x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A date with the Mediterranean

Food guru The Cafe's head chef, Jean Luc Vila, talks about the food, the coffee and - of course - dates.

Jean Luc Vila at The Cafe in the Dubai International Financial Centre.
Jean Luc Vila at The Cafe in the Dubai International Financial Centre.

If you thought Bateel was just about dates, think again. The gourmet confectionery brand has a chain of cafes called, simply, The Cafe. Its head chef, Jean Luc Vila, talks about the food, the coffee and - of course - dates.

It's really about healthy food, mainly from the Mediterranean. We don't want to call it Italian food, but we do use a lot of Italian products. But it's not all Italian - we use a lot of local elements, including cheese. Our company is from Saudi Arabia, but we don't want to go too far with Arabic food; we don't want to go too far with Lebanese food; and neither do we want to go too far with Italian - we want a mix of all these. The concept is about very good food, high-quality products, with an Arabic twist.

We have a unique heart of palm salad. From our farm, we take the full palm tree, remove the bark at the bottom and take the heart of palm. Then we slice it, fresh, with a little lemon juice, olive oil and parsley. This is unique in Dubai.

Our main ingredients - olive oil, pasta, legumes - are from the Italian region of Umbria. I go to Italy personally to select the products. We also use a high-quality balsamic vinegar from Italy. We use products from Spain and France. The local ingredients include dates, of course, and the cheese we use is halloumi. Instead of Parmesan, sometimes we'll use grated halloumi. We also use za'atar in our breads and croissants. We also have a pesto sauce with dates in it.

Yes, we do a few small dishes with dates in them - just to make the link with Bateel's shops. We produced dates from the beginning and we don't want to lose that link. But our date dishes are very light - they are not a heavy component. People can still buy dates to take away. We have prepacked boxes in a special retail area, where you can also buy chocolates and condiments. In fact everything we use you can buy to take away: olive oil, pasta, mustard and that kind of thing.

We don't recommend any one type - all the dates are good, but all the dates are different. We have khidri, bahri, sokari, kholas - it depends on your taste. I prefer the bahri or kholas date because they are very soft and caramelised. We serve these with the coffee.

Well, as well as the cappuccinos and traditional coffees, we also have an Arabic khawa selection. We send our coffee makers to Saudi Arabia to learn how to make the khawa on a farm, with a traditional coffee maker. When local people see our menu, they usually order the khawa. Before dinner they drink it to clear the palate, to refresh the mouth. And then they drink it after dinner. We serve the khawa with a date instead of sugar. In Saudi you get water with your coffee, so that if your date is sticky, you can clean your fingers with the water.

The Cafe is at Souq Al Manzil at the Old Town Burj Dubai; DIFC; and Marina Walk, Dubai Marina.
jbrennan@thenational.ae