It takes a certain je ne sais quoi for a new venue to stand out in Mykonos, a cosmopolitan island known as much for its rugged natural beauty and dreamy Cycladic vernacular as for its high octane, luxury hospitality offerings. Ironically, the one property that undoubtedly stood out this season, Nōema, is the one you’re less likely to stumble upon, tucked away, as it is, behind a maze of meandering back-alleys and sleepy, whitewashed houses in the heart of Chora. Just a short walk from the town’s designer boutique and swanky bar-lined, tourist-packed thoroughfares, the hybrid venue, which shape-shifts from bar-restaurant to nightclub as the night unfolds, manages to feel worlds apart, both physically and spiritually.
Designed by Berlin-based, multi-disciplinary design studio Lambs & Lions, in collaboration with Greek architects K-Studio, the venue is the brainchild of Richard Caring, the legendary British restaurateur and Soho House co-owner whose portfolio includes The Ivy, Annabel’s, Scott’s and Le Caprice. It’s no surprise then that everything, down to the smallest detail – from award-winning Chef Athinagoras Kostakos’ fine dining menu, to the enchanting music and the elegant staff attire and immersive décor – is carefully thought out and purposefully designed. Hence Nōema’s name, which in Greek signifies ‘meaning’ or ‘substance’: everything here makes perfect sense.
An oasis of understated sophistication and Zen ambience inspired by Cycladic minimalism and vernacular craftsmanship, Nōema is centred around a spacious courtyard, which was once an open-air cinema that has been transformed into a secret garden with loosely defined areas for dining, drinking and dancing. Just like the patio, or ‘avli’, of a typical Cycladic house where friends and family spontaneously come together to eat, drink, share stories and sing, the space was conceived as an authentic gathering place imbued with the carefree spirit of the Cyclades. At Nōema, food is meant to be shared taverna-style, wine is served in carafes artfully reflecting the island’s communal feasts or ‘panigiri’ commemorating a saint’s day, and impromptu DJ sets interchange with unplugged live sessions. Coupled with the relaxed ambience and jovial service, guests often tend to become one extended group of friends or ‘parea’.
This is not to say that the venue aspires to be a rambunctious plate smashing taverna or well-to-do, celebrity-magnet speakeasy, far from it. Eschewing both the white and blue Cycladic palette and Mykonos’ oftentimes bling-bling nightlife aesthetic, the designers have channelled instead a bohemian vibe of ascetic elegance that blends Mediterranean and tropical references. A subdued palette of charcoal, seal and sand reflects the island’s granite boulders, dry stone walls and golden beaches while dark wood, oversized tropical plants and majestic cacti convey Bali, Caribbean and Palm Springs vibes. Finally, contrasting elements of raw concrete, polished cement, textured tiles and earthenware imbue the space with a handcrafted sensibility and minimalist finesse.
Undoubtedly however, the highlight of the Nōema experience is the kitchen, and not just because of its open configuration that allows guests to glimpse the staff in action. Culinary director Athinagoras Kostakos, a Mykonian old-timer who has been working on the island on and off since the mid-2000s, has combined time-honoured cooking methods with his signature penchant for experimentation to create palate-seducing dishes packed with familiar yet unexpected flavours and intoxicating aromas. As he explains, “I think traditions should be respected but also balanced out by creativity”.
Underpinned by a farm-to-table philosophy, Nōema’s predominantly pescatarian and vegetarian menu, which ranges from raw mezze to sumptuous feasting platters, is dictated by seasonality and sustainability; fish is fermented in brine or cured in sea salt, meat is cooked over an open fire or baked in a clay pot with lemon and bay leaves, while herbs and vegetables, many of which are harvested or foraged during the Spring months, are pickled, cured and sun-dried.
A nose-to-tail approach means nothing is wasted: fish scales are dehydrated and used as a seasoning, while leftover cuts become the fillings for pies. Seasonal highlights include crispy octopus with oxymel and wild oregano, sun-dried mackerel in lemon verbena sauce, and charred beets with hazelnut pesto and double-strained yoghurt.
“Provenance is at the heart of our kitchen”, Kostakos says, with the majority of the ingredients sourced from the Cyclades and surrounding islands, such as cheese and lamb from Naxos, organic vegetables from Tinos, tomatoes from Crete and Santorini, seafood from fishermen on the island of Paros, and a range of produce like aged feta, caper leaves and rock samphire from trusted Mykonian suppliers. In this sense, Nōema’s culinary offerings are as much a celebration of Kostakos’ trailblazing gastronomic ethos as an ode to the abundance of the Aegean islands and the region’s culinary heritage.
The experimental attitude and creative use of local ingredients is carried through to the bar where foraged herbs and seasonal fruits give a local twist to anti-oxidant aperitifs and Aegean digestifs, and artisanal Greek spirits add a fortifying dash to craft cocktails. Take the for instance the Windswept Martini, which is made with artisanal chipouro, cold distilled gin and dry homemade Greek vermouth, and infused per an ancient Hippocratic medicine recipe with dill and ‘kritamo’, an edible plant that flourishes in rocky, salt-sprayed cliffs and beaches; or Amvrosia, a velvety concoction of Greek brandy, prickly pear liqueur, bergamot juice, cinnamon and thyme infused honey, and Samos wine.
And if such culinary and mixologist delights, handcrafted interiors, and expertly curated music were not enough to satisfy the most demanding aesthete, the adjacent stand-alone concept store will do the trick as it showcases a handpicked selection of some of the very best contemporary Greek fashion and design. Part gallery, part boutique, the Nōema store features a signature line by Marios Schwab and Jacopo Ianniello, “Prao”, whose fluid silhouettes and flattering drapes embody the effortless island style, alongside sandals, jewellery, cosmetics, objects, books and magazines. As a gathering space where guests can both shop and chill, the store not only embodies Nōema’s Greek soul and nomadic spirit but also underlines the venture’s strong sense of community and place.