The newly opened 77 Veggie Boutique serves mostly local organic produce at a reasonable price.
Vegetarian option at Dubai's 77 Veggie Boutique
The carnivore in me wrestles with a pending visit to Dubai's newest healthy destination: the all-veggie, organic cafe 77 Veggie Boutique.
But with an open mind (I am a foodie, after all) I find myself at Jumeirah Lakes Towers where, overlooking the lake, sits the vibrant, green-fronted, newly opened 77 Veggie Boutique.
Don't let the name confuse you: this is no shop. Instead the boutique reference is aligned to the vegetarian, organic and healthy ethos. It's a cosy cafe, deli, catering, delivery and take-away operation, all in one, founded by the Dubai-based entrepreneur Roma Megchiani, 36, from India.
"We play with 77 vegetables available in the market that cover all the vitamins," says Megchiani, who is, as expected, vegetarian. "They are all veggies because we're vegetarian and they are all organic. Our menu is international and based on seasonal produce that is not fried but par-cooked and calorie counted. We only use whole-wheat, but also offer gluten-free and non-dairy options. We never say no to any dietary request."
All 77 vegetables are indeed organic, with about 70 per cent locally sourced from the 28 organic-certified farms in the UAE, including Dar Al Fateh in Al Ain and Liwa, as well as through the farm champion Ripe. The remaining 30 per cent are imported, mainly from New Zealand and Germany, through the organic supplier Unifrutti, as well as Ripe, which incidentally does not just sell local produce, but ships in organic fruit and vegetables during the halt in the local harvesting season until September, when the supply of local, organic vegetables is extremely limited and forces a reliance on imports.
"Instructions are given to us from the suppliers on how to retain nutrients and we have purchased the machinery to keep them fresh," Megchiani explains. "No chemicals, no preservatives, no canned foods, no carbonated drinks, no sugar and no frozen food. In fact, we don't even have a freezer in the kitchen. Just pure, fresh veggies."
Organic aside, ingredients are only par-cooked, if not served raw - a similar cooking style to the new healthy opening Comptoir 102 cafe on Jumeirah Beach Road. The 33-year-old chef Walter Quadros helms the 77 Veggie kitchen - and is also now a converted vegetarian. "Once you cook vegetables, boil in a gravy or sauce, the vitamins and nutrients become water and they evaporate easily. So we do not boil or fry, we just simmer, steam, sear, bake and pan-roast, using convection cooking. The kitchen equipment we have on board makes magic. They are touch-button machines which indicate when food is ready, like a robot with special software. It tells me exactly how much time I need to steam a vegetable."
77 Veggie Boutique serves à la carte, with dishes changing according to seasonality over breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Meanwhile, the catering arm designs meals for office professionals, children's packed lunches and healthy birthday parties, delivering right through from Jebel Ali to Dubai Mall. French fries are high in demand, but Quadros has his own baked recipe using no oil.
Organic produce may be good for us and bursting with flavour but, sadly, it can also be prohibitively expensive when flown in from the other side of the world, which is why Yael Mejia from Baker & Spice has paved the way for highly popular local farmers' markets. Luckily, the local farms supply Quadros at a competitive rate, which he averages out with the imported goods to bring the price of dishes down to a Dh25-Dh60 range. His signature concoction is an Indian-inspired paneer platter, priced at Dh45. Expect locally sourced paneer marinated in his very own low-fat mayo made from prebiotic yogurt with parsley, oregano and chillies, and then pan-roasted. Further down the line, he plans to produce his own paneer.
Tonic juices are a key component of the menu, as are sauces made from organic herbs, prebiotic yogurts and olive oil - all low-fat - which are also available to take home.
77 Veggie Boutique may have just opened, but Megchiani will not rest on her laurels. "We want to make this an international brand. Already there are more than 200 nationalities here in Dubai. So once this outlet is a success, we'll perhaps open a couple more here, and then New York, where we've already seen a lot of demand for a concept such as ours."
So how do you convince carnivores such as me to eat here? "We are not just aiming at vegetarians. We want everyone and anyone looking for a healthy, balanced and organic meal to come here. You are very welcome," says Megchiani.
77 Veggie Boutique, Tiffany Tower, Lake Level, Cluster W (opposite Damas building), Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai. Call 055 717 8866 or visit www.77veggie.com
Samantha Wood is a freelance journalist and founder of the impartial restaurant review blog www.foodiva.net