There is more to these places than coffee and snacks
Time Out Dubai staff
Baker & Spice: Boasting local, seasonal produce and one of the best views in Dubai, Baker & Spice certainly has the spark to rekindle a passion for fresh food. The rustic-yet-modern interior entices diners through the doors, where they will find a delicious salad selection, homemade cakes, conserves and a long, central table piled high with gloriously colourful fruit and vegetables. The menu changes regularly depending on what the B&S buyers find in the local markets and you can certainly taste the quality in the ingredients. For a fresh appetiser, dip into the salad bar, which featured (on our visit at least) rice salads, aubergine and slow-roasted tomato salad with feta, cucumber raita and a zesty beetroot, carrot and coriander combo. For mains, the pasta, and especially the homemade gnocchi, was particularly good, accompanied by ever-changing seasonal vegetable fillings or meatballs and fresh tomato ragout. It's a great concept and the quality of the food is stunning, which makes the slight unhelpfulness of the restaurant's staff a little regrettable.
Souk Al Bahar (04 425 2240)
Basta Art Café: Basta Art Café has one of the most magical locations in the city, amid the art galleries and maze-like alleyways of Bastakiya. Its main eating area is outside in a peaceful courtyard shaded by a huge oak tree. Unfortunately, this sun-scorched quarter is a no-go zone during summer, and customers must retreat indoors. While that kills the ambience somewhat (and reduces the number of customers), the interior décor is equally appealing, with the kind of white wicker furnishings and random arty clutter that remind us of our great aunt’s summer house. The service is better when it’s less busy (we have been taken aback in the past to have our polite request for extra sides met by a tut and an eye roll). Nevertheless, we love Basta’s healthy, fresh menu – a rarity in this city. From wake-up shakes to the imaginative, not to mention gigantic salads (mango, melon and halloumi, anyone?) and the special Basta sandwiches featuring all sorts of veg wrapped in Arabic bread, the host of herbal teas and desserts, everything on the menu appeals. Ideal in the winter and still worth a trip in the summer – there’s nothing like lunch at Basta, complemented by a chorus from the surrounding minarets.
Bur Dubai (04 353 5071)
Circle Café: Circle Cafe in Media City has the advantage of being one of the few alfresco spots in the area, sitting beside the Media City lake, so it's always busy come lunch time. While this is nice to see, it can have an impact on the service times, which are a consideration if you’re on a lunch hour. That gripe aside its selections of salads, bagels and burgers is consistently good, with plenty of options for vegetarians and meat eaters, and the food’s fresh, healthy and hearty. For instance, an Asian chicken salad with ginger is loaded with meat and spice, and extras can be added for Dhs2. Burgers are a solid affair but fairly non-greasy, while the bagels have found many fans among the staff of Time Out. Check out the mocktail list, too, for a quick lift: the fresh mint drink is a real heat-beater, perfect when you’re sitting under the modest umbrellas. If you can avoid the lunchtime rush and you’re in no hurry to leave, it's a great spot.
Behind CNN building, Media City (04 391 5170)
Le Pain Quotidien: If you’re looking for a place to grab a healthy, tasty lunch, then look no further than Le Pain Quotidien. We were pleasantly surprised on our last visit by just how good the café is, because from the outside it resembles a rather manic French bakery. And yet, once you step inside its rustic interior, filled with natural woods and the scent of freshly baked organic bread, it feels much more like a trendy Covent Garden café. There's a decent varied menu, which offers a range of delicious homemade soups, generous organic salads and hot dishes, as well as cold Arabic mezze. There is something for everyone to enjoy – and the price is surprisingly reasonable, especially when you consider that the majority of ingredients are organic. It’s a winner.
Jumeirah Beach Walk (04 437 0141
More Café: More recently opened a new branch in Mall of the Emirates, offering its freshly made, filling and hearty ‘proper’ food to hungry mall-walkers in need of a place of calm after a hard shopping spree. The brushed steel and large group tables remain the same as in the rest of More's outlets as does their knack of employing some of the friendliest waiting staff in the city. Busy during both the day and the evening, its tables are filled with young families, laidback business meetings and trendy young things bashing laptops over yummy, bottomless bowls of soup. Portions at More are famously generous and the menu covers dishes from every cuisine, but we’d recommend the burgers (with their huge stands of condiments) or the South African bobotie and...actually everything’s good. Their Friday brunches (think more of a traditional breakfast brunch rather than the booze-laden affairs elsewhere) are worth getting up early for.
Mall of the Emirates, Barsha (04 395 0967
Organic Food & Café: It would be fair to say that we expected great things from Organic Food & Café at Dubai Mall – and in some ways, we weren’t disappointed. The décor is unpretentious, with a suitably natural, farmhouse kitchen feel to it. The venue scored extra brownie points for its play area too, where little ones can keep themselves busy while tired parents enjoy their lunch. Meanwhile their menu is very reasonable – the most expensive item (salmon and mushroom risotto) is a very acceptable Dhs40. All this is great news for fresh food fans who love organic nosh. But, sadly, this would-be gem has been let down by slow service and food that, quite frankly, needs a lot more flavour. While its bolognaise scored highly, its sandwiches need a little more love and care and the kids' chicken menu is still heavily in deep fried territory. The staff need to put as much effort into looking after the customers as the owners have in decorating the cafe. All in all, a bit disappointing.
The Dubai Mall (04 434 0577).
Paul: The crowd at the JBR branch of this popular pâtisserie chain tends to consist of yummy mummies catching up with each other while sharing baskets of croissants and, come the weekend, young trendy types tucking into poached eggs with lattes and the newspapers. Freshly baked breads and a drool-worthy range of cakes and desserts are the name of the game here – if you like to keep things simple, opt for the Paul flûte (i.e. baguette) with lashings of salted butter and you can’t go wrong – but there is also a selection of salads and hot meals, including so-so quiches and croque monsieurs. We’d recommend going in cooler months when, provided you manage to get a table, you can sit outside and people-watch: the inside area is gloomy, somewhat soulless and a bit cramped.
The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence (04 437 6494
Saladicious: The salad bar here is probably the freshest and most enticing in the city. For just Dhs40, you can pile your plate as high as you like with green leaves, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil-drizzled peppers, sweetcorn, cream cheese, smoked salmon and a range of tangy dressings. Then go back for a bigger plate of something entirely different. Or perhaps you’d prefer the French onion soup, which is a light broth topped with a heavy, melted cheese-slathered doorstep of crusty bread. Or opt for the delicate yet satisfying bresaola salad and a baked potato with a cooling dollop of sour cream.
Jumeirah (800 72523)
Lime Tree Café: Ah Lime Tree. As most people will tell you, it is a Dubai institution. The original cafe in Jumeirah still holds a special place in people's hearts – it’s not just the healthy salads, or the divinely decadent puddings, or the thirst-quenching selection of mocktails but the villa-and-garden setting is a haven for people looking for a little civilised quiet time to read the complimentary magazines and papers. Its weekend breakfasts are worth making an effort for too, with one of the most generous portions of creamy scrambled eggs and smoked salmon we’ve seen, being an eternal favourite. If you’re lucky, breakfast will merge into lunch and then it’s time for a slice of their legendary cheesecake for tea. Need to move more quickly than that? Get it to go. Lime Tree has upped its game even further with a continually adapting menu this year.
Jumeriah Beach Road (04 349 8498
XVA Café: If you’re weary in both body and mind after a morning spent wandering the innards and alleys of Bur Dubai’s textile souk, this family-friendly cafe next to XVA Gallery in Dubai’s cultural heritage area of Bastakiya is a good spot for lunch. That is, if don't you fancy the many Indian and Pakistani eateries nearer the abra stations, which are far more in keeping with the neighbourhood. An outdoor venue that’s made to feel indoors with stylish hanging canopies, it’s certainly a cool, relaxing spot for arty types but, as far as food goes, sadly it doesn't live up to the cool atmosphere. We found the menu to be small, the hoummus was unnervingly (and clearly accidentally) warm and bread was sweet enough to be cake. In the spirit of art galleries the world over, it was overpriced for what was on offer. It seems wholly out-dated to be charging for wi-fi, and downright laughable to offer it at Dhs50 an hour.
Bastakiya, Bur Dubai (04 353 5383).