I had such high hopes for Lime Tree Café. A little haven in the middle of industrial Al Quoz, this cozy café is just minutes away from my office, a touch of inspiration sprouting up right between the bleak dusty pavements and warehouses on this part of town. I spotted it last week while running an errand at lunch time, and the minute I stepped into the snug little dining room, with wooden benches and blackboard menus and Norah Jones humming in the background, I knew I’d have to return with a good book and curl up inside for coffee or lunch. The place took me back to the homely sidewalk cafes of New York and Austin and Seattle, each with a personal character and appeal that no restaurant in any mall, no matter how big or fancy pants, can match. I know I sound like a sentimental old fart, but places like this just tug at the strings of my heart. I can’t but help fall in love with them.
…UNLESS they rudely smack me in the face by charging me twenty six precious dirhams for a teeny heap of salad. Not cool.
Now there are actually lots of reasons that might justify why the salad was so pricey. You might say, this ain’t an ordinary salad, it’s a schmanzy one with wild rice and roasted pumpkin and feta cheese and pine nuts and beef bacon! Or you may propose, they’re only targeting a certain kind of clientele in Al Quoz [i.e. not the miserly ones like me who eternally scrounge around for free food.] and so the price point makes sense. Or you could grasp me hard by the shoulders and shake some sense into me, waaaake up! it’s not 1994 anymore, this is how much food typically costs in Dubai!
I know all the reasons, I debated them on the drive back to the office, but something about it just felt so wrong. I think it may have had something to do with my walking in with wildly high expectations – for comfy food, soulful music, and that homely wood-finished ambiance – which just made me feel terribly let down because I now suddenly felt scammed. The same brutally smashed expectations I had after I got one of those hideous botched up haircuts this week – the one where you walk out swaying your hair, profusely thanking your stylist for the new-and-exciting-you, and then come crying back the next day because in reality, the raggedy mop look is really not in. Maybe the haircut had something to do with theI feel so outraged and violated…and sad…and now pathetically poor…but mainly just violated…feeling that I had when I walked out of Lime Tree.
What could have made it even worse was that I’d also ordered a lemony-mint drink, which pushed the total bill to over forty three…or was it forty five?…maybe forty two dirhams. It was clearly too painful for me to look at the receipt or count the change that I got back in return for my fifty note. So while I don’t know the exact cost of that drink, I’m quite certain it was a few dirhams too pricey for a simple mix of mint and lemon. Too much for a low-key afternoon work lunch…in Al Quoz
The final straw was the heavy café door, which caught me in midway like a loaded slingshot, and then spewed me out on the pavement under the amused stares of the construction workers outside. How is this Lime Tree’s fault you ask? It isn’t, I blame this entirely on my inordinate clutziness.
To be fair to the place, I’ve given myself a few days to simmer over the experience (and the haircut) before writing this review. Rather than write off the place entirely, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it does deserve a second chance. Partly because ladies night on Thursday involved a deep discussion of the fact that I had failed to try what Lime Tree is really known for, their famed cakes and desserts. Partly because I know I’d had a clutzy mop-haired day that Wednesday when I walked into the cafe, and that it would have taken a LOT – like maybe lobster in truffle sauce for free – to have made me feel better. Partly because a place like that, with its wooden benches and blackboards and Norah Jones music in the backdrop, still tugs at the strings of my heart, the sucker for homely cafes that I am. Partly because I’m getting my paycheck in the next two days, and that violated feeling will soon begone.