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Food meets fad

In a city that celebrates shopping, is it any wonder that fashion cafés are trending across Dubai? GN Focus takes a closer look at the collection

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A artist's impression of the Vogue Cafe, which opens at The Dubai Mall next month
GN Focus

Surely, fashion cafés have been decades in the making. It was back in 1961 that Holly Golightly had her breakfast at Tiffany’s — a daily cuppa and Danish pastry while window-shopping. In the movie, fashion, of course, was taken care of by placing Audrey Hepburn (right) against the whimsical luxury brand. But there has been obvious room for an entrepreneurial sequel in the form of a café.

In the UAE, it may now be possible to channel the ditzy socialite at several new venues. The trend was kick-started by Giorgio Armani, whose Milanese restaurant concept, Armani/Dubai Caffè at The Dubai Mall, has been the fashionistas’ It-café for years now. Fashion TV’s Michael Adam was in town last month to launch F Café at Al Wahda Mall in Abu Dhabi. The brand plans to open three more cafés in Dubai, where the women, Adams says, are “fashion forward”. The newest on the block is Vogue Café, scheduled to open at the Dubai Mall in the next few weeks following a partnership with regional food and management company Inspired Group.

“Elite, aspirational, upmarket and unique” is how Seehal Anil Shah from Inspired Brands describes the new café. “It’s important that the consumer recognises the Vogue traits of style and sophistication and the association between the two,” says Shah, whose company is also working on the concept for a GQ Bar, planned for 2013-14.

Located in the 96,000-square-foot Level Shoe District store, Vogue Café is meant to cater to excesses of style. “We’ve designed an open plan interior, so it will be a great venue for people watching,” says Shah.

Stylish ambience

Addressing the same demographic is CHI Hospitality, which has announced the opening of Soho Bar & Grill in Century Village. “We are thrilled to be bringing something that is this fresh and forward-thinking to the marketplace...comprising people who desire something uplifting, unique and varied,” says CEO Ara Nakhnikian. The ambience, key to the concept, is in keeping with the theme. The venue features an urban, stripped back design with industrial accents and a lively atmosphere.

Skinny truths

To the uninitiated, the idea of fashion cafés has always been a bit incongruous, bringing to mind images of scrawny supermodels lunching on carrot sticks. Tellingly, when Fashion Café, a theme restaurant chain fronted by nineties’ supermodels Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Elle McPherson folded up in 1998, three years after its launch, newspapers reported a “low-capital diet” as one of the causes.

Then again, that was before muffin-topped cupcakes became an honest-to-goodness trend. Trend watchers blame it on another New York shop, Magnolia Bakery, where the enviably thin Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City stopped by to devour cupcakes. Sarah Jessica Parker’s fashion credentials have been talked about ever since — invading aliens interchanged her head and torso with her pet chihuahua in Mars Attacks!

Long after Parker left her pearly teeth marks on it, Magnolia has found a mini home in Dubai. The bakery opened a Doha store last month. “Magnolia Bakery is a luxury brand that has been embraced by the Middle East as evidenced by our success in Dubai,” Steve Abrams, CEO and Owner, says in a statement. “Because of this and the region’s enthusiastic interest in Magnolia Bakery, we have chosen the Middle East as our first area of international expansion.”

The brand has proved its fashion cred time and again, most recently by teaming with Swarovski during New York Fashion Week to create a cupcake topped with sparkles and an edible 
blue gem.

Classic cuisine

Certainly, food is no afterthought at the fashion cafés that are sprouting in Dubai. Vogue Café plans to present a menu by chi-chi chef Gary Robinson. “We will serve everything from a chilled lobster cocktail with ginger and lime dressing, to monkfish and king prawn Thai curry and yet another Vogue classic in the making, the char-grilled Wagyu burger with a twist. Treats such as elderflower jelly, apricot and pistachio tart or a delicious hot chocolate pudding will be served to those with a sweet tooth,” says Shah.

Armani/Dubai Caffè claims to be renowned for its homemade bread, croissants and pasta, fresh and healthy soups and salads, gelati and classic Italian cuisine.

Soho Bar & Grill promises steaks, ribs, handmade burgers and bar bites, along with beef ribs and Wagyu burgers to New York cut steaks and prime Australian Wagyu steaks.

Officials from Al Shafi Investment Group, the company that launched the F Café in Abu Dhabi, say that the destination is not merely about coffee. Plans include fashion-themed events, updating guests about the latest trends and supporting local fashion designers.

We may end up spotting waif-like supermodels munching on celery sticks, after all. ■