Five Guys Burgers. Not in line with my usual reviews, but I just finished lunch there with a colleague and thought I could probably squeeze out a few words about it.

Five Guys arrived in Dubai with a lot of hype and pomp – they scored a sweet location in Dubai Mall, a new, unproven operator behind the franchise in Rise LLC, and perhaps the holy grail of the better burger concepts, except maybe In N Out Burgers.

However, where Elevation Burger casually talk to us about their quality ingredients and organic meat and Shake Shacks proudly discuss their growth from humble beginnings of a shack in Madison Square Park, Five Guys scream narcissistic self-proclamation about their superior quality and hype.

The danger for an establishment that has to prominently display their awards and credibility on the walls is that they could be seen as insecure about their assets – Signs everywhere, reminding us of their superiority in the burger and fries world. If you are going to display your entire trophy and first place certificate collection for the world to see, you better have the goods to back it up.

However, I think Five Guys just about gets away with it – just.   They don’t take themselves too seriously; they know their meat is closer to MacDonald’s quality than Wagyu quality. They know their beverage selection is still the mainstream carbonated sugar water. The focus on their accolades comes from a cheeky competitive nature that lets people know they are currently America’s favourite fast food joint. And why shouldn’t they? Make hay when the sun shines. Or burgers, whatever.

Ordering is done at the counter, and although there was no queue this time, the several kilometres of snaked rope barriers is a testament that this place rocks during peak times.

There is no such thing as combo meals in the better burger world. You want fries, you gonna pay for them fries. You’re going to pay 21 dhs, to be precise. Soft Drink? Sure, another 13 pieces of silver.  Or Dhs.  All these prices quickly add up on the final check.

Five Guys operate an open kitchen with stacks of burger buns and lots of stainless steel shelves. Drinks are free refills from a self-serve soda machine.  Bags of potatos are used for décor in the front of house area.  And so are open boxes of shelled peanuts.  Not sure either, so don’t ask.

The burgers come as standard with a greyish double patty. The meat is not seared like you would find in Shake Shack and it is not seasoned, leaving the beef and toppings having to do the talking in the taste department. The patties are not thick enough to allow a cooking temperature, so you don’t get that juicy center either, but you don’t get the same level of grease as you would in Elevation Burger.

The buns are sesame seed topped buns, slightly sweetened, with a good bun to burger ratio. Fresh, crunchy tomatoes and lettuce, with an appropriate amount of mayo complete the foil wrapped package. Compared to other traditional fast food burger joints, I can see what the hype is about, and I can appreciate the improvement in building the burger. Yes, they cook to order, and they claim nothing is frozen, but for 40 dhs a cheese burger, I would expect a bit more. Especially as I learn that a cheeseburger and fries will set you back 1,793 calories! You would have to run the equivalent of a Tour de France to burn that off. Or something like that.

Apparently, the fries are what the devotee’s tweet all their OMG’s about. These fries are supposed to be the industry leaders on what fries are all about. They are meant to be the Ferrari of Fries. Life changing fries. However, after emptying my order from the brown bag, there was probably half a kilo of soggy potato bits left in the bag. Not even full sized soggy fries, but stunted, miniature bits of potato, like you would get if you cleaned out the fryer at the end of a shift. According to my expert dining partner, the 5 Guys fries are hit and miss and sometimes they are a Ferrari and sometimes they are a Sharjah auto-market second hand Nissan Sunny.

Luckily for this review, I was comparing my experience to MacDonald’s and Burger King and therefore I left Five Guys overall satisfied and satiated, 147 dhs poorer and 1,783 calories fatter. And the fries, I am sad to say, go below Macdonald’s and Burger King in my French fry list that I keep on my fridge.

I think the Five Guys brand has benefited from decades of standard, mediocre offerings that have lowered the consumers’ expectations of a fast food burger. They have definitely elevated the game, no doubt about it, but is this level high enough to keep people satisfied and coming back? In an industry akin to the burger equivalent gang wars of East Coast Vs West Coast, it could be a bloody battle, best watched from afar.

For now, looking at the nightly queues and positive social media feedback, they should be good for a while yet. I however, am going for a quick jog to Abu Dhabi and back.


minilogo 5 Guys Burgers and Fries

The biscotti Incident.

I went to an interview a while ago, and I personally like interviews for several reasons.  Firstly, it gives me a reason to shower, put on some nice clothes and get out of the house.  The other reason why I like interviews will resonate with many of you, I’m sure.  I have a phobia of meeting people.  It’s something my therapist says I must talk about, so, I’ll be honest – I hate meeting new people for the simple reason that I have no idea what sort of greeting to give.  There are so many rules and regulations, and it is such a social mine field.  The handshake, the hug, single kiss, double kiss, triple kiss!!  What do you do?  You both approach each other, the fear evident in one another’s eyes, as both try to gauge what the other will go for, like two UFC fighters in the opening seconds of the first round.   One of you gets it wrong and there is this awkwardness that will stain the both you forever.

But the simple interview has no such drama.  You are on safe ground with an interview greeting.  A simple, firm handshake is all that is expected.

But, when I arranged a time and place for this interview, his choice of location was the equivalent of a social IED being thrown directly at my head.  He chose a Starbucks coffee shop.  Why on earth did he choose this place?  Doesn’t he have an office?  Or a private room, at least?  As I read his email, questions raced through my head.  Was this a test?  Was he going to be waiting there, watching me arrive, assessing my every move?  What would I do when I got there?  Do I wait for him and risk the uncomfortable silence of queuing together to get our coffees?  What would we talk about? We can’t start the interview in the line for coffee, for crying out loud!

So we would have to make small talk, and there is a danger that we would get onto the topic of favorite coffee shops as we both search desperately for a safe subject to talk about.  But even that is fraught with danger.  What if I say my favorite is Café Nero?  Will he think I’m being rude, because he chose Starbucks?  But if I lie and say Starbucks, and I end up working for him, I will forever have to remember this lie, and I will never be able to reveal the truth, and that is no way to start a new job.  And what about the choice of coffee?  If I choose a fancy coffee and he goes for a black filter coffee will he think I am some high maintenance metrosexual male who has weekly manicures?  And what If I order a filter coffee and he goes for the fancy choice.  Will he think I’m too boring to work for him?  And who pays?!

The more I thought about this the more sick I felt.  I longed for the days where I only had to worry about the greeting.  Should I cancel and tell him I’m busy, just to save us both from the stress and worry?  He must have realized by now the implications of his choice of location.  Surely he must be as worried as I was.

As all these complications became apparent, I realized that I perhaps don’t like interviews as much as I thought I did.

So I arrived at the coffee shop a safe 45 minutes early, grabbed my coffee and chose a suitable place, moving to another table that I thought would be more suitable.  It wasn’t, so I moved back.

My interviewer arrived, and I stood to greet him.  I was happy so far.  I was in control, It was my territory and I had marked it 45 minutes earlier.  The greeting went without a hitch, as I knew it would.  A simple handshake and a polite and friendly “hello.”  He asked me if I minded if he went and grabbed a coffee.  I became even happier, as I felt in total control of the situation.  I had manipulated the circumstances so that he was asking me for permission.  Brilliant, I thought to myself as I sat back down.  This was going to be a great interview.  This was the coffee shop equivalent of sitting on a slightly higher chair.

He returned, with coffee in hand, and I was ready to engage in a detailed and professional conversation about my career.  And then he offered me The Biscotti and everything changed.  I looked at it, lying there in his outstretched hand, and then back up to his face.  Perhaps he made a mistake and wasn’t really offering me a biscotti at all. Maybe he just wanted me to hold it, until he sat down.  But then I saw another one in his other hand.  He had bought two.  “Here you go, I got you a Biscotti.”  He said, smiling.  I was dumbstruck.  Didn’t the man realize what he had just done?  What social norms he had just shattered.  What public boundaries he had just crossed? “Don’t say I never gave you anything,” he laughed. I laughed too, to show my appreciation for his humour, but it sounded maniacal, frenzied and out of place, which was exactly how I was feeling.

I placed the biscotti on the table, my mind a whirl of thoughts and questions.  Why would he do that?  What does it mean?  Is it another test?  And the questions went on. Do I eat it?  Should I dunk?  I only ordered an espresso and I’ve been here 45 minutes – I don’t have enough coffee left to dunk it into, even if I wanted to.  But I didn’t want to eat it.  Not since the spaghetti interview fiasco I had in the past.  I re-focused on him, trying to ignore the Biscotti that was sitting directly between us on the table.  I moved it to one side, hoping that would help.  It didn’t.  It just bought his attention back to it.  And then I realized as he finished his Biscotti with a satisfying smack of the lips, that I was coming across and rude and ungrateful.  But now, I couldn’t eat it even if I wanted to.  I had left it too long – I couldn’t simply pick it up and start munching away.  That would be weird.  But I also didn’t want him to think that I wasn’t grateful for this gift.  If I had known the etiquette beforehand, I would have also bought him a gift.  A pin badge or something equally appropriate.

So, I did the next best thing – I picked the biscotti up, and clutched it close to my chest for the duration of the interview, hoping my actions would signal my gratitude for the Biscotti he had bestowed on me.  He kept glancing at it, expectantly, as if I looked like I was ready to rip into the wrapper and devour it with enthusiasm and vigour.  And in hindsight, I probably did look like that, as I sat forward, tightly gripping close to my chest looking slightly Schizophrenic.

The interview ended and we shook hands, me still clutching  the Biscotti, which had now turned to crumbs in the packet.  He glanced down at it, and said “Enjoy your Biscotti.”  And he walked away.  I stood there, speechless, my mind in turmoil.  I didn’t move, incase I inadvertently walked in the same direction as him, which is incredibly awkward after you’ve already said goodbye once.  I didn’t want him to think I was a stalker as well as someone who is ungrateful when given a biscotti.

When I got home, I carefully staged the wrapper of the biscotti, snapped a picture, to indicate that it was eaten, and attached it to an email, thanking him for his time and his kind gift, that by the way, was delicious.

He hasn’t replied yet.

I woke up the other day with a incredible urge for Mexican food. I was dreaming of soft flour burritos, crispy tacos and tostadas, with tangy avocados and slow cooked meats in a Yucatecan marinade. I was like a crazy pregnant lady with my food urges. So I gleefully booked at O Cacti, the Mexican house and cocktail bar at Pier 7. And as the day wore on, the excitement grew and I was looking forward to writing a worthy review.

At 7 pm, In the short elevator ride to the 2nd floor of Pier 7, I was almost bouncing with anticipation like a piñata being hit by a fat kid looking for the candy.

We got greeted by a hostess who made the terrible mistake of giving my Serbian partner the once over, up and down. She seated us on the terrace, and I managed to placate my partner who was sharing her thoughts about the hostess in terrifying detail.

The view was great – I always try to see the positive in everything and the view of the marina on a crisp February night was very pleasant indeed. After 15 minutes, the view was still pleasant, but my patience and enthusiasm were not. And when I say 15 minutes, I am not exaggerating – I used my timer on my phone. 15 minutes with no menus, no eye contact and no attention from anyone in the entire establishment.

So we left, and on the way past the host station, I shared my concerns with the manager who was leading up against the wall. He looked at me with eyes of a deeply resigned and beaten man.

Which is why this is a review about Cargo, the contemporary and industrial night spot on the 3rd floor. However, they have an advantage for this review. I arrived like a fragile young lamb, looking for solace and comfort. I couldn’t tell how the Serbian was feeling – she was maintaining impressive neutrality.

Cargo is a gastro bar, a grittier All Bar One, with exposed ceilings and a large open bar and restaurant area. The staff were great, but after my O Cacti experience, they could have spit on me and I would have said the same.

We were seated close to the terrace and given a rolodex of menu choices by a very friendly waiter who immediately tried to get us to start some serious drinking. Which I declined and the Serb didn’t.

The menu is Asian inspired, so we immediately both ordered the burgers. The Serbian ordered the trio of sliders and I went for the regular burger. However the menu has lots of teriyaki, ponzu (which I thought was a dodgy financial scheme) and sashimi marinated meats and vegetables.

Before our non-Asian burgers arrived, we ordered the summer rolls and the Cantonese spring rolls. Delightful. The summer rolls were a generous portion of crispy julienne vegetables wrapped in rice paper. The yuzu soya sauce was necessary to enhance the flavours, but I assume the chef already knew that. The Cantonese spring rolls were stuffed with a generous mix of tiger prawn and mozzarella. The flesh of the prawns was very apparent with every bite, with a fine partnership of the smoky prawns and light mozzarella.   They were well cooked, however, perhaps on the slightly greasy side if I was being picky. Which I always am.

What I liked about Cargo, apart from being served, of course, was the mix of people that were there. From the staff to the customers, there was a great egalitarian representation of Dubai demographics. In a country that is trying to create a playground for two hundred and two different nationalities, it seems Cargo has managed it rather well.

And they serve customers as well which is a huge advantage to their south of the border cousins on the 2nd floor.

The burgers were good. Wagyu beef, as announced on the menu. My issue with Wagyu is when you slather it with wasabi mayo and stick in between two slabs of bread, the quality of the beef is lost. The distinction of the burger would not be diminished by using a less premium beef, in my opinion. The bread was good; not too sweet, with a well proportioned thickness to it. The wasabi mayo was not wasabi enough for my taste; I felt it could have packed a bit more of a punch. My partners sliders were well cooked and boasted to be served three different ways, however, my partner claims she couldn’t tell the difference. The French fries were French fries, but they were served in a tortilla shell, and knowing how much I wanted tortillas that night, it did feel like a slap in the face.

The total bill was a very reasonable 375aed for two people.

By the time we left, the place was buzzing, and the large open space we walked into earlier had become a rather intimate warehouse of engaged customers, energetic staff and a relaxed ambiance.

So I would like to thank O Cacti Mexican house for making my evening at Cargo lounge and Restaurant an enjoyable evening.

Cargo, 3rd Floor. Pier 7, Dubai Marina, 04 3618 129


minilogo Cargo

I think I like the idea of Leopold’s of London more than the actuality of the place. Don’t get me wrong, I like the actual place as well, but the idea is far superior to the reality. But isn’t that often the case? Trying to get a seat on a Friday morning was a bit like trying to find a watering hole in the Serengeti. My partner and I obviously arrived through the wrong entrance and spent several awkward minutes searching for a table. We looked like two meerkats stood on an ant hill looking for something to eat. And despite numerous staff buzzing around like flies on a hot day, no-one actually plucked up the courage to approach us. So we fought our way through the other table searching meerkats to “re-enter” the establishment via the terrace entrance. Whereby we hit our next obstacle; a slightly sweaty hostess in a slightly too tight skirt suit. They either change the uniforms, or I am sure they will dehydrate into just empty crumpled suits.

I don’t think the experience would be any poorer for it, if I am honest. Having asked for a table outside, we covered our ears as she bellowed, literally fog-horned it up to the balcony on the first floor to inquire on a table for us. Having got absolutely no confirmation from anyone upstairs she confidently instructed us to make our way back through the Serengeti of meerkats and flies to our potential table on the upper level.

It was at this point I was willing to continue walking and try our luck at another place. I was dreading what experience could await us upstairs. I felt like Simba walking out of the Pride lands and into the dark forbidden elephant’s graveyard. I was convinced I could hear the Hyenas laughing from upstairs. But, as I said at the start of this review, I really like the idea of Leopold’s and so I persevered. And I am glad I did.

Upstairs was like a different world – the lush green foliage on the wall of the staircase acted like a Feng Shu cleansing for me and we arrived to a wonderfully considered mezzanine floor. Ornate and eye catching with tea and coffee labs, where they probably practiced sinister caffeine alchemy. Their coffee menu had wonderfully exciting names like Chemex and Cold Brew and Syphon and my favourite, the Manual Shot. How alpha male! This is what Putin would drink if he came here.

The tea menu was over-complicated, perhaps to justify the pricing. It’s difficult to charge premium prices for what is effectively a fancy cup of PG Tips. The food menu was succinct and considered. Their breakfast range was what you would expect – the usual egg menu, poached, scrambled, omelezzzzzz….. I ordered the eggs benedict, with a choice of soft cooked eggs. My partner wanted to try the healthy breakfast, a chickpea bruschetta type dish and then, after some internal deliberation, she added the vanilla bean pancakes, because, well, you don’t want to be too healthy.

We sat back and enjoyed the mayhem and what turned out to be excellent coffee. The staff were plentiful and diverse, and seemed to be just managing to stay afloat of the Friday morning tsunami. I started to explain the history of Leopold’s, but when my partner learnt that there was actually no Leopold and he wasn’t from London, she lost interest immediately.

Luckily the food arrived and we were saved from the impending one sided discussion. My eggs benedict was satisfactory, but certainly the eggs were not soft. The muffin was fresh but the hollandaise sauce was not sharp enough for my liking. But it was better than Paul’s but not as good as Tom and Serg’s. The healthy breakfast was poked at with both our forks, but largely left untouched. The chickpeas and tomato based sauce made the bread soggy and with too many strong flavours, it was far too heavy to be considered a breakfast dish or a healthy dish. Luckily we had the pancakes as backup. They were thick cakes, slightly Bavarian in nature, with a good, not too sweet cream and some artisan home-made style jam, sorry, compote.

Leopold’s of London is a clever, well designed “home grown” concept, with a strong location down at the beach on JBR. It will have a good following of European expats and locals, looking for safe, suitable food and good quality coffee. It’s the new wave of gastro-ish coffee/café/restaurants. It has a good story behind it but I feel there are just a few too many errors in the plot for it to be a blockbuster just yet. But what do I know; I spent half my time there thinking I was Simba from the Lion King.


minilogo Leopold’s of London

Simon Rimmer, according to my research team, Mr. Google and Wiki, is a fashion and design student turned chef. After winning a few culinary accolades, Mr, Rimmer then moved into television hosting several cooking shows. After that, it seems, he put his name onto a restaurant in Dubai called The Scene. I don’t know if he was a hands on partner, throwing swaths of rejected floral wallpaper off the terrace and dramatically spitting out substandard sauces from the kitchen or he simply sold his name to the investors and sat back home in Chorlton Cum Hardy counting his money.

Either way, his two main strengths design and cooking, were well represented in The Scene.   If my grandmother was a, still alive and had b, taken too many of her special pills, she would have designed something like The Scene. Eclectic British adornments deliberately mis-matched were scattered across the dining room. Jam jars for lights, faux Thomas Minton Willow patterned jugs, Chatsworth house deer antler light fittings – you get the picture.

So I decided to take my lifelong expat parents for a late lunch along with the Serbian. I was hoping to incite some nostalgia for the old couple and instil some colonial culture in the Slavic one. We arrived to a busy restaurant. Busy with staff more than customers though. A lot of staff were on duty, all standing around, doing very little. Perhaps they were getting ready for a busy evening shift and we happened to arrive in the quiet before the storm.

Upon arrival we were asked if we wanted the lounge or the restaurant. According to the hostess, the only difference between the two was where they were located. We ended up choosing a booth but I don’t know if that was in the restaurant or lounge area. I don’t think the hostess knew either, if I am honest.

The menu incited little gasps of joy from my mother, who then proceeded to read out every dish that she particularly liked. And it seems like she liked the entire menu. If there was sea bass on the menu, my father was going to order sea bass. He always chooses the sea bass. The Serbian was going to go for something safe and familiar to her mother country, like a slab of meat. There were too many strange exotic dishes on the menu, like fish and chips, Welsh rarebit or Scotch egg for her liking.

My fish and chips arrived exactly how I thought it would – on a wooden board, just like they are served in er, Bognor Regis?! The battered fish was a little too light in colour; I would have enjoyed a little more golden brown and crunch to the batter. However, the fish was good, moist, flavourful and a good portion. The chips were better than average, great colour, crispy and well cooked. I think the fish fryer chef needs to take lessons from the chip fryer chef.

My father’s sea bass fillet (see I told you) arrived looking rather lost against the Greek salad and a comically over-sized filo crisp. When asked to give his in-depth opinion, he shrugged and said “I like sea bass.” Which I took to mean “it wasn’t particularly good, but in true British fashion, let’s not make a scene, especially at The Scene.”   Mother had the pie of the day, which was beef and ale. It continued to elicit little yelps of happiness so I assume it hit all the expectations she had put on the dish beforehand, and knowing my mother, they would have been significant. Finally, the chuck steak Herd Burger arrived for the Serbian one. Chuck steak, otherwise known as braising steak, actually makes for quite good ground patties, thanks to the balance of meat and fat. She didn’t eat all of it, but she never does for any meal. I don’t know why, and at this stage I’m too afraid to ask.

At this stage of the meal, we had witnessed countless managers wander by the table but none of them thought it might be nice to engage in some pleasantries with us, inquire about our food, or if we had watched the latest series of Downton Abbey. So I suppose, our great British hospitality is living up to its reputation.

We finished off our meal with some shared deserts, Apple crumble (“I like apple crumble”) and Eton Mess (insert another excited squeal here). Both dishes were demolished by all four spoons rather quickly. They were good; well presented, good temperature and flavours and a thoughtful spin on some classics.

The Scene has definitely had some heart and soul put into its menu and design. You feel relaxed and comfortable from the moment you walk in, and are pleasantly surprised with the diversity and quality of the menu. It is just a shame that the same heart and soul wasn’t seen in the staff. Despite having a large work force and plenty of pretty faces, The Scene seemed to be lacking some genuine hospitality.

minilogo The Scene by Simon Rimmer

“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.

minilogo Tom & Serg

The people that bought you Zuma and Le Petite Maison have created another shining example of how to design, build and operate a big restaurant name in Coya. And let’s not underestimate the importance and intelligence of the timing of this opening.

South American food is the hot volcano of the food world right now and Peruvian food specifically is the Magma that is ejaculating from this culinary volcano.  Peruvian food is the new black and as Coya Dubai runs off to count their gold, I can see them throw callous, maniacal laughter over their shoulder as other restaurant groups and hotel groups stumble over themselves to bring in a Dragon Mart copy just to stay in touch.

And this is not a coincidence – They did it with Zuma back in 2009 when Japanese food was on fire. And then, when the world went crazy for provincial French food in 2011, La Petite Maison was there to satiate the cravings.

Considering how from a dream to inception, a restaurant launch can take at least 12 months, that vision is boarding on clairvoyant. Peruvian food is right in the now, it is the culinary hotspot that restaurateurs are all flocking to and it’s great to see an operator with his finger on the pulse.

But despite how obviously good they are at what they do, they must be careful of using a cookie cutter approach to restaurants – every restaurant has its own character and personality and the truly great restaurants are the ones whose personality shines the greatest. The holy trinity of Zuma, LPM and Coya seem to be the same personality, just with three different passports. Even the management seem to be on a rotational contract between the three places.

Now this takes nothing away from the experience – my partner and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and we had the good fortune to have the only waitress from Peru look after us. She was knowledgeable, friendly and had the nervous energy and excitement of someone who has only been in Dubai a few months. She said she was enjoying the experience but missed her family. I sympathized with her and then ordered what turned out to be an exceptional ceviche.

The Lubina Clasica, a sea bass ceviche arrived in tapas style at the table, delivered by our servers assistant. Yes, our server had an assistant. The ceviche was sharp, fresh, tangy with clean edges to the dish. It was everything it was supposed to be, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Coya team.

My partner was definitely enjoying herself; you can always tell because she talks non-stop, to anyone. And she on fire; asking everyone where they were from and then nodding knowingly, as if she had been aware of their place of birth all along. We both ordered the steak, as it was highly recommended by our server’s assistant’s assistant who came to deliver our wine.

My partner was upsold the Solomillo de Buey, which translates to the wagyu sirloin, chimichurri and tamarind salsa and I stuck with the poor man’s version, which was the Solomillo de Res, a beef fillet with crispy shallots and garlic. They arrived pre-sliced on a side plate, which is good, because if they were served on a regular plate, one would feel rather disappointed with the portioning. Especially as all the extras are also Al La Carte.

However, both dishes were well constructed; my beef had a delicate char to it that enhanced the texture, and the crispy shallots blended well with the medium rare meat. The Wagyu was full flavoured thanks to the Chimmichurri tanginess and punching power of their tamarind salsa. A good two punch combination. But at 328 dhs for the Wagyu, it had better be a knockout dish.

However, apparently it was. In fact, my partner was so impressed with her smidgen of beef that she actually took a quick respite from talking, and I watched with fascination as she let the flavours cascade across her palate, her face lit up with gratification.

I wasn’t as ecstatic however and I think that’s because I rarely exhibit such emotions, but more importantly because there was an expectation for Coya to be at the very best of their game, purely because of their reputation and I suppose it is a credit to them that they lived up to their reputation.

As I glanced around the dining room, I watched as the Coya team spent healthy amounts of time at each table, patiently explaining the menu to people un-familiar with this kind of cuisine. I watched as some tables had an alpha male host who confidently and loudly butchered the pronunciation of every dish on the menu and other tables’ submissively resign themselves to the suggestions of their waiter or waitress. All was how it was meant to be. The restaurant was full, and we had been told we had to be out by 9 pm for the second seating.

The clientele were the same groups you would find at Zuma. The well to do crowd that like to be seen and the less well to do crowd that immediately check in on facebook to show everyone where they are.

However, while Zuma has found the magical formula of being able to attract the female crowd, Coya might have to be satisfied with a more male dominated customer base, which will be drawn by the dramatic lighting and heavy décor. But, I was made to promise that I would include this in the review; the chairs did have a secret tray that slide out for ladies to put their handbags on, which delighted my partner and is obviously very female friendly. Well done, Coya; Girls love stuff like that.

minilogo Coya Dubai


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