Stepping into Circle Cafe in Al Raha Gardens on a cold winter’s night is a relief. The space is warm and toasty, unlike most restaurants in the UAE, where the thermostat always seems to be stuck at a couple of degrees below zero.
The cafe is set at the end of Gardens Plaza and is about half full when my husband and I visit on a weeknight. The decor is cosy and inviting: spotless white tables and chairs, framed posters on the walls, deep leather chairs and a row of bookshelves at the back. There are jars of fresh white roses on each table and a bowl with a couple of fish on the cake counter – small touches that make you feel at home.
The menu is disguised to look like a community newspaper. Printed on a large, double-page spread it tells the story of how the cafe came to be: two mums in Dubai started up the venture because they wanted a place where New York bagels and European cafe culture could meet. The idea seems to have worked well, because that was in 2003 and they now have four branches, three in Dubai.
The menu itself is eclectic, covering everything from hummus to Thai green curry and the prices are on par with most other restaurants in the city, with appetisers starting at about Dh22 and mains at Dh40.
Because of the varied international offerings, we decide to pick dishes randomly and order pumpkin and coconut soup, falafel, chicken skewers with rocket salad and Malay chicken curry.
The soup arrives first in a large bowl alongside thin toasted bread. It’s piping hot and perfectly seasoned, the taste of coconut lingering pleasantly after every spoonful.
Next come the falafel straight out of the fryer, and we keep dropping them like hot potatoes. Sadly, not enough garlicky toum sauce is provided and the side of pickled gherkins disappears within seconds.
Our main courses take longer to arrive and we spend 15 minutes eyeing the desserts displayed behind a glass case: there’s a four-layered chocolate cake, nearly eight inches high; Oreo mousse; and a thick triangle of pecan pie.
Just as I’m about to suggest that we have dessert before our main courses, our food arrives. The portions are large, set on square, black platters. My chicken skewers are nicely charred and resting on a couple of tortillas, the rocket and cherry-tomato salad on the side is refreshing. The Malay curry, accompanied by a bowl of steamed rice and a small cup each of yogurt salad and finely chopped red onion, features boneless chunks of chicken swimming in a mild, cumin-flavoured tomato sauce. It’s not Malay in the least, but it’s tasty. Finished with our main courses, we turn our attention to the dessert counter again.
We know what we want: Oreo mousse and pecan pie. The mousse is dark, textured with crushed biscuits and the pecan pie is dense and caramel-ish, but both turn out to be like the rest of our meal: pleasant, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Would I go back? Yes, but not for the food. Circle Cafe, as the name suggests, is the kind of place to head out to on a Saturday afternoon for coffee with friends, or for a solitary pot of tea and a couple of hours with a good book.
• A meal at Circle Cafe in Al Raha Gardens (02 556 1550; www.circle-cafe.com) costs Dh220 for two. Reviewed meals are conducted incognito and paid for by The National