Safa Park in Dubai has long been crying out for somewhere that serves decent food; a place where, after you’ve pounded the running track or tired of lolling about on the grass, you could go to grab something to eat and drink.
The great news is that since The Archive opened a few months ago, this need has been well and truly answered.
The space is first and foremost dedicated to showcasing Middle Eastern and North African literature and, sure enough, the sleek black bookcases that line the walls and divide the room are filled with all manner of interesting finds. However, while not a particularly large place, the thoroughly modern converted building fulfils several other briefs with ease. To the right of the entrance, where the service station is, there’s a small espresso bar with high stools and in the centre of the room, a large communal workbench, complete with laptop charging points. A scattering of smaller tables run down either side of the room before spilling out onto the terrace and, by extension, the park itself.
For mobile workers or freelancers suffering from cabin fever, it is an absolutely ideal spot. When I visited with my laptop the other day, the atmosphere was studious but not stifling and music played gently in the background. Crucially, at the moment, midweek it’s not too busy; this may, of course, change. After all, the Wi-Fi is free and the area is absolutely flooded with light, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows, with their views of the park.
On the weekend, as you might well imagine, the outdoor terrace fills with people; children tear about the grassy surrounding space while parents brunch with friends. As a result, the service – which is more than adequate when the place isn’t particularly busy – suffers. My friend and I waited a long time to be given a menu and even longer for two fruit salads to arrive. That said, when they did, they impressed: a properly generous bowl filled to the brim with bright, ripe tropical fruit – chunks of pineapple, piles of blueberries and pomegranate seeds, grapes, halves of passion fruit, strawberries, kiwi – all served with a pot of chilled plain yogurt and honey for drizzling. Lovely.
The breakfast menu (served until 1pm) is varied, with some interesting additions and modifications to traditional dishes. Healthy options include quinoa porridge with mixed berry compôte and Bircher muesli slaw, as well as the aforementioned fruit salad. Then there’s a choice of omelettes, which you can customise with various sides, eggs Benedict, green Benedict (with wilted spinach and asparagus), the lazy breakfast (basically, the works), the Archive breakfast (with avocado and eggs any style and served all day, as is the eggs Benedict), pastries and indulgent brioche French toast.
The main menu has a slightly random, cobbled-together feel to it. There are two salad options (a fail-safe chicken Caesar and then a more interesting buffalo mozzarella, artichoke and tomato chutney number), a couple of open sandwiches, a signature burger (I predict the rosemary potato wedges and truffle aioli sides will be a hit), one main course-style chicken dish, a pasta dish (served with mussels, slightly bizarrely given that it’s the only pasta dish on the menu), a mushroom risotto and a cheese plate.
The second time I visited, I ordered the open Cajun chicken sandwich. I have slightly mixed feelings about this one; the portion was large, with the filling ingredients piled on to three slices of bread and a big handful of dressed, mixed salad leaves on the side. The avocado had a pleasant lime kick to it, although there was a fridge-coldness to it which dulled the flavour of the fruit; chicken pieces were mildly spiced and plentiful, in contrast to the scant crumbled feta. The tomato chutney was pleasant – sticky and sweet, with a slight heat. It was the bread that let this dish down: three slightly stale pieces of what looked and tasted like a standard, ready-sliced, supermarket loaf, all dressed up artisan-style on a wooden board. A single slice of thick, good-quality, properly fresh ciabatta would have served this purpose far better.
Pineapple juice (ordered at the same time as the sandwich) arrived perhaps 10 minutes later, although it did look and taste fresh, if rather pulpy. A latte, meanwhile, was served in a glass cup, with a cute little jug containing the shot of espresso and a sliver of crisp cinnamon biscotti on the side. It was well made with, I suspect, locally roasted Raw coffee.
It may not be perfect, but The Archive is exactly what Safa Park needed and I, for one, will certainly be back.
Lunch for one at The Archive, Gate 5, Safa Park, Dubai costs Dh82. For more information, call 04 349 4033. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito