x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

All things nice

The latest Baker & Spice to open in Dubai offers good-quality, locally sourced, organic produce.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates- June  05, 2011:  Bake & Spice  Cafe  in Dubai .  ( Satish Kumar / The National ) For Arts & Life
Dubai, United Arab Emirates- June 05, 2011: Bake & Spice Cafe in Dubai . ( Satish Kumar / The National ) For Arts & Life

The newest Baker & Spice café and kitchen shop occupies a small space in Dukkan al Manzil, with just a scattering of tables. The little shop area simply spills over with produce: colourful jars containing jams, pickles and preserves line the shelves, a wooden table is packed to groaning point with baked goods (speciality breads, tempting fruit tarts, glazed Danish pastries and slabs of cake jostle for space) and there are vibrant salads displayed behind a glass counter.

It's all very appealing indeed. Provided you don't clock the prices, you could be in foodie heaven and may well remain there – until you're handed the bill, that is.

There is, as I mentioned, an impressive salad selection as well as a chalk board listing the five or six specials of the day. My friend began his meal with a bowl of butterbean soup, which he professed to be very good: smooth and silky, with a pleasant hint of background spice and several large, soft butter beans, just popping out of their skins.

Now I know that I was the one who ordered the baked ricotta with herbs, but I was still slightly perplexed when a plate bearing just a large hunk of honey glazed white cheese, strewn with salty, caramelised rosemary and thyme leaves arrived. I think it was the sheer amount of cheese (and absence of any other ingredients) that threw me.

The ricotta looked pure and milky and tasted young and untainted. I think that this was perhaps part of the problem. This type of cheese is, by its very nature, very bland, which is why it's often paired with big flavours. I felt that this was needed here; even a few salad leaves scattered over the top to break things up a bit would have sufficed. As it was, the combination of sweetness from the honey and the texture of the baked ricotta reminded me ever so slightly of American cheesecake. That makes it sound worse than it was - this was still a nice dish, just not a perfect one.

When the rest of our food arrived, I couldn't help but feel that my friend had hit the jackpot again. His salad featured plump, thyme-dusted slow-cooked tomatoes, pieces of mellow buffalo mozzarella, segments of sweet, roasted peaches, slivers of salty, vaguely gamey air-dried beef and chewy croutons. This was a dish that was filled with beautiful colours and flavours, with each element complementing, rather than overpowering, the other.

I chose to select four different salads from the counter and was presented with a medley of fresh ingredients. A crunchy mixed salad made from red and yellow peppers, olives, red onion and a sprinkling of parsley was clean and refreshing; slices of roasted aubergine had crisp skins and creamy flesh, the sweetness of which was complemented by some slightly sour, crumbled feta cheese. The other half of the plate boasted a rich tomatoey dip, with onions and peppers that had been cooked to a thick, melting softness, flavoured with spices and mixed with pine nuts and sweet raisins. Lastly, a beetroot and carrot salad was every bit as vibrant and flavourful as it sounds.

For dessert we ordered a couple of (very good) coffees and split a peach muffin, which had an authentic, bready texture. If it didn't taste quite sweet enough then this is probably because we've grown too accustomed to synthetic shop-bought varieties. It has to be said that the bill, at Dh243, was not particularly cheap for salad, some cheese, a couple of coffees, a cake and a bowl of soup. I am very familiar with the Baker & Spice concept and think that their dedication to using organic, locally sourced seasonal ingredients is an admirable one that deserves the recognition that it so often gathers. While I also appreciate that organic produce is, as a rule, more expensive, I can't help but think that if you buy locally, then surely you avoid the hefty import costs encountered by so many other restaurants and cafés?

However, although lunch or dinner at Baker & Spice may not come cheap, for an occasional treat it's well worth indulging yourself.

A lunch for two at Baker & Spice, Dukkan al Manzil, Downtown Burj Khalifa, costs Dh243 not including service. For reservations call 04 427 9856. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.