There are two sides to a city. The public side and the private side. The public side is what the tourists, investors and other governments see – The Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, desert safari, free zones, sports tournaments, etc. This public side of Dubai is critical to generating tourism spend and foreign direct investment.
However, the private side of a city is that which is experienced daily by the city’s residents. Our communities need to deliver on this, on everything that makes living in a city a pleasure. It is intimacy, human scale and the relationships people have with their districts that make a city truly liveable for its residents.
Enter stage left, Lowe restaurant at KOA Canvas, a new development out past Al Barari and the popular Farm restaurant. I love pulling off the 311 onto that single-track lane surrounded by mature hedgerow and foliage. It reminds me of the single winding lanes of Devon in the UK, except you don’t have to worry about a slightly tipsy farmer coming the other way after a few pints of IPA at The Maltster’s Arms. Just someone tailgating millimeters behind you, flashing their headlights like they’re at a car rave.
Lowe is a dining all day neighbourhood restaurant. A restaurant that has a story, some purpose, and character behind it. Headed up by New Zealand and Australian chefs Jesse Blake and Kate Christou, and real estate developer Mohammed Zaal, who believes his communities should contribute to the soul of a dynamic new Dubai.
Lowe means a warm light, especially one produced by fire and the menu showcases seasonal produce cooked naturally by fire.
I followed the directions of The Serb, who has got much better at navigation since she agreed to give me at least 15 meters warning before announcing any turns or exits. Eventually, we arrived from the jungle depths and approached the gates of KOA Canvas, a new mixed-use residential development that promises to be a collaborative hub for creatives and home to Lowe. In keeping with the whole fire theme, the security guards gave us a proper grilling before we could enter.
“Good Evening, Sir.”
“Hello, we’re looking for Lowe restaurant.”
“Do you have a permit pass?”
“Permit pass? No, do we need one?”
“No. Welcome,” and with a wave of his arm, the barriers lifted.
We pulled into an empty car park and walked the short distance to Lowe. The open kitchen greets you as you enter with a charcoal grill, rotisserie and wood-fired oven sitting proudly front and center.
The restaurant is empty when we arrive, and the hostess has the common sense and dignity not to ask us if we had made a reservation. Instead, she gave us a warm, welcoming smile and walked us into the dimly lit restaurant and showed us our table. The interior is Scandinavian Chic, clean lines with smoothed grey concrete and lots of wood and rattan. With just 75 covers, it is warm, welcoming and intimate and will age well with time.
The menu is sharing plates, of course, so I crack on and order far too much food without consulting with The Serb. It’s often better to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. I ordered some cucumbers, whipped aubergine, duck salad, roast chicken and charred cauliflower. The Serb threw in the French fries at the end.
The menu is honest and clean and straightforward. It is transparent in the sense that it is ingredient led, rather than technique heavy. The menu has a clear focus on local produce, seafood, and vegetables with big earthy flavours coming from influences around the globe. The service team was led by a very active and engaged manager, who I think took almost every single food order himself personally. Such was his efficiency, half the staff could have had the night off. I bet they can’t wait until they are busier, so they get to take some orders as well.
The pressed cucumbers were fresh and lively, with a slight sourness that danced on the tongue. Dipped into the smoked labneh and they became crudites extraordinaire, a delicious sharing dish that was gone before we realized it.
Aubergine is a vegetable (well, technically a berry) that I have a hard time building a relationship with. Although I often order Baba Ganoush, it’s because I like saying the word, rather than because of any enjoyment I get from the dish itself.
However, Lowe’s whipped aubergine with puffed grains gives me hope that there is a future for me and the eggplant. It was bloody delicious, a little airy cloud of aubergine, soft and dreamy in the mouth. The crunch of the grains kept you grounded, and the drizzle of pepita oil added depth. It was one of my favourite dishes. The Serb liked the bread that came with it.
We also ordered the broken wheat salad, with crispy duck leg toasted seeds and spiced labneh. I would imagine that this will be their most popular dish. It was well balanced with great flavours – hearty, but not too heavy.
The cauliflower is the Skrull of the vegetable world. It is incredibly versatile and can mimic a whole range of other foods, from rice, to puree, to even pizza bases. Its neutral flavour also means it plays well with others too. Lowe’s cauliflower, however, is dug from the ground, rinsed under a tap and charred over a naked flame. It is served with a coriander yogurt and golden raisin chimmi. However, it’s far too big for two people to eat alone, especially if one of them filled up on bread and wasn’t hungry anymore.
The chicken arrived last, glistening straight off the rotisserie, juicy, moist and tender. It was the dish that had the mildest flavour but was brought to life by their deep emerald green garden sauce.
Landlords take note – this is the future of neighbourhood dining. As communities, we’ve lost touch of our neighbours. Due to urbanisation, the web & the third-party delivery guys, social media, and the globalisation of products, we have rendered ourselves alienated from our communities.
It is places like Lowe that offer hope that all is not lost in community dining. They tick so many boxes that it makes me want to cry. I won’t though, because that would be dramatic and utterly unnecessary. The food was spot on, the timing and sequence of service was without fault, the staff were trained and enthusiastic and the pricing was considerate to the fact that most of us are broke this year. All in all, a strong all round game.
So, I say directly to Mohammed, Jesse and Kate if they are reading this, stay the course, see this through and be part of the change that’s happening in Dubai’s F&B scene.
And to the others reading this, please go down there and spend some money with Lowe. They deserve it, Dubai needs places like Lowe and you don’t need a permit pass, I promise.
KOA Canvas, Wadi Al Safa 3
Dinner for two – 295 dhs
NB- I stole some images from Lowe’s facebook account. You can probably guess which ones!