So now that I've been in Dubai a few weeks, I've had ample opportunities to check out the burgeoning acai industry (!) here. Dubai is the city in which I was born, but I am truly amazed at the fact that it is a completely different city every time I come back! Truly, it looks different each year. It is incredible. I became vegan almost seven years ago, and it was literally not even a word you would see on a single menu here. Now, we have this incredible new cafe culture, with Ripe Market, endless ethical and conscious cafes, raw desserteries, and more. I can't wait to see what the future brings.
So with that, this Acai-afficionado has laid out for you the best of the biz when it comes to Brazilian bowls. In general, cafes here are WAY stingier with Acai than they are in LA. This is a dangerous cycle, because if no other cafes step up and offer generous portion sizes at reasonable rates, then people who live here (e.g. my family and friends) assume this is the normal market price and that such things are simply too expensive. I know for a fact that this is not true, and healthy, organic offerings can be accessible. However, because the scene is so new here, cafes can get away with hiking up prices. Generally though, the quality is exceptional in the places I've tried and I still love and appreciate everything these places are doing (even the ones I judged harshly). Ill update this post as I try more. If you work for a cafe in Dubai (or AD, NYC) and want me to try your plant based power, shoot me an email at email@example.com!
Common Grounds, Mall of the Emirates
This cafe is super trendy and veryyyyy busy. You may have to wait to get a table -- but its worth it. The Acai bowl is the best I've had in Dubai because it tastes amazing, but it has a more generous portion size than other cafes. Plus, the staff really put an effort into presentation that takes the experience to the next level -- I mean, look at it, with edible flowers and homemade granola. You definitely don't feel like you have a dollar sign hanging over your head. That is, they aren't stingy with the toppings, and you get delicious, fresh, tropical fruit like passion fruit and dragon fruit (which are expensive) - so you know that they aren't trying to cut corners by skimping on you.
Surf Cafe, Jumeirah
This cafe was cool - I went on a Friday morning with my family so it was super busy. I loved the ambience - it had a very Melbourne cafe feel, which we New Zealanders appreciate. One of my favorite things about Dubai is its multiculturalism - and it is truly unique in this. In Surf Cafe, you will find locals, Asians, Europeans, Australians, Arabs, Indians and just about everything else eating together. Families; young people; kids. Everything. It's very lively and there is good music. However, I was there with my sister and our parents, and our food all came at different times. This makes for a really uncomfortable dining experience. We would all rather have waited a little bit longer and been able to eat together. Because the Acai bowls were the first to arrive, my sister and I couldn't even wait for our parents' food because they would melt.
There are several different Acai bowl varieties to choose from, most (but not all) vegan. I chose the 'Fruits' option, while my sister ordered 'The Vegan'. The staff were unaccommodating with substitutions. For instance, the Fruits bowl is made of Acai, mango, yogurt (optional), Coconut milk, kiwi, strawberry, blueberry, pomegranate, and has granola on the side. I asked to sub out granola for extra fruit - very simple - but the staff were inflexible and couldn't really comprehend the change and how to calculate price changes and so on. It made me feel like I was just a dollar sign, and that my customer experience was not really very important relative to my just being a vehicle for profit. In any case, fruit probably would have been cheaper for the restaurant than organic granola, but the staff weren't trained that way. If you do get an extra topping, its around 5dhs for, like, a large tablespoon (e.g, the granola in the photo below). That being said, the taste of the bowl was absolutely delicious, and I was in heaven while I was enjoying my tiny portion! Yum!
'The Vegan' contains Acai, kale, spinach, cacao nibs, coconut milk, coconut chips and banana. When it came, it was not blended properly at all. It was filled with chunks of kale. I don't even mean one or two chunks, it was like a chunky kale soup. As though it hadn't even been put through a blender for more than two seconds. My sister complained and asked for it to be redone with less kale, and blended properly. They did this, but again, it was awkward as our food was all arriving at different times.
Moreover, the extra mango she ordered on the side was literally a large tablespoon of super unripe mango. It costed AED5, but was so not worth it because it was not sweet or juicy at all.
Taste: 10/10 for the Fruits; 6/10 for The Vegan
Texture: 10/10 for the Fruits; 1/10 for The Vegan (at first, but then 8/10 after when it was remade)
Portion: 5/10 -- so, so small
The Stomping Ground, Jumeirah
I got to try this place on my one-day stopover between Jordan and New York, thanks to my sister's recommendation. We went there on a Friday evening with my mother for coffee and a bwol, nd it was so good that we returned for breakfast the following morning! It was so extraordinarily busy on Friday evening, which is a testament to the effort put into creating an ambient environment, sourcing top quality coffee (and matcha for me), and diverse offerings. The acai bowl there comes with yogurt - ugh, seriously, why? So unnecessary. Why ruin a good thing! Im sometimes inclined to believe this is because yogurt is less expensive than acai, and so bulks up the bowl without cutting into profit.
This was no problem - we just requested it without yogurt. he bowl they gave us was small, but it was so exquisite. Absolutely everything about it was luscious, from the creamy texture to the sweet taste of the sorbet and the crunch of the house granola. It was simply beautiful.
Comptoir 102, Jumeirah
Comptoir 102 is my sister's absolutely favorite cafe in Dubai. She loves the coffee (I admit, it's reallllllly good), so she loves to go there on a Friday morning. My mum, my sister and I planned to go to Ripe Market one weekend but due to heavy thunder and lightning, it had been cancelled, so we came here instead. You can actually watch my vlog/video diary from this day on my Youtube channel and see everything I did/ate.
I ordered the Acai bowl, which my sister said was delicious. It has chocoland, almond milk, coconut water and banana, and is topped with berries and pecans. It tasted amazing and was definitely not watery and diluted, but my pet peeve is when establishments perpetuate the myth that eating clean, plant based food is a pretentious lifestyle reserved for the elite by serving overpriced food in ridiculously tiny portions. I recognize that ingredients are more expensive here, but just like Surf Cafe, AED45 for 1/2 cup of smoothie bowl is not reasonable -- and I know that because I actually make Acai home, and adding in another banana or a few more frozen berries wouldn't hike up cost price too much, but would make for a better customer experience. It's a small investment: it might cost the establishment a few more dollars, but I wouldn't leave feeling like I had been cheated, and would probably become a return customer and invest far more in the company in the long-run. Sorry for the severe judgement, but it comes from a place of love and light - I still appreciate everything this cafe is doing to advance the message of holistic, plant based and cruelty-free nutrition. I just think this message would be better advanced if people didn't have a wrong perception about organic food being inaccessible.
The Sum of Us, Sheikh Zayed Road
So I'm pretty sure this cafe is affiliated with Common Grounds, which is probably why they both have the same exceptional standard of presentation, customer service, product offering and general 'vibe'. Like Common Grounds, this cafe is buzzing. It has an amazing mix of locals, foreigners and the like, all brought together over a mutual love of good food and amazing, ethically-sourced coffee. There are plenty of plant-based options and the porridge here (subbed almond milk instead of creme fraiche) is genuinely the best porridge I've EVER had in my life -- and that's coming from someone who thinks porridge just tastes the same anywhere. This was a whoooole different experience, with vanilla poached pairs and perfectly tender whole, rolled oats, swimming in fresh, house-made almond creme. My only complaint was the kale-pineapple smoothie I ordered, which was literally just flavored (almond) milk. I had to sent it back and ask for more fruit and kale to be blended in, because I couldn't taste it at all. Perhaps the pineapple was unripe, because the flavor wasn't strong, even when they added more.
The Acai bowl isn't a bowl per-se, but rather a fruit salad with Acai-sorbet -- and that's how it's advertised, so I'm not trying to imply any deceit or anything like that. It's described as a fruit bowl with Acai sorbet, cherry ice and almond crumble. It was totally delicious. You can tell they use good quality product, but what takes the experience above-and-beyond is their dedication to stunning presentation. When a cafe invests effort into this, they are sending the message that they genuinely care about pleasing their customer, and that they see their offering as a craft about which they are passionate - not as a simple, robotic vehicle for profit. Every single plate in this cafe is stunning, and the Acai sorbet/fruit salad is no exception. Sidenote: apparently the fruit salad used to come with vanilla ice cream instead -- I love that they moved to a plant-based option. Keep it up, guys! The almond crumble and cherry ice were also heaaaavenly.
Texture: The lashings of Acai weren't sufficient to be able to judge intensely, but the little bites I got felt 10/10 to me
Portion: The dish as a whole got a 10/10, but I wish there were more Acai in it
The Sum of Us - UPDATED
So guys, the Sum of Us redid their menu. It is delicious, and there are a lot more vegan options! And added to the cohort is a full-on Acai Bowl! And needless to say, it did NOT disappoint. Once again, they've smashed it out of the park with quality product that is also delicious, healthy and beautiful. Definitely tied for first place with Common Grounds! Side note -- their new coconut mango chia pudding is also exceptional.
Texture: Velvety smooth, with crunch from the toppings
So here it is guys, sorry if I was harsh -- but it all comes from a place of love and light because I want the world to understand how beautiful, accessible and nourishing a plant-based diet can be. I want people to know that choosing a lifestyle that is ethical, sustainable and conscious does not have to be a sacrifice at all. In fact, it's a pleasure.
I'll keep adding more to the list as I try new places, and will work on LA and NYC ones too! And of course, if you want to make your own, you can check out my recipe for a delicious Acai bowl and homemade oil free granola!
Have you been to any of these cafes? Or any other Acai places here? Let me know in the comments below!