x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

An education in cooking at Scafé

Scafé, the cafe attached to the Scafa cookery school, offers a menu of Mediterranean dishes.

The Scafe restaurant in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
The Scafe restaurant in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

The idea behind Scafé is promising: the little cafe is attached to the recently launched cookery school Scafa, which aims to provide professional training courses for aspiring chefs and more relaxed lessons for enthusiastic cooks. Over time, the students taking part in the professional classes will be involved in preparing the food at Scafé, which is being marketed as a bistro serving predominantly French fare, with Mediterranean influences.

Now all this sounds great in practice, but after eating there last week, I have to say that I expected more. From the not particularly easy to decipher handwritten menu to the sparse, Ikea-esqe decor and the tiny open prep space/breakfast bar at the back, where we watched the chef and, quite surprisingly, a waiter prepare our meal – it all feels a bit cobbled together, which is a real shame. Of course, none of this would really matter if the food being served was superb, but it sadly wasn’t.

Despite the aforementioned slightly generic feel of the cafe, it’s not an unpleasant-looking place – light, bright and modern – and as the only customers, we had our pick of the tables, so settled at a sunlight-drenched table by the window.

Although we arrived before noon, none of the four breakfast options appealed to us, an “Essentials” smoothie being the only truly healthy-sounding item among the French toast with icing sugar, crepes with berry coulis and chocolate sauce and scrambled eggs, sausages, tomatoes and baby potatoes. I’m all for concise menus and showcasing the best that the chef has to offer, but this felt too limited.

Turning our attention to the lunch menu instead, my friend ordered the asparagus and cherry tomato quiche, while I chose the prawn cocktail. We decided to share the pear, fig and Parmesan salad.

The prawn dish was disappointing. Not only were the prawns fridge-cold and bland, but they were also grey in the centre (undercooked) and the intestinal tract hadn’t been removed, which isn’t pleasant at all. The Marie Rose sauce tasted of very little, a bed of iceberg lettuce was yellowing and three tiny (smaller than 1cm) cubes of avocado felt like a meagre serving.

A small steel bucket filled with bread was a nice touch, but when it looks and tastes like a shop-bought loaf and has a hint of staleness about it, this rather detracts from the gesture.

Our shared salad was better: the rocket leaves were perky and fresh, the figs soft and sweet, the Parmesan shavings were nicely pungent and the slivers of pear were crunchy. While the salad was certainly dressed with balsamic vinegar, the advertised cream didn’t make an appearance (perhaps, on reflection, that’s a good thing) and there was no hint of truffle oil, an item so pungent that it can be sniffed from a table away.

My friend enjoyed his generous slice of warm quiche, describing it as nicely seasoned, more moist than usual (a compliment), with a decent amount of asparagus. His only quibble was that the pastry was rather heavy and the thick crust was a touch raw in the centre.

As I said before, it is early days for Scafé and I think it could be on to something. At the moment, though, it is not delivering on its promise of providing a fulfilling “gastronomical experience”. To attract repeat customers out to Jumeirah Lakes Towers, it really needs to get the basics right and that means fresh bread, properly cooked, quality ingredients and good coffee (our distinctly average lattes were served lukewarm).

An eatery attached to a culinary school simply cannot afford to serve below-par food. It devalues the whole premise upon which the business is based.


• A lunch for two at Scafé, Unit 16, Promenade Level, Cluster I, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, costs Dh190, including service charge. For reservations, call 04 379 4044. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito