“A Melbourne-style café in the heart of Al Quoz” is what Tom and Serg’s website states. “A restaurant in Al Quoz? What will they think of next?!” is usually the response when suggesting to Tom & Serg virgins that we dine there. However, I am now totally down and hip with the concept that an industrial estate has a restaurant. Although, technically, Tom and Serg’s is not in Al Quoz proper. You’ve got to go past the grave yard and cement factory before you can claim that. But I get that it supports their hipster vibe that they are aiming for.
However, they even go on to say “Tom & Serg is an expansive warehouse, lovingly reworked into a space that’s both individual and packed with detail” Again, I think warehouse is a little far-fetched. You want coffee in a warehouse? Then go to Raw Coffee in Al Quoz. Now that is quite literally a warehouse. I would go there more often, but I can’t find the damn place.
Tom and Serg’s “warehouse” is in Al Joud Center, a row of slightly cheaper retail spaces just round the corner from Ace Hardware, next to Sketchers and Villeroy & Boch. But, I get it. Warehouse sounds gritty and real. My first time driving there, I took my Dubai Explorer book, extra Masafi water and flares. I was ready for the adventure and I wasn’t disappointed. I had to park off road and walk across!
There is a great café culture coming out of Australia and New Zealand these days, and the magical thing about these cafes is that they are near impossible to scale and franchise. This allows them to remain unique and individual. T&S have done a pretty decent job in bringing this laid back, yet professional style of café eating to Dubai. Their time at Jones the Grocer gave these Hipsterpreneurs the foundations of good hospitality.
So, let me paint the picture. T&S has large glass façade that allows you to see how busy the place is prior to entering. And it is usually very busy. They have a downstairs and a mezzanine level and according to an industry associate of mine, they have 16 different seating styles. I don’t know if that is good or bad. But, yes, they have high tables, communal tables, banquet tables and regular tables. They have a station for water in cute glass bottles with lemon slices in it. They have staff with tattoos, shorts and piercings casually serving food, as if it was not the primary reason they are there, but will do it, because they are happy to help.
They maintain a relaxed, “best buddy” conversation through their Instagram and facebook accounts. They blog and tweet. They have polished concrete floors, open plan kitchen and they close at 3:45pm. (4:30pm at the weekends)
The thing with hipster cafes is that while good atmosphere of a café has become a pre-requisite, customers also expect a high level of creativity in the whole concept as well as quality in the food and drinks served. Though being unique is a factor, they have to continuously re-invent their foodcraft. The Dubai crowd are easily bored.
Their coffee is good. Not excellent but certainly not average. They obviously have some good skill behind their coffee machine. And he’s probably bearded, tattooed and speaks with an Australian accent. Just a guess! They have their flat whites and short macs along with the usual cappuccinos and espressos. The staff are typically arrogant and condescending if you use another name for your coffee other than what they have been trained to respond to. But once it arrives, it is a solid cup of coffee. Occasionally not hot enough, but I was told off when I complained, because apparently if it gets any hotter the milk burns and the world will immediately end.
The food menu takes comfort food and hipsterizes it. Yes, I did just make up a word. Dishes such as the salted caramel French toast, breaky burrito con carne and the slightly humorous Baghdad scramble adorn the chatty menu.
The food nonchalantly arrives at the table and is lively and fresh. The flavours are well rounded and the ingredients are wholesome. This is hipster comfort food at its best. Quirky, inventive and serious. Not award winning, but it’s not meant to be. They rotate their menu items, but never stray far from tradition.
The eggs Florentine is as good as any you’ll find in Dubai (although, other restaurants would simply call it eggs benedict with spinach) and their gluten free Bhutanese eternal salad is the gateway drug to the world of Veganism. (The yogurt is fine – it’s biodynamic)
It fits – in fact, everything fits. The staff, atmosphere, location, fit out, food and prices – they all fit. They all have quirks and faults, but put them together and they harmonise like a Hipsters beard and thick rimmed spectacles.
T&S is a popular place and it’s easy to see why. They are doing more things right than they are wrong. And that’s a good ratio. They understand the changing expectations of the consumers and they have bought something fresh to the market. And fresh is always good, until it goes bad.