The Australian gastro café culture in Dubai is still going strong it appears. If something is working, then why challenge it? A solid strategy, I suppose.
Tom & Serg, Common Grounds, Bystro, Friends Avenue, The Sum of Us, Pantry Café, Stomping Grounds, Lime Tree, Book Munch – the list is long, and they are all ultimately going for the same piece of the pie.
Furthermore, they all have similar things in common – a strong coffee culture, probably smashed avocado on toast and definitely some hot sauce that isn’t Tabasco.
Arrows and Sparrows arrive fashionably late to the party and brings with them credibility and experience from their first venture, Friends Avenue café. Serving the Barsha Heights and Greens community, A&S is an intimate little neighbourhood cafe, tucked away on a shady, tree-lined side street in Emaar Business Park. Shady as is lots of shade, not the other shady, although I haven’t been there after dark. They also have plenty of parking around the front of the building, but that’s because no-one knows how to get there, so everyone parks at the back.
When the Serb and I turned up, it was almost full with young parents wiping dirty faces of (presumably) their children and millennials taking photos and snap chatting their way through their morning breakfast. There was a relaxed weekend feel to the space.
Predictably, the menu is sandwiches, salads, main courses and sides, with items such as salmon, steaks, Korean chicken, the ultimate burger and lamb meatballs, They also have a late breakfast menu as well on weekends.
A particularly strange thing with the menu was that they had gendered their eggs benedicts. There was a Mr. Benedict and a Miss Benedict. What an awkward situation to put your customers in! Although I consider myself quite manly, I didn’t feel like I could tackle a Mr. Benedict, as it was a striploin steak on toast with babaganoush, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce. I get bloated on eggplant, and I don’t even want to think about the calories.
The Miss Benedict was a much gentler option, with smashed avocado (told you) tomatoes and a beetroot pink hollandaise sauce. I do like beetroot.
However, how was I going to order a Miss Benedict in such a crowded place?! I didn’t want to ask the Serb to order for me, as she would think I have an inferiority complex, which I’ve done very well to hide from her so far.
Furthermore, to make matters worse, a group of 6 strapping lads sat down at the table next to me, and they all ordered the Mr. Benedict. With extra Cumberbatch.
As our waiter approached the table, notepad in hand, I decided to use the point and smile technique I deploy when in foreign restaurants on dishes I can’t pronounce. I pointed to the Miss Benedict with my finger and nodded to the waiter, willing him to understand. He didn’t. He leaned in and loudly announced, “The Miss Benedict for you, sir?” Damn that customer service training.
“Yes,” I replied quietly under my breath, hoping he would move onto the Serb. But no, he didn’t. “The one with the pink hollandaise, Sir?” I nodded silently, with tears welling up in my eyes, not daring to look anywhere else except at my skinny Latte.
The Serb ordered the Green breakfast, which the waiter wrote down without uttering a word. It felt like a set-up.
The restaurant itself is cute, quaint and friendly. Concrete walls made warmer by copper light fittings and wooden tables accented by a pastel green banquet bench. There is a dividing window in the middle of the restaurant that breaks the room up nicely, efficiently creating two rooms and the hanging greenery brings a garden feel to the place. You can clearly tell what they are trying to do, and I think they get it right. A sophisticated, thoughtful, good quality neighbourhood café.
Our eggs arrived – with a loud, friendly announcement, of course. I was over it by then. Four slices of multigrain toast alternatively topped with smashed avocado and diced tomato, propped up against each other for support like drunk tourists in the Algarve. Two perfectly poached eggs sat precariously on the highest peaks, threatening to roll into the kale and asparagus at any minute. It was a lot of carbs, a lot of kale and a lot of calories as well! I spend a good few minutes making the structure of the toast more stable and then cut into the egg, allowing the deep yellow to ooze over the avo. The bread was toasted, but not soggy; the tomatoes were well-seasoned and the avocado fresh. There was a side of pink hollandaise and when no-one was looking I tried a little bit on the end of my fork. Meh – it had lost the sharp tang of real hollandaise, and the beetroot’s only contribution was the colour.
The Serb’s green breakfast was similar, poached egg on toast, but with cherry tomatoes sautéed asparagus and kale. There was also a creamed spinach and raisin mix that the Serb didn’t like and left me confused. The eggs looked a little lost in the four thick slices of toast, but again, they were cooked perfectly. Although I demolished my breakfast in some weird, masculine power move, The Serb was much more dainty and couldn’t finish hers; such was the size of the plate.
The place was busy, and there didn’t seem to be many staff on duty, but the service was better than I expected. The team were efficient and correct, our drinks arrived quickly, as did our food and as we have established, the waiter repeated our order back to us. My only suggestion is that your friendly neighbourhood café need to be a little more personable, and we certainly missed a little table banter and human connection.
Dubai is maturing as a city, and although there are whispers of market saturation in the restaurant world, there is a key change to the Urban Dubai. The establishment of the neighbourhood. Dubai is becoming large enough to have distinct communities and neighbourhoods, with their own personality and characteristics. Arrows and Sparrows have enough personality to be a welcome third place for the surrounding community and an excellent alternative to the chain coffee shops and take away centric places in that area.
Good eggs, good coffee, good effort. I’ll have to go back for lunch one day, but if they have a Madam Lasagne, I’m leaving.