Lime Tree Café. So, for those of you relatively new to Dubai, you wouldn’t have remembered the phenomenon that was Lime Tree Café. They opened their doors in 2001, which was only a few years ago, I thought, until I did the maths. 2001 was fifteen years ago! To survive fifteen years in an industry as cutthroat and fickle as the restaurant industry is no mean feat. But then again, these New Zealanders are a cunning nation.
When Lime Tree Café opened, it was unlike anything Dubai had seen before. It was new, cool and fresh, serving home cooked quality food with an emphasis on ingredients and health. It very quickly became the hottest place to be seen. A Friday lunchtime at Lime Tree, in their iconic Jumeirah villa, was the equivalent of the red carpet event at Cannes film festival. On a Friday, people woke hours earlier than they normally would during the week, just to perfect that, “just got out of bed” look. Lime Tree café was a place where the maids weren’t invited because the baby was an important accessory. I can imagine the conversation back in 2001.
“Have you been to Lime Tree, yet, Tarquin?”
“Poppy darling, not yet. I’ve been meaning to, but I’ve literally, just been so busy. Lettice says they have a cheeky Irish girl working there? Is that true? Is it any good?”
“It’s amaazzing, Sweets. You have to order your food at a counter, and then you have to find your own table. It’s quite the adventure!”
Lime Tree were first movers in many things that the industry now claims as standard. They insisted on counter service with limited table service. They insisted that their food display fridges would be a visual feast. They embraced a healthy, fresh approach to their menu, and according to some, they invented the carrot cake.
For many years, Lime Tree ruled the café scene, they were the caterer of choice for the Jumeirah Jane lunches and the weekend brunches.
The latest Lime Tree Cafe branch is on Sheikh Zayed Road in the Umm Al Sheif district and walking in, it felt familiar and friendly. Concrete flooring, industrial fit out, exposed ceilings, galvanized steel tables and an outdoor terrace.
The menu choices are what you would get if a posh farmer from Surrey and Jamie Oliver had a love child and he became a chef. Lots of quiches and salads and toasties and cakes adorn the cabinets, and to be fair, they all look very appetizing.
I ordered the eggs florentine, and the Serb ordered the flatbread sandwich – turkey, brie and cranberry. As mentioned, you order and pay at the counter, and I felt that the girl taking the order could have been a little more cheery and engaged. There was no real greeting or experience level that I couldn’t have got from the new Macdonald’s self-order kiosk. Where was the Irish girl that welcomed you with a cheerful smile and a cheeky wink?! We took our number and had a wander round the restaurant.
They have a retail section that sells pricey foodie things like cookbooks that you’ll never try, and designer aprons you’ll wear once as a joke after too much Pimms one evening. The interior of the café is quite earthy and modern; they have indoor trees and a stone wall. There is a kids area (I think) and thankfully a separate dining room far enough away from the kids to avoid cross contamination. When I pointed out the indoor trees to the Serb, she seemed unimpressed and admitted to me that she frequents this café quite often as her nail spa is upstairs. You think you know someone.
We finally chose our table, in time for our food to arrive. My eggs were cooked well, bright yellow yolk that oozed out over the bread and spinach. The spinach was far too wet, though, and that’s just laziness from the kitchen. Drain, dab or squeeze the spinach, but never put it directly on bread straight from blanching it. The bread instantly became a soggy spinach water sponge.
Apparently the Serb always orders the turkey sandwich, and it was crisp and tasty, although the ingredients aren’t always uniformly spread across the whole sandwich. What this means is you get a mouthful of cranberry and lettuce every now and again.
The food isn’t bad, it’s still of high quality; I just think that the competition has caught up with what they were doing fifteen years ago. The public are more knowledgeable about quality and flavours and are certainly more demanding now about their food. The Lime Tree Café isn’t doing anything wrong, in fact, they are doing most things right – the problem is, there are some places doing things better now.
Lime Tree Café is the original gangsta of the contemporary café scene – they blazed the trail for all others and on that basis alone, they deserve respect and acknowledgement. However, to the unbiased and the non-nostalgic, Lime Tree are going to be compared to some very high-quality cafes serving some excellent food. The question is, are they doing enough to keep up? After this review, I don’t know the answer to that, so I might have to go back and have some carrot cake to help me decide.