Twenty six dirhams…for THAT?!

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.

The Lime Tree Cafe
Al Quoz Industrial Area 1 (near Times Square, and right next to Courtyard), Dubai
Other locations can be found here
Phone: (04) 325 6325

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

14 thoughts on “Twenty six dirhams…for THAT?!

  1. CompleteFoodie says:

    To be fair, your pictures make the salad look a lot nicer then it probably is! Have driven past this place on an almost daily basis but was never really tempted in. 40ish DHS for a salad for lunch does seem a tad bit expensive especially considering how much more you could get for that (Al Reef chilli cheeeeese bread only 8dhs! :P ) but I guess you pay for the name rather then the quality.

    Hope your next outing to the place is a lot better!

  2. Yasmin says:

    I will never understand why they are so over priced. I’m not crazy about their food and neither am I crazy about their desserts. Everyone says their carrot cake is to die for and I never liked it much. But hey, that’s just me!

  3. FooDiva says:

    Umm, yes quite agree that’s way too pricey for what you got, considering you have to order and pay at the counter – even if your photos may it look appealing! I really do think Lime Tree is the most over-rated cafe in this town. OK I have not tried this new Al Quoz location, but have frequented the Jumeirah and Ibn Battuta establishments a number of times (blame my friends for choosing not me). I don’t like food that is pre-prepared and sits there all day waiting for unsuspecting hungry customers. The mix of bizzare ingredients don’t work, it’s way too stodgy and far too much bread-based choices. Their tea also sucks. And call me spoilt but I prefer table service. Their only saving grace is the carrot cake, and that is the only reason I would ever to choose to visit – I have been known to order it at Christmastime as my token festive season cake (I can’t stand fruit cake!). But you’d need to take it home to have a decent cup of tea with it.

  4. Nausheen says:

    I have such a love/hate relationship with that place. I love that it feels like a home-grown, real cafe rather than a sterile, manufactured import. But the food is disappointing. And the portions are teeny.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @CompleteFoodie – Jeez, feels even worse when you put it in that context, I could have had 5 chili cheese breads from Al Reef in place of that one meal. Dangit. I have learned….CHILI CHEESE BREAD, I AM A-COMIN’! ;)

      @Yasmin – Yay, so I’m not crazy after all – I really was underwhelmed for the price I paid. That said, I do love a big fat cream-cheese slathered slice of carrot cake every now and then, so I will give them one more chance for tea some day.

      @FooDiva – I think I’m ok with counter service, adds to the down-to-earth ambiance of the place. Plus it gives me a chance to work up an appetite as I waddle over to put in my order ;) …Another carrot cake lover, gotta try it now!

      @Nausheen – You’ve just said why I was so attracted to this cafe so eloquently! Precisely, it didn’t seem like a sterile manufactured import….oh Lime Tree, you have so much going on for you, why can’t you get the FOOD right?!

  5. AnajsFood4Thought says:

    I also find their salads highly overpriced for what you get on the plate, both portion-wise and from originality point of view. The desserts, however, never fail to deliver, especially portion-wise and are worth their money.

  6. Sally says:

    I really love the new location and the industrial decor and have visited a few times with my daughters. The cakes/desserts are huge – in contrast to the inconsistent portion sizes of the savoury items. It is expensive – and as pointed out it’s self-service and the food is warmed up. The food is hit and miss – I had fantastic tomato soup one day with a slice of bread but next time watery vegetable which I suspect had copious amounts of bouillon powder in (or worse) which was described as hearty (it came with 2 croutons!). I will be back though because the atmosphere is great – and look at the alternatives (Paul under the escalator at MOE? – I think not). Re the door Arva, I always pause for a second, waiting for it to automatically open – a sure sign I have been in Dubai far too long!!

  7. sdangit says:

    I really liked Lime Tree when I first arrived in Dubai 3.5 years ago but all my subsequent visits have been greatly disappointing – in flavor, portion size, and like you mentioned – pricing as well. And since I don’t like carrot cake, I can’t even say if that’s worth going for or not.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Anja’sFood4Thought – You know, with all this dessert talk going on, I feel really lame for walking in and ordering a SALAD. I’m gonna go back and aright this terrible wrong over a colossal slice of carrot cake.

      @Saleem – We do, but I need a break from the routine now and then! But true, I knocked myself on the head for not just staying in the office for free food.

      @Sally – Thanks for sharing the experiences Sally, I will stay clear of the watery vegetable and give the desserts a try, everyone has spoken highly of them so far. Yeh, the door thing was pretty mortifying. It wasn’t automatic which is why I bungled up – imagine, Dubai’s uber-automated mall-covered empire has rid me of my door-opening abilities. Next time I’m gonna pause, and then do a mad dash for the door when SOMEONE ELSE is leaving. They say, if you can’t do it, then get a free ride. [Actually there’s no ’they,’ but heck, I say it.]

      @sdangit – wow, more not-so-great reviews. For some reason I would heard the name before, assumed there was a lot of positive hype around it. Sad to see that my experience was not inconsistent with everyone else’s….was hoping mine was a one-off :( all my hopes for escaping here for a lunch or two in the week are now officially dashed, but since I am a carrot cake slave, all is not lost…?

  8. Miti says:

    I have been to lime tree cafe once – and the place smelled like raw eggs, the quiche served was cold and chewy and coffee seemed like it only had milk. I never went back again.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Rashmi – hey there! thanks for stopping by as always, you’re a sweetie. :) Can’t wait for more food adventures together in Mumbai!

      @Miti – ewwww. Cold chewy quiche sounds positively yucky. And I had such high hopes for the coffee. Well, I still have to give their carrot cake a shot, so fingers crossed…

  9. sssourabh says:

    I actually like the look of this salad. I would eat it ;) And then go somewhere down the street for dessert! I can totally IMAGINE the conversation we’d have at this place – an excited Sourabh and a fuming you. :) Only to be united by chocolate later.


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