There are flowers and more leafy greenery than I have seen for quite a while here. The faint sound of birdsong and the distant hum of dragonflies fill the air, which is, I'm later told, six degrees cooler than the rest of Dubai, thanks to all that vegetation.
Wooden decking juts out over a small lake, where visitors can either sit at tables within touching distance of an array of colourful plants, sink into a slouchy bean bag or recline in a hammock next to the water. Close by, there's a stretch of grass where children are encouraged to play and yoga classes will soon be taught and if you meander around a tree-lined corner, you'll come to a fragrant, well-manicured herb garden. At night, tiki lights line the pathways and when, in a few short weeks, the summer sun starts to rage, the al fresco area will be tented and the temperature controlled.
This tranquil cafe-restaurant known as The Farm is located in Dubai's exclusive Al Barari development - the brainchild of the Zaal family - and is managed and operated by Soul Dining Concepts, a subsidiary of Zaal Enterprises. It officially opened to the public yesterday, but Maheesha Ratnayake, the food and beverage manager for The Farm and the leader of food and beverage interests for Zaal Enterprises, says that this wasn't always the intention. "Originally, it was supposed to be a restaurant just for the Barari community, but considering the beautiful space that we occupy, we decided to position it as a destination restaurant."
He explains that The Farm was founded on the same principles as the Barari estate, with emphasis placed on sustainability, green living and a desire to provide an escape from city life. "What we want to do is give people in Dubai a very healthy option in a very healthy atmosphere; the idea has always been to create a clean, pure, fresh menu and environment."
Ratnayake describes The Farm as a "passion project" and says that the company has spent a significant amount of time talking to the farmers and growers who supply it with produce, to ensure that these groups are not being exploited. "We really research where our ingredients come from and ethical trading is something that we take very seriously. We look at the origins and if we are given a hint of suspicion that it might involve any kind of forced labour then no way, it has to be ethically traded, 100 per cent." While this doesn't always prove to be the most cost-effective approach, Ratnayake says that financial gain has never been their motivation. "For us, it's always numbers will follow, that's the mantra of Al Barari. If you do something well, do it the best you can, then numbers will follow, because people appreciate good things," he says passionately.
This idea informed the way in which the international menu – which includes raw, vegan, vegetarian and diabetes-friendly items – was constructed by the culinary consultant Connie Ferreira and The Farm's head chef Yves de Lafontaine, as well as in the decision to install an on-site bakery, where fresh bread and pastries are made from scratch twice a day. Visitors can also buy a selection of local and organic groceries to take home.
The interior of the restaurant, meanwhile, was designed by Lesley Zaal and reflects the peaceful feel of the surrounding gardens. The floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights allow plenty of light in, sumptuous white sofas add a sense of luxury, chefs can be spotted putting the finishing touches to their creations in the open pastry kitchen and a number of driftwood and bamboo features give the room a natural, individual feel.
On first appraisal and having tasted some of the homemade bread, including a fantastic, properly tangy sourdough, a vegan tofu scramble and a mouthful or two of a very good cheesecake, The Farm looks set to be a welcome and altogether original addition to the region's cafe scene.
The Farm is located in the Al Barari development, Jasmine Leaf 4, approximately 15 minutes from Downtown Dubai. Access is from Emirates Road in the royal enclave of Nad Al Sheba. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily from 7am to 11pm
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