If the set-up sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it is: Karma Kafé is run by the same folks who operate Buddha Bar. There are, of course, several differences: food’s always been a bit of an afterthought at Buddha Bar, whereas here it takes centre stage. And, while Karma Kafé is much more modestly-sized, it promises to be just as popular. This is due in no small part to a romantic outdoor terrace – complete with wispy fabric canopies – that looks directly on to the Dubai Fountain. Every time the fountain fired up I noticed the diners (myself included) turned around and knelt on their seats like mischievous schoolkids to get a peek.
While a prime location and well-executed decor give the restaurant a leg-up, it’s the food, ultimately, that cinches it as the Souk Al Bahar’s newest go-to place. It’s almost worth skipping some of the pan-Asian standards to make room for the more unique dishes on offer. I ultimately regretted that my date and I picked so many classic starters. Don’t get me wrong, assorted dumplings were light and juicy, summer rolls crisp and refreshing – if a bit bland – and sashimi was fresh and tender. But as I sunk my teeth into my main – the oddly named ‘angry chicken’ – I lamented that I hadn’t been a bit more adventurous earlier on in the meal.
The dessert selection didn’t have quite the imagination possessed by the rest of the menu. My trio of crème brûlée – vanilla, coconut and chocolate – read more intriguingly than it tasted. The vanilla and coconut custards were indistinguishable, and the chocolate version wasn’t much more exciting than a decent mousse with a caramelised top. My date’s chocolate and coffee parfait was much more inspiring. Despite being a simple cream it was light, fluffy and laced with a lovely fresh espresso flavour.
Karma Kafé is full of pleasant surprises. Despite the cool vibe, there isn’t anything stuffy about the place. In fact the staff are sweet and welcoming. Beyond this, though, I was truly startled by the quality of the food. I suspected the restaurant might be adept at serving classic Asian fusion fare, but the cynic in me assumed this was a tired theme, no longer capable of adding something new to the culinary landscape. But I was wrong. Karma Kafé is not merely a nice restaurant if you happen to be in the Old Town, it’s a place that deserves a visit in its own right.
The bill (for two)
1x Large Aquafina water Dhs18
1x Summer rolls Dhs45
1x Assorted dumplings Dhs45
1x Assorted sashimi Dhs140
1x Cherry salmon Dhs125
1x Angry chicken Dhs105
1x Parfait Dhs40
1x Crème brûlée Dhs35
Total (including service) Dhs528