We try out the healthy food at Balance Cafe in Dubai and encounter poor kitchen and waiter service.
An unbalanced experience at Balance Cafe in Dubai
A few weeks ago, I happened to be in the Oasis Centre just off Sheikh Zayed Road at lunchtime. In a deliberate effort to avoid the fast food court, I ended up in Balance Cafe, which is located on the third floor. It also, as it turns out, places itself at the opposing end of the health spectrum, serving up a calorie-counted menu that is inspired by the ancient Indian healing system of Ayurveda.
While there isn't anything on the menu to suggest which dishes correspond with which Ayurvedic element (space, air, fire, earth, water), it is nonetheless useful to have access to the nutritional information for each dish. At Balance Cafe, emphasis is placed on light, healthy dishes with vegan, dairy and gluten-free options, as well as an avoidance of butter, cream and deep frying in favour of vinaigrettes and broths, grilled meat and vegetables and wholegrain bread and rice.
On my first visit, I tried the goat's cheese and sun-dried tomato tart, which was served with a sprightly looking side salad. For a light lunch, it was very tasty, felt virtuous and at Dh18, was reasonably priced. So I decided to return to do a review, and that's when things fell apart slightly.
The service that I experienced here was terrible. When I entered the cafe, despite there being at least four members of staff on duty (including a manager), I was left to flounder in the middle of the room. After settling myself at a table and waiting for a few minutes, a menu was handed over without comment.
The restaurant wasn't busy, which the staff – the manager included – seemed to take as a cue to wander listlessly around the room, stopping every so often to chat and laugh, while paying little attention to their existing customers. The air was intermittently punctuated by the sound of the chef shouting – often increasingly loudly – for service, which struck an unprofessional note.
The tomato and coriander soup I had to start was very nice. The deep red colour and pure tomato flavour was unmasked by the addition of heavy cream or potatoes, the soup had a bit of background chilli heat to it, the chopped herbs added freshness and crunch and it all felt very nourishing. I was enjoying myself until my main course of prawn malai curry arrived and was placed silently in front of me, even though I was only half way through the starter. I looked up to complain, but the waiter had already disappeared.
My irritation at this increased dramatically when I tasted a mouthful of curry and it was only vaguely lukewarm. Not just not hot, but barely room temperature. I called the waiter over and the bowl of curry was taken away without comment. As this happened, I could see the manager watching us. But did he approach the table or indeed the waiter to find out what the problem (and there very obviously was one) was? No. He continued to lean lackadaisically against the till.
When it returned (piping hot this time), the curry was passable. The thin coconut and tomato gravy had split, leaving a not entirely appetising oily layer on the surface. That said, the flavour was pleasant enough and the prawns were meaty and a decent size. Triangles of whole wheat tandoori bread made a tasty, wholesome alternative to the traditional ghee-brushed naan, but a dull side salad disappointed and featured the limpest lettuce I've seen in a long time.
The slice of vanilla-speckled lemon tart I had for dessert was tart and creamy, but the soggy base rendered it unworthy of its 222 calories.
While it is very encouraging to be able to pick up a relatively inexpensive but nonetheless nutritious lunch, the lack of care and attention I experienced from both the front and back of house staff mean that it would take some convincing to get me to return to Balance Cafe anytime soon.
- A lunch for one at Balance Cafe, Oasis Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, costs Dh96, not including service. For reservations or home delivery, call 04 515 4051. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito