The burgeoning library café scene is sprouting up around Dubai
With the rise of book-themed cafés and wi-fi-enabled workspaces in Dubai, the quest for a cup of coffee in this city is now taking inspiration from libraries and bookshops.
While The Pavilion, arguably the mothership of Dubai’s multi-functional dining scene, is currently closed for refurbishment, the rejuvenation process has already taken place at the all-new Make Business Hub. Meanwhile, Dubai Media City has welcomed two new multi-media-inspired outlets, a second branch of The Magazine Shop and The Media Lounge, as a testament to this growing trend. From Russian literary dens to freelance-friendly sushi shops, we explore the best cafés in Dubai for a spot of digital or analogue enlightenment with your tea.
BookMunch This is a café entirely designed to bring together the act of eating and reading, hence the name. Using Oliver Jeffers’ tome The Incredible Book Eating Boy (about, as you may have guessed, a boy who eats a book) as inspiration for the design, this particularly family-focussed café is modestly sized with colourful patterns and neatly divided with cosy corners for guests to nestle in, with a book and a slice of zucchini cake. There is a even a small beehive-shaped Wendy house, where little kids can hide with their books. Diners are, however, warned to treat the selection of children’s, adult and cookery books with respect unless they want to pay for them. Al Wasl Square, Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah (04 388 4006).
Circle Café This Dubai café concept is a popular one with branches in Dubai Media City, Jumeirah Beach Road and Healthcare City. Currently only operating at the latter branch, diners can enjoy a free book service, dubbed The Book Shelter Initiative. Launched by two Emirati women in a bid to promote reading in Dubai, the idea allows guests to pick up a homeless and unloved book and give it a new home for free, and with no obligation to swap it for another. Those who would like to donate books are also welcome to do so. Al Razi Building 64, Healthcare City (04 362 1944).
Hugo Café Launched earlier this year with French novelist Victor Hugo as the unifying concept, while the menu at this café didn’t hit the spot last time we visited, we have to admire the setting. Designed as if it is on a Parisian street, not inside a Dubai-based mall, the café pays homage to Hugo with images of the front covers of his most famous texts on the walls, as well as copies in both English and French on the bookshelves. That’s in addition to a selection of additional books and magazines in English, Arabic and French. Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah (04 386 3100).
Kino Café Located within Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya in Dubai Mall, this café might not seem like the most obvious dining destination within the mall. However, book addicts that have grown weary of sifting through the extensive selection on offer in the store (unsurprisingly, we love their cookbook section), would do well to take a seat in this neat little café and delve into the Japanese-inspired light bites such as sushi and shaved ice. Moreover, in the evening, the café boasts excellent views of the fountain show, without either an inflated price tag at some restaurants, or wrestling with the crowd outside. Kinokuniya, Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 434 0111).
Kuttab Cafe Launched by local company Kuttab Publishing, the venue teams a bookstore and café. Walk inside and you’ll find an array of Arabic-language texts of all genres from light-hearted fiction to children’s books, to serious philosophy and religious texts. There is also a small choice of English language texts, primarily aimed at learning Arabic or more about the region’s culture. Beyond the bookstore, you’ll find a gorgeous café, designed like an ultra-stylish living room, complete with high-back armchairs upholstered in newspaper print. Uptown Mirdif, (04 256 5691).
Tolstoy Library and Lounge More a lounge bar than café, yet we couldn’t leave this venue off our list. Not only is the lounge in the Russian-themed hotel inspired by one of the Motherland’s greatest writers, Leo Tolstoy, but the walls are lined with copies of his books. Furthermore, the leather-clad, dark wood of this venue makes it ooze with the ambience of libraries of days of yore; the sort where landed gents take their pre-dinner drinks, not the ones that scan your membership card. Moscow Hotel, Al Maktoum Street, Deira (04 228 8222).
Yellow Mellow This new independent Mirdif hot spot for coffee and baked goods not only serves local roasters RAW Coffee, and the option to create your own cupcakes, it also houses a small book corner at the back of the venue. Here, guests can browse, swap or donate from the pre-used titles on the shelves. Uptown Mirdif (04 259 1500).
Make Business Hub One of Dubai’s pioneers of the library-dining-workspace concept, Make Business Hub has recently changed hands and has also undergone an extensive programme of refurbishment. Now reopen and fully functional, the venue has re-focused the space, with greater separation for social, dining guests, and those wishing to plug in and work on their laptops. The menu has also undergone a revamp and a new autumn menu is due to be launched this week. Al Fatten Tower, JBR, Dubai Marina (04 392 9216).
Sushi Counter Hot on the heels of the lunchtime hot spot at the Dubai Media City branch, comes a second, bigger and better venue, which is located on Sheikh Zayed Road. Here, Sushi Counter represents a two-tier venue with the upper level partially designed as a workspace with free wi-fi, a few books and a large communal table for lone-wolf diners. City Tower One, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 388 8065).
The Archive Set within the greenery of Safa Park in an artfully re-conceived disused public toilet. While it may seem to be a café at first sight, The Archive dubs itself as a library. That is due to the venue’s dedication to promoting the region’s culture with a selection of books ranging from architecture in the Middle East to children’s stories in Arabic. The venue also offers a neat, central workspace area where guests can use their laptops. Unusually, and successfully, for a venue of this kind, The Archive pulls of a feat in that it manages to welcome a vast range of customers, from young expat families to the area’s more artistically minded locals. Safa Park, Gate, Al Wasl Road (04 349 4033).
The Magazine Shop Illustrating the success of the library-café concept, The Magazine Shop recently launched its second branch in Dubai Media City. The venue offers an interesting selection of coffees and teas, with a selection of art and fashion journals from around the world to browse or buy and plenty of space and plug points for hot deskers to take advantage of. DIFC, Gate Village 8 (04 457 4283). Other location: Loft Offices Building 2 (Al Madaar Street behind the Showtime OSN building by entrance E), Dubai Media City (no number).
The Media Lounge The latest digital age dining concept to hit the city is heavily targetted at nearby Dubai Media City workers, with magazine covers featuring the faces of prominent figures gracing the walls, concrete floors and montages of media buzzwords making up the decor. There’s also the rather brave edition of cheesecake (stabbed with a shot full of strawberry couli in a syringe to sample) among other treats. Dubai Media City, Concord Tower (800 86563).
Cooking the books BookMunch in Al Wasl Square has just launched ‘Cook the Books’. A programme of dinner events in the café, books and food are brought together by inviting notable foodies (cooks, chefs and bloggers) from the region to devise a three-course menu for guests to enjoy, all inspired by recipes from their own or favourite cookbooks, from those available to buy at BookMunch. Details of the next event were not confirmed at the time of writing. Dhs130 per person (three courses and soft drinks). BookMunch, Al Wasl Square, Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah (04 388 4006).