One of Dubai's newest restaurants has something more unusual than miso cod and rarer than truffles on its menu: ethics.
Organically farmed produce isn't a novelty in the UAE, although restaurants that serve it are still few and far between. But The Farm, the restaurant at the Al Barari development off Emirates Road, has gone beyond just making sure the food on their diners' plates is organic — ingredients are expected to be sustainably produced and fairly traded, and the company has a commitment to treating staff fairly, says its manager Maheesha Ratnayake.
"We're building something different for Dubai, which captures what Al Barari is about — a lot of passion, a lot of attention to detail. As far as cuisine is concerned, we keep it as fresh as possible, as pure as possible."
The Farm — as the name indicates, some of the produce served is grown on the property — had its official launch at the end of last month, but has been serving its home-baked breads, vegan tofu scramble and chocolate brownies to the residents of the development and neighbouring Arabian Ranches for a few weeks already.
The location is the first thing that surprises — off the dusty Emirates Road is the residential development, which is 80 per cent green space and which Al Barari claims has its own micro-climate. It's certainly a little fresher, and the lush, almost untamed greenery is reminiscent of the tropics. The Farm is at its heart, with a contemporary yet gentle design by Leslie Zaal (the same that can be found in many of the homes in the development).
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it's health-conscious without being health food — so while the menu has that tofu scramble (one of the most popular dishes, says Ratnayake, at Dh28) and gluten-free bakery items, there is also lemon and smoked aubergine soup (Dh32), a grilled (grassfed New Zealand) rib eye steak (Dh125) and cauliflower bake (Dh30). Dishes — even the soups and salads — vary from lunch to dinner, and there is an extensive build-your-own panini menu.
That menu is presented on an iPad, and it's not just to be hip, according to Ratnayake — it's about being able to change the menu according to what is freshest on the day.
"Everything is very seasonal, very fresh, so we can't get limited by a printed menu — things change, and we are ready to adapt to that at any given time," he says.
Freshness and availability (or the lack thereof) is one reason the Seychelles-born chef Yves de Lafontaine would choose not to use aubergines on any given day; ethics is another.
The restaurant's commitment to ethically sourced produce is a nice idea, but a very tall order.
"We are in touch with each and every single producer that we buy from," Ratnayake says. "If they are produced locally, obviously we have the luxury of being able to travel to the farm, to see how things are done, to see how the labour force is treated. We buy a lot of our fresh produce from Abu Dhabi, but we also source from different parts of the world.
"One of the mechanics we use as a tool to find out if we are trading ethically, buying ethically, is to follow the CNN Freedom Project, which gives you a map of the world, to see where things are coming from, to see where it's being sourced from, if there's any forced labour — if there's unethical behaviour in the manufacturing and the trading of these goods. We follow that very stringently."
Equally, there is a commitment to good treatment of staff. "The people that work here on the farm are really well looked after," Ratnayake says. "We've exceeded industry expectations and standards of how hospitality staff are treated. You can quote me on that. We've really gone the extra mile for them."
The Farm is within the Al Barari development off Emirates Road. The slip road is about 1 km after the Al Ain Road intersection when heading towards Abu Dhabi. Call 04-3744544.