning home after a backpacking year abroad. The velvety texture, plump shrimp, balanced spiciness and threads of coconut made for a bowl of deliciousness. The inclusion of fusilli, however, was bewildering. After what felt like a 20-minute exchange with guests who were not here for the pasta's inclusion in the dish, a détente was reached. A light bulb went off over Antaeus' head and he decided to change the element to orzo. 'Aha's swept across the room — definitely a more fitting ingredient.

The new main dishes include a couple of departures to Asia and Italy. The two-rice dish comprised of saffron rice with shrimp and gourmet soy chilli rice with chicken is something even the pickiest Jamaican would love. Well-seasoned and with just enough exoticism to take the diner to a far-off land with a quick return to familiarity. The olive wood smoked spicy pork loin is going to become legendary. Baked Alaska and caesar salad aren't the only table-side theatrics in town. If you order more than one portion, the dish will be smoked for you while you watch and count down the minutes to partaking of savoury, juicy and peppery Copperwood pork loin accented by a whisper of Bourbon.

The mug pie pasta (don't judge the name) is an amphitheatre-shaped penne and ground lamb dish, smothered in herby tomato sauce and cheese. Winning. Perfect amount of salt, rich and distinctively lamby, this dished paired well with the plush tannins and full-bodiedness of the Greek cabernet from Lafkiotis.

The meal ended with a cheesecake bite box and, as the name suggests, it's a box containing mini cheesecakes. Just approaching precious, the treasure-chest shaped wooden box contains mini cheesecakes with rotating seasonal toppings. On the night of our visit, it was lychee and blueberry. Not overly sweet, well-made and just the right size, these cheesecakes were a perfect way to end such a big meal.

Speaking of ending perfectly, Antaeus in a moving acknowledgement of King's contribution to the new menu and overall business of Opa, disclosed that he doubled her shares in the business. What a gift. “I am known as Mr Opa, but she's Mrs Opa — without her hard work I'm not sure what I would do,” said Antaeus.

Greek cuisine has never had the worldwide appeal or been embraced the same way other Mediterranean cuisines (that's you, Spain, France and Italy) have. Socrates famously said “know yourself” and Alexx Antaeus and Orlease King do. They realised that what they have is special and defies classification. This knowledge of self and endless exploration deserve a hearty opa!

— Vaughn Gray

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