You might scratch your head in wonder trying to decipher the idea behind an ayurvedic café. You may still be a little puzzled even after an explanation, but it’s a novel concept that highlights a hole in Dubai’s café scene: there’s a shortage of venues that offer a healthy range of food including gluten-free, dairy-free and plenty for vegetarians.

Balance, put simply, is built around the principle that each person has a body type that matches one of five elements: air, space, water, fire and earth. As a holistic therapy, ayurveda treatments include whole-body healing, believing that what you eat can have an overall effect – over and above the normal fat, calories, sugar an so on – on your health and wellbeing. The café has developed five menus, with different options for starters, mains and dessert in accordance with each element: so the air menu is said to be light and mobile, while the earth menu is dense and heavy, and has a different outcome on your body.

Having digested all this information from the handy place mats laid out before us, my date and I set about to trying to decide which element we felt like consuming. Having indulged in quite a few rich meals of late, I plumped for the fire menu, said to revive the metabolism, while my date chose the space and air menu, which is meant to clear the mind (you don’t have to stick to one menu, but it makes sense).

Despite the impressive list of healthy yet enticing dishes, Balance wobbled a little during our first encounter with the serving staff. Its recent opening and slightly out-of-the-way location at Oasis Centre meant the large, airy venue wasn’t busy on our visit, but there were an abundance of staff, who unfortunately proved it’s quality not quantity that matters. After reiterating several times we didn’t want our mains arriving at the same time as our starters (why would we?), we set about demolishing a refreshing mint cooler and a zingy cucumber juice to kick-start the healthy buzz. My date ordered a carpaccio of tomatoes, which came delicately arranged in a pizza-style slice and proved an instant hit: light, tasty and interesting. In contrast, my starter, a hot lime chicken and mushroom soup, looked like dirty dishwater and didn’t taste much better. ‘Hot lime water’ would have been a more accurate description, although I found a couple of minuscule tasters of boiled chicken at the bottom.

Unfortunately, at this point in the meal Balance started to topple over, weighted too heavily by over-eager yet under-trained staff. Our mains arrived within 30 seconds of the starters and we asked for them to be sent back.

Reappearing the moment we’d finished the starters, both main courses suffered from having been sat under a warming lamp for far too long. My miso-glazed tuna steak with ratoutille should have fallen apart delicately under my fork; instead it was almost rock-hard on top and tough to chew. The side dish and the glaze had flavour, but the tuna was a write-off. Similarly, my date’s asparagus risotto with truffle oil was nicely flavoured, but the sitting period had reduced it to a gluggy challenge.

Slightly disappointed, we abandoned the concept and shared a dessert based on ‘temptation’, and were glad we did. The poached strawberries with a balsamic glaze and basil ice cream managed to prevent Balance Café from collapsing completely. The dessert wouldn’t have seemed out of place in an upmarket restaurant – we’ll overlook the request for two spoons resulting in the waitress thinking we wanted cheese.

Balance Café is obviously in a teething period, but the service –incompetent at times, over-efficient to the point of snatching empty dishes the moment a fork is laid to rest at others – tips the focus away from the food, which should be an utter delight.

The bill (for two)
1x Mint cooler
1x Cucumber juice Dhs16
1x Small water Dhs10
1x Lime chicken soup Dhs18
1x Tomato carpaccio Dhs22
1x Risotto Dhs30
1x Miso-glazed tuna Dhs56
1x Poached strawberries Dhs16
Total (excluding service) Dhs178