As I read through a forwarded email advert that spoke about a place called Wild Peeta, boasting fusion shawarmas, “service of the highest standards,” and advocacy of the local arts, music and sports scene, I was immediately reminded of yuppie falafel, a trend that’s been rapidly catching on in New York.
My co-worker from my days in New York had once explained over lunch break: yuppie falafel is high-priced falafel, made with higher quality - even exotic - ingredients, in prettier or trendier wrapping and takeout boxes, and which may promote some sort of organic, eco-friendly, community-supporting, or all of the above, cause. And, typically yuppie falafel places cater to young affluent professionals – the kind who've signed up for expensive gym memberships, who've read enough fitness and health magazines to know that you may as well cover yourself with superglue and roll around in a toxic landfill than consume KFC and McDonalds everyday, and who are conscious of how co-workers are going to eye their lunchbox (do you really want to be that person with greasy pizza and oily mozzarella sticks when everyone else is forking around in their salads, dressing on the side please?) But most importantly, these – let’s call them yuppie falafel’ers – are not only willing, but are able to pay more for all of the above. More than McDonalds, even more than Subway. And whether or not the prettier organic save-the-whales falafel is actually tastier than the half-priced styrofoam falafel shack down the road, well who knows. You’d be relying on the reviews of people who were willing to shell out double the price for a better, all-encompassing and world-changing falafel in their lunch hour.
But getting back to Wild Peeta, they had all the markings of a yuppie falafel place, or in this case, yuppie shawarma place. One look at their website, describing the company’s vision, mission statement (complete with “The Four Pillars”), brand vision, even brand dimensions, a seven-bulleted mantra, and every other MBA-level buzz word you can imagine, was enough to convince me of their yuppie membership.
Don’t get me wrong. I was a yuppie falafal’er every now and again back in the day. And I fully support organic food and eco-friendly business. But I also want the high-priced goods to pass the basic taste and overall meal experience test. Some yuppie places make the cut, while others, well, they’re just high-priced. So I landed up at Wild Peeta to find out where they fell along that spectrum, with a little mental scorecard of food and non-food factors that would be rated on whether I was ‘Wild’ about it (in the most positive, complimentary sense of the word), or ‘not so Wild’ about it.
Not so wild about it. The open-faced, customize-your-shawarma kitchen concept, which somewhat reminded me of Subway’s sandwich fillings counter, just longer, conquered most of the space inside, leaving a cramped aisle with a few uninspiring veneered wooden tables for the few odd yuppies or families who decide to not grab-and-go with their lunch. The owners would have done better by the modern locally-painted comic art on the walls had they complemented it with tall, modernistic (and space-saving) circular tables and stools rather than lackluster wooden furniture.
Wild about it. The grab-and-go order line, ability to customize your own shawarma, and servers sandwich artists who are knowledgeable about what goes into the Wild Peeta sauces or their freshly made drinks reassures the inquisitive, calorie-counting young professional of today that his questions about what’s going into that basil dressing or whether their orange juice is loaded with sugar/preservatives can be quickly answered before he’s back in front of his computer screen. Additionally, maybe it was a factor of Wild Peeta being a newcomer on the Dubai scene, but the sandwich artists were extremely friendly and helpful, giving us free samples of their drinks and coming up to our little (cramped) table to solicit suggestions.
3. Food: I’ve broken out this category into the sub-categories of taste and quality of the ingredients going into the main Peeta and salad concoctions, delivery of their fusion concept, and gastro-performance of side players (i.e. drinks and desserts).
Wild about it. There was a major ‘fresh’ and wholesome theme coming through in their dishes. Fresh meat and chicken from their shawarma spit, tons of fresh veggies to toss into your Peeta, the availability of vegan options, and the freshly-made, sugar-and-preservative-free juices like the Refresh (AED 16), made from green apples, ginger, and of course green tea (double yuppy score!), all checked the green, healthy, not-mass-produced-junk-disguised-as-a-chicken-nugget box.
The chicken in our Peetas, by virtue of them being sliced off regularly from the rotating spit, was wonderfully juicy and tender, and not overcooked the way Shawarma meat sometimes tends to get if it’s been sliced off and left near the hot spit for too long. As for the bread, I could care less about whether it was truly fresh baked on the premises (as Wild Peeta claims on their site) or delivered by the French Bakery (as suspiciously labeled on the Peeta packets displayed on the racks upfronts). All I care about was that my jaws sank into the soft airy folds of the warm Peeta bread like someone lazily sinking into a soft, comforting mattress, both experiences culminating in a long sigh of total contentment and peace with a world that knows how to make its mattresses and Peetas. The pinto bean spread and yoghurt-coriander sauce in the Mexican peeta hit an equally high flavor and quality note, as did the Moroccan couscous salad with tons of freshly ground pepper, sweet raisins, cool chickpeas, and couscous grains cooked to a perfect light and fluffy texture.
My only major disappointment was the quality of the tomato sauce in my Margherita Peeta – totally bland and tasteless, and saved only by the chicken and Peeta which could have made a killer sandwich on their own, without the Margherita sauce imposter thrown in the middle.
3b) Delivery of the fusion food concept?
Not wild about it. At least not yet. But they’re definitely part of the way there. Wild Peeta started out with the right idea and fresh basic ingredients, but missed a couple of internationally-inspired beats that could have really made their 14 to 17 dirham Peetas a well-executed fusion concept. For instance, how can you have a Margherita Chicken Peeta without mozzarella, or use watered-down basil and olive oil sauce instead of the fresh basil that is an entry-ticket to Margheritaland? And while the coriander-yoghurt sauce with the Mexican Peeta was supremely yummy, why hadn’t they used sour cream instead of yoghurt, maybe a splash of spicy salsa, or at least an avocado slice or two to simulate guacamole, especially if I’m paying AED 7 more than a traditional no-frills shawarma, or about AED 2 to 3 more than a Subway sandwich?
3c) Side players?
Wild about it. This was the domain in which Wild Peeta had some outstanding taste victories, far more so than its core Peeta sandwiches. The Refresh drink made for a refreshing summer drink, with mellow notes of green apple and cool green tea, with the spicy sensation of a ginger aftertaste tingling in your throat as the liquid goes down. The dessert (AED 7), a miniature but dense chocolate brownie with a dash of tahini sauce was a decadent end to an otherwise healthy lunch. The savory sesame paste-based tahini sauce – a surprising, and initially nauseating idea when thought of simultaneously with chocolate – added a nutty, grainy texture to the dessert that acted like a speed-bump for the rich brownie crumbs in my mouth, helping them linger on my tongue with chocolatey goodness for a while longer before I dug into my next bite.
At a ‘Wild-Not so wild’ score of 3-2, I’d say that Wild Peeta is an up-and-coming contender to other quick lunch options in the area, and definitely worth a taste – whether yuppie or not. With a few more imaginative fusion touches to their Peetas, they could really deliver on the “excitingly WILD twist” advertised on their website, and more fully justify the higher price point for a shawarma sandwich.
I’m hopeful that Wild Peeta will continue to refine its early concept with the suggestions they’re actively soliciting from diners. In the meantime, for all you young on-the-go professionals working in the Healthcare city area, this is definitely a lunch place to hit up once, maybe even twice in a week, when you feel like your hard work is deserving of a more internationally inspired, fully customizable Peeta than what you’d find at the local shawarma joint around the corner.