Café culture with a difference
James Fryer tries to overlook the obvious at Dubai’s chic new alfresco offering.
People watching is the Parisian pastime. It’s the stuff of romantic literature and film noire: reading Victor Hugo, sipping coffee alfresco, and observing the chic passersby from beyond your Dior sunglasses while a cool spring breeze meanders thick ribbons of Gauloise cigarette smoke through a beautiful crowd. While European café culture has had centuries to develop into a perfected leisurely pursuit, Dubai once again cherry-picks the best of the rest of the world in an attempt to recreate a street café experience in one fell swoop.
Enter 19th Street Café, with taxis, 4x4s and trucks chugging past, horns blowing, and workmen toiling. As the wind picked up and swept across the dozen or so sturdy wooden tables, we were left suspecting it wasn’t going to be the most calming of experiences. Determined to make the best of finally being able to spend the evening outside rather than under the breeze of moisture sapping air conditioning, we started off with a couple of smoothies. The forest fruit blend (Dhs 18) looked natural and home-made, but was spoilt but an abundance of pips and a watery texture. My frozen lemonade smoothie was repeatedly ‘sampled’ by my companion until another one arrived – a fresh and zingy ice-cold delight.
Browsing the menu, we spotted a little green man who has a somewhat lonely job on 19th Street. He appeared once, next to the lemon peppered tuna loin, to demonstrate its low-calorie bearing properties. With calories on the mind we weren’t sure if going for two courses was advisable. Our attentive, but slightly nervous waitress assured us an appetiser and main wouldn’t be too much, so we took on a baked round of imported brie in perfect condition with a crispy golden exterior and gooey, oozing cheese (Dhs 30). The second starter – a beef and chicken satay – was not the leanest pieces of meat but arrived with a pleasingly rich, yet oily, peanut dipping sauce (Dhs 35).
Half way through our starters, lulled into an almost false sense of security as the last of the evening rush noise was fading, our waitress interrupted to tell us our mains were ready. We simply gazed up in disbelief. What were we expected to do? The terrible faux pas was clearly the result of few visitors ordering two courses, but was nevertheless inexcusable.
My early-to-arrive club sandwich was a lacklustre attempt (Dhs 45), while across the table a huge glazed bowl – big enough to keep your fruit in – was loaded with mounds of fresh, crisp lettuce, shavings of tangy parmesan, crunchy croutons and chunks of chicken – a decent and extremely generous Caesar salad, if a tad dry (Dhs 35).
The menu omitted desserts, so we took advantage of the extensive tea and coffee selection with an overpriced but indulgent café rolo (Dhs 25) that would have seen our health-conscious little green man keeling over. My icy choice (Dhs 18) had borrowed both it’s name and taste from the giant of the coffee world, mirroring the ever popular skinny Frappuccino.
If 19th Street Cafe is a representation of our resident street café culture then we’ve got a few years to go yet. The noise could be overlooked and it’s nice to watch the world pass by, but the evening lacked a certain finesse. Turning up the tranquil beats and ironing out the creases could however, make this a potential favourite winter venue.
19th Street Café, Movenpick, Dubai. Tel: (04) 3366000.