Even if you are an avid follower of restaurant news, you may be hard pushed to keep up with the openings along Emaar Boulevard these days. In the space of a few weeks, dozens of outlets have emerged from behind hoardings to sell everything from traditional Lebanese (Leila) to Irish (Bennigans) and American (Hollywood Burger). But let’s focus on this week’s simultaneous openings at the far end of the road that encircles Downtown, just opposite the Fashion Avenue entrance of the mall, and at the foot of Burj Khalifa. Two cafes, two very different ends of the coffee spectrum.
Firstly, there’s the first UAE outlet of Maison Du Cafe, the restaurant brand created by Lebanese coffee lords Cafe Najjar. This is THE place to come if you want to try what’s generally known as Turkish coffee -- the small cups of thick coffee made by boiling the grounds and water together in a small pan. Cafe Najjar is a sought-after roastery, which created the Maison Du Cafe chain in order to serve its coffee in-house. There are 12 varieties available, and the helpful menu explains the characteristics and how it should be served, such as whether it benefits from more or less sugar (sugar is added during the coffee-making process) or a few drops of orange blossom water.
Freshness is key, says Louay Moursel, operation manager at the cafe. “The beans are roasted in Lebanon, and ground here when the customer orders it. We do not grind in large quantities, and it’s never kept for the next day.”
The small cups are a great way to try out the blends, which include the famously expensive Jamaican Blue Mountain -- here, a cup is just Dh35 (although once you’re hooked, you’ll pay plenty to take home a few hundred grams -- the cafe also sells all beans to take home). Most popular are the Dubai and Beirut blends. “When we decided to open in Dubai, we asked Mr Najjar for something special. He gave us the Dubai blend, which is a secret blend,” says Moursel.
Suitably buzzed? Take yourself over to Giolittli, an Italian import just a few doors down. Here, they also serve coffee, but you’re really here for two things: gelato and fettuccini. I love places, like these two, that focus on one or two things, and make sure they do them right. The gelato at Giolitti, a Roman parlour founded in 1900, is sensational. And it’s only 7-8 per cent fat, according to the owner, Antonio Borraccino. The gelato -- a super-creamy Italian version of ice cream, Dh15-25 depending on portion size -- is a closely-guarded, unchanged recipe, and all staff at the restaurant are Italians who are resident in the UAE. “One hundred years ago, it was impossible to make gelato with chemicals,” says Borraccino. “It’s Italian without compromise.” But before you get started on the gelato, save space for fettucini Alfredo. This, apparently, is the “real” alfredo (no chicken, the Italians are at pains to mention). Behind a glass window, chefs make fresh egg pasta by hand, cutting it into thick ribbons. At your tableside, another presents a bowlful topped with butter (churned in-house) and fistfuls of 16-month old Parmesan cheese (that’s quite young, and it’s slightly creamier). That’s all. Then, by simply mixing the three ingredients carefully, over and over, a thick, creamy sauce is made. It’s incredible. It’s cheesy, tangy, salty, creamy and the pasta is just slightly firm. It’s Dh70 per person.