For lovers of the original Basta Art Café, located in a shaded courtyard of Bastakia, the idea of a branch opening in the Arabian Ranches mall is brow-scrunchingly unfathomable. But drive through the Fisher Price streets and past the rows of identical garages and small trees, and it’s really there – right beside Pizza Hut. And for all the over-lit surroundings, the spirit remains intact. The décor is simple and earthy in shades of terracotta and sand; the chunky plates look like they could have been crafted in a country workshop; the menu is crammed with wholesome soups, salads, and helpful little asides about calorie content and nutritional value.
All the old favourites are available – from the souk salad to a wonderfully thick potato soup, seasoned to perfection with the lightest touch of herbs and plenty of cracked pepper. A number of new additions have spruced up the menu, such as a warm pasta salad with beef bacon and pineapple, which was bland and required the addition of a strong blue cheese dressing, while a disappointing pumpkin quiche unfortunately had the consistency and dominant taste of egg custard. New sandwiches are also available – a filling of smoked salmon and mashed avocado worked wonderfully well in a soft and slightly sweet baguette with a glazed crust.
The chefs have also introduced hot meals – with a choice that changes every day of the week. The idea fits with the whole market day feel, but it’s slightly infuriating to be drawn to the description of Monday’s coconut and chicken pasta or Saturday’s pancakes, only to realise you’ve arrived in time for Wednesday’s bolognaise.
We had our hopes similarly dashed by the desserts, which promised homemade crumble and apple and ginger cake among a page-long list of temptations, when in fact there were only two options on offer. The carrot cake was moist to the point of squidginess and lacked any real flavour while the banana muffins were small but beautifully presented, and retained a faintly floury, fresh-from-the-farmhouse-oven taste. After poring over the ingredients – from liquorice to orange peel via the contents of a flowerbed – we felt rather betrayed to find that our ginger tea infusion came from a shop-bought teabag with label attached. We consoled ourselves with rich mango, banana and pineapple smoothies and a tangy, refreshing and totally addictive lychee and lime juice.
It’s as new as the fast-food outlets, bank branches and opticians with neon signs that cluster around it, but the Basta Art Café manages to create the impression that it has been here all along. The main courses and desserts disappointed, but for sandwiches and juices it’ll be a haven for those who live at the Ranches.