Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Eating out in Dubai - where to eat fresh, organic, locally grown food ... seating outdoor (if you like)

Considering how long I've been living in Dubai (one year and a couple of months now), I still feel pretty new in the city, with many things to do and places and opportunities yet to discover. But I'm working on the task of getting more and more acquainted with the city, as I want to enjoy as much as possible of it during the time I'll have the opportunity to stay here. And one of the important chapters of my personal guide to the city is with no doubts the one dedicated to "where to eat out", in the possible different occasions. One of my family's routines is going out for lunch on weekends, an habit we've always had, also when we lived in Italy and my son wasn't born yet (though at that time we opted for a different kind of places...). Having a two and a half old boy dining with us, we cannot indulge in multiple-courses gourmet lunches, since we probably couldn't completely enjoy. But even if in most cases we have quick meals out, we try to avoid as much as possible fast food- like places, our favorites being  restaurants or, even better for lunch, cafes and bistros where it is possible to have well prepared and presented quality food, good service, nice ambience, possibly fair prices...and the possibility to eat outside is another much appreciated feature. A bit demanding? Maybe, but considering how many options are available in Dubai, I think I can select.
As I am an advocate of quality fresh food, if possible organic and locally grown, I appreciate much all the places where it is possible to eat this way (that is exactly how I cook and eat at home). As far as I have discovered so far, there are several restaurants and cafes in Dubai adhering to this philosophy (I am glad that the attention to food quality, freshness and origin is gaining more and more awareness lately); I have tried just few of them, so I want to share my experience with particular reference to the places I prefer and visit more often. The places listed below are pretty different, in style, food and location, so each of them can be visited in different occasions, as I am going to say. Take into consideration that none of them is licensed (a shame as I like to wash down my food with a glass of wine), but all offer a good selection of fruit-based homemade drinks.
If are interested in the topic of dining out - and well - stay tuned as I have the intention to make this list (hopefully) much longer.
Baker & Spice - Souk al Bahar
Probably my favorite lunch spot in Dubai. The location, an outdoor  terrace in front of the Dubai fountains with a stunning view of the Burj Khalifa, is without any doubt an important component of my preference, but to be honest I am not the kind of person who chooses where to eat just, or mainly, for the venue: when I dine out I want to eat good and quality food, even if I have just a salad or a quick meal. At Baker & Spice I can eat well enjoying an amazing location, so this is why I like to go there, usually for a weekend  lunch or breakfast with my family, and also always bring guests visiting us.
View from Baker & Spice terrace
View from Baker & Spice terrace

Baker & Spice is a café - restaurant whose philosophy  is summarized by  the words "local - organic  -fresh - homemade": this means that everything is prepared daily in the restaurant kitchens depending on the season and the availability of fresh, organic vegetables that can be procured from the local farmers. This commitment to support local farmers goes beyond the use of organic, fresh and local products in their restaurants;  in fact it was Baker & Spice that in 2010 launched The Farmer Market on the Terrace, a market where UAE farmers sell directly their fresh and organic products; originally held on the terrace at Souk al Bahar, now that the number of farmers has increased it is held in the Ballroom Gardens at Jumeirah Emirates Towers (every Friday from 8 am to 1 pm).
In the menu you find a "Breakfast section" (served from 8 am to noon on weekdays and until 2 pm on weekends) featuring several breakfast dishes as well as homemade baked goodies, and a "Market menu" section (served from noon on weekdays and from 1 pm on weekends) with some seasonal starters and main courses plus a plate du jour and salads from the counter changing daily. I love to take The Salad from the Counter, a plate of 4 salads that you can choose from the assortment displayed behind the counter: around ten different varieties including for example roasted eggplants and tomatoes with feta cheese, tabbouleh, pasta salad with pesto and pine seeds, beetroot and orange with goat cheese, quinoa salad with chicken and chickpeas, hummus.  This salads are available all day.
Baker & Spice: selection of salads from the counter
Baker & Spice: selection of salads from the counter





Baker & Spice: selection of salads from the counter
Baker & Spice: selection of salads from the counter
When we go at breakfast time my husband likes to have an egg dish, usually an omelette or scrambled egg (all made with organic eggs), and once I tried french toast with caramelized sour apples & date syrup toffee (a bit too sweet for my taste). He recently tried also a kingfish fillet with sweet potato and beetroot which was really good. There is no kids menu, but they offer a smaller portion of some dishes featured in the menu, usually some kind of pasta; my nephew  visiting from Italy, as well as my little boy, appreciated much the spaghetti meatball (and all the adults at the table wanted to try as it seemed so appetizing).
Baker & Spice: scrambled eggs
Baker & Spice: scrambled eggs

In general I am always happy with all the food served here (even if sometimes I find some dish a little over-seasoned - but I am a person who often doesn't add any salt to food, especially veggies and fish).
Bread at Baker & Spice is really good: I am very demanding when it comes to bread and I am often disappointed both with the bread served by restaurants and that you can find in shops, but Baker & Spice bread is really well made and declined in a wide range of varieties (sourdough baguette, ciabatta, with cereals, an original bread with dried apricot and zataar and many others, that can also be bought to take home).
And if you still have space, I recommend to try their desserts: my favorite is the chocolate fudge cake, a decadent flourless chocolate cake; a visiting friend tried, and with great satisfaction, the carrot and walnut cake with cream cheese frosting. But again, there is plenty of choice.
It is also possible to stop by just for a coffee or a tea and a slice of cake or another treat (muffin, croissant, pain au chocolat,...): they are all displayed inside and it is not easy to resist.
Recommended for: breakfast and lunch; a must when having visitors or guest; when you search for a stunning view; snack or afternoon tea; family and kids friendly.
Burj Khalifa from Baker & Spice terrace
Burj Khalifa from Baker & Spice terrace

Baker & Spice  is located in Souk al Bahar, right in front of the Dubai fountains.
They have other two locations: one in  Souk Al Manzil  and one at Marina Promenade. Every Friday Baker & Spice is also at The Farmers Market on the Terrace where it is possible to buy their breads and sweets, as well as some breakfast dish prepared in front of you by some of their chefs.

Omnia Gourmet and Omnia Blue - Jumeirah Fishing Harbour
After visiting Omnia several times in a quite short time, I have to admit that this place is rapidly becoming one of my favorites in Dubai for weekend lunches with my family.
Omnia Gourmet and Omnia Blue are two "sister" creations of celebrity chef Silvena Rowe (who is opening soon a more refined restaurant in Downtown); in particular the first (also first to be opened) is the more restaurant-like and gourmet place of the two: the ambience and decor are quite sophisticated with Middle Eastern elements and decorated walls, and the menu offers a good range of options both for breakfast and lunch / dinner.  Omnia Blue, the second  born, offers instead a fast-food inspired healthy cuisine, focusing mainly on handmade burgers and sliders; as the name suggests, the café's decor is all in white and blue and reminds  seafood restaurants that can be found along the Mediterranean coast. 
The two places are adjacent and share a lovely terrace - no doubt the area where I prefer to seat for having lunch - overlooking the Jumeirah Fishing Harbour. The open sea in front of you, the fishing boats anchored at the harbor, the curious seagulls ...what an amazing, peaceful view! Sitting there  you forget the busy city just behind you.
Omnia Gourmet: view from the terrace
Omnia Gourmet: view from the terrace

Another beautiful thing is that, wherever you choose to seat,  you can order from both Omnia Gourmet and Omnia Blue menus (I don't know whether in future the two concepts will be completely separated and it will not be possible anymore to pick indifferently from both menus). With regard to the food, both menus put great emphasis on the use of fresh, local and organic (when possible) ingredients, according to the "from farm to table" concept. Many dishes are gluten -free and/or sugar-free and/or dairy-free, then suitable for people with food restriction or following particular diets;  there is also a selection of dishes adhering to the philosophy behind raw food diets, listed in the category "Raw to Glow".  The chef makes an extensive use of so-called super foods, like quinoa, Chia seeds, Goji berries.  
Based on my visits there, the freshness of ingredients, in particular vegetables, comes out particularly in salads (in Omnia Gourmet menu); I order salads very often at restaurants and here I particularly enjoyed the zucchini linguine, with avocado pesto and cashew raw cotta, a dish with zucchini julienne (resembling to linguini pasta) tossed in a avocado pesto dressing (a bit too garlicky for my liking but very tasty) topped with a sort of crumble (the raw cotta) made from cashew nuts: I liked this salad so much that I ordered it both in my first and second visit. But in future I would like to try other salads and main courses.
Omnia Gourmet: zucchini linguine
Omnia Gourmet: zucchini linguine

Also my husband ordered twice the same dish, the Wagyu beef burger (featured in the Omnia Blue menu) which was very well cooked and made with high quality meat. One time he also had the optional addition of foie gras, which was delicious. With regard to foie gras though, I have to say that  in my opinion the presence of this ingredient (delicious yet not properly healthy and even less produced with ethical methods) in the menu of a restaurant proud of the origin and quality of the ingredients used is a bit odd and contradictory. Going back to the menu, there is no specific option for kids, but several dishes can be ordered for the little ones, especially from the Omnia Blue menu; the only advise I would give (and also waiters could do it when customers order for children) is to require the sauces on the side, as they are a bit too spicy for children taste. For my son we ordered the Angus beef slider , which is good for children also because smaller than a regular burger.
Omnia Gourmet: Angus slider
Omnia Gourmet: Angus slider


Omnia Gourmet: hand cut fries
Omnia Gourmet: hand cut fries
We went there also with guests from Italy so I had the chance to taste from their plate the quinoa cakes (from Omnia Gourmet menu) which were nice, while the chicken breast in the dish ordered by kids was a bit tough - I don't remember the exact name of the dish but it was a sort of sandwich filled with breaded chicken breast.
I never tried any of the dessert in the menu. To be honest, being a keen baker and lover of guilty and rich desserts, I am always skeptical when I see "gluten-free, dairy-free, something-free" desserts, also because I had not so pleasant previous experiences with this kind of dessert (I personally find that nuts-flour and nuts-milk usually used instead of traditional wheat flour and cow milk are a bit too heavy and rich). But they look beautiful! Maybe I'll try in future...
The service is fair, even if a bit slow especially when the place is not too busy.  As for prices, I would say they are neither cheap or high, considering the quality of food and the "original" cuisine offered.  
Something I find a bit odd is that, if you order from both the menus, at the end you have two separate checks!  
Recommended for: breakfast, lunch or dinner with alternative / original / creative food;  if you to escape the city buzz and relax with an amazing seaview; can be the choice also for a quite romantic occasion, especially at daytime.   
Omnia Gourmet and Omnia Blue are located in ‘Al Souq’, the Gourmet Souk next to the Jumeirah Fishing Harbour in Jumeirah 1.

Pantry Café - Al Wasl Square
This café is the most recent discovery of mine, tried one day I was wondering in Jumeirah searching for a place to have a quick lunch with my husband. The idea of trying a place in Al Wasl Square had been in my mind for a quite long time but I had never been there before; since we were close we headed there, parked the car and immediately noticed a nice patio set up with outdoor umbrellas and tables, very quiet considering that it is located at the busy crossroad between Wasl Road and Al Hadeeqa Street.
Pantry Cafè outdoor dining area
Pantry Cafè outdoor dining area

The indoor space is very bright thanks to the all-glass external walls with a contemporary, airy decor (though very similar to many other places  in Dubai and other cities).
The menu, readable on a tablet, is based on fresh and organic ingredients (veggies come from Ripe), with no added preservatives or coloring. There is also a great general emphasis on environment protection (low carbon emission crockery, environment friendly packaging, ...).
Pantry Cafè

The menu offers many choices, breakfast dishes, salads, mains, sandwiches, pizzas and dessert; the kids menu has a good assortment too with children classics like burger, macaroni and cheese, fish and chips, chicken nuggets and others.  
Pantry Cafè: kids wagyu burger
Pantry Cafè: kids wagyu burger

All dishes we tried tasted good reflecting the quality of ingredients: I appreciated a couple of salads (not that big though), while my husband enjoyed once the piadina, an Italian  flatbread stuffed with tomato, mozzarella and cured beef which was really nice and another time a really enjoyable steak sandwich (a sliced grilled steak served on ciabatta bread); little boy had the burger, made with wagyu beef, tender and tasty.
Pantry Cafè: grilled halloumi salad
Pantry Cafè: grilled halloumi salad


Pantry Cafè: steak sandwich
Pantry Cafè: steak sandwich
Probably because I am Italian, but at the end of a meal I love to have a coffee, more precisely an espresso (I prefer the macchiato, my husband the plain espresso), but I am often disappointed by coffee served in most of the restaurants and cafés here. So I particularly appreciate those places serving a really good espresso, and Pantry Café is one of them: all the times I went there I had a good and well-made espresso (I can't say about the regular coffee).  
The staff is kind but I have to say that the service is a bit slow, even in not busy days; we also noticed that dishes do not come together to the table, a practice that I really don't like unless explicitly requested.
Prices are fair, at least in line with those of similar places.
Recommended for: weekday lunch; breakfast and brunch;  for meeting up with friends; good for family and kids.
Pantry cafè is located in Al Wasl Square,  on Al Wasl Road opposite Safa Park.  

Taste Kitchen - Mercato Mall
Probably this place is lightly off  the topic of this post, as it is not focused on organic, locally grown food, and doesn't even have an outdoor dining area (although Mercato Mall overall concept aims to replicate an Italian open air market), but freshness of ingredients is one the restaurant's proposition, together with " creative cooking and friendly service in a relaxed, modern environment". And as I liked it much since my first visit, I want to add it to the list.
Taste Kitchen is a recently launched restaurant concept by celebrity chef duo Scott Price and Nick Alvis, formerly at the much acclaimed Table 9 (unfortunately I settled too late in Dubai to try it): Mercato Mall was the first venue that was opened, followed by another branch in Silicon Oasis and one in Karama.
I visited only the Mercato Mall venue (the first time I went there on purpose as dining at a mall is not my regular habit). The location reminds an outdoor dining spot with a simple yet somehow sophisticated decor.
Taste Kitchen: dining room
Taste Kitchen: dining room

The first time I visited, for a Saturday lunch, I was surprised to find the place almost empty  while other chain restaurants located in the same mall were pretty crowded; glad to see a busier dining room the second time I had lunch there (unfortunately with an impact on the service).
Going to the food, the menu offers several creative dishes, grouped into breakfast (served till midday), salads, soups, jars&toast, mains (with several vegetarian options alongside fish and meat), pizza, pasta of the day and desserts. Kids have a dedicated menu with a good selection. A fragrant, warm focaccia is served while you are waiting for your food.
Taste Kitchen: focaccia

Salads are original and tasty (not so big though, but this is a common issue of all restaurants), so is the Chilled pea, courgette & mint soup.
Taste Kitchen: watercress salad
Taste Kitchen: watercress salad


Taste Kitchen: Chilled pea, courgette & mint soup
Taste Kitchen: Chilled pea, courgette & mint soup
The meatball & pasta from the kids menu is really tasty (real value for money as a not-so-small portion costs only 20 Dhs): the only thing I would say is that the pasta is not properly cooked al dente (as we haven't tried the pasta from the regular menu I couldn't say whether the overcooking is reserved only to children or is the regular practice).
Taste Kitchen: Meatball and pasta
Taste Kitchen: Meatball and pasta

The only thing I wouldn't recommend is the pizza (not bad but distant from our idea of Italian pizza).
As for the beverage, there is a wide selection of freshly made juices and smoothies, served in lovely jars with striped paper straws.  I didn't try any dessert, but sure I'll do when I have more time to enjoy my lunch (maybe without son).
And this is another place where espresso is really good!
Prices are absolutely competitive, in particular for food.
Recommended for: for creative cuisine at a very affordable price; when you're bored of anonymous mall-food; for relaxed breakfasts, lunch or dinner with family and/or friends.
Taste Kitchen is located in Mercato Mall, Jumeirah 1. The other two branches are respectively in Cedre Villas (Sliicon Oasis) and Trade Center Road (Karama).

Disclaimer: All my opinions above  are based on what I experienced in more than one visit, made privately usually with my family, and reflect my personal taste and expectations when I eat out.


2 comments:

  1. A great list Francesca. Bakers and Pantry are a big fav with us too.

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  2. Thank you for the great post.I am this post will help so many foodies out there.

    ReplyDelete