Coffee culture is at its peak. Wander through any mall or busy city street in the UAE and it’s always the coffee shops that are heaving with customers, looking for their daily caffeine fix. As huge lovers of coffee, we’re always on the search for new cafes to sample as we (attempt to) move away from the huge capitalist chains and into more locally owned and independent coffee shops.
Post-Ramadan a place in downtown Abu Dhabi has been gaining a lot of traction as the latest ‘must visit’ neighborhood cafe. Following hot on the heels of the popular Third Place and Steroid Cafe comes the launch of Cafe 302 on the less than desirable Hamdan Street.
Hamdan is the lifeblood of downtown Abu Dhabi. A street that’s been in existence ever since the capital was established and despite no longer being the tourist hub of earlier years, its still an extremely popular place that’s buzzing with footfall no matter the time of the day or night. Cafe 302 can be found at the busy juncture of Hamdan Street and Fatima Mint Mubarak Street and is situated within the recently revamped Al Maha Arjaan Hotel by Rotana. We’re very familiar with the property having stayed there for a number of months upon arriving in Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago. It was our base while we awaited visa processing and searched for accommodation and despite being pretty nondescript, we have fond members of the friendly team.
Walking into Cafe 302 for the first time in years, the transformation is astounding. What used to be a soulless all-day-dining restuarant (of which we don’t even remember the name), the space has been transformed into a cosmopolitan neighborhood cafe. One that wouldn’t be out of place is New York’s Soho district or London’s Shoreditch. If Abu Dhabi had more of a hipster culture, you’d likely find them here at Cafe 302 with their manicured mustaches, tapping away incessantly on there iMacs.
The space is embracing and we immediabetluy feel at home, in part due to the warm staff who have remained with the space despite it’s new name, new look and well… new everything! A number of staff come to ask how we are and how our children have been? An impressive fact considering we hadn’t returned to the hotel since checking out over two years ago. That’s quality customer service for you.
Gone are the shop brought yogurts and stale croissants that made up the breakfast buffet in the locations previous guise. Cafe 302 has not only changed aesthetically but the entire menu has taken on a far more artisanal approach, with everything freshly made in house, including an extensive selection of baked breads and French pastries. Visiting for breakfast we’re impressed by not only the a la carte options but also the reduced and more quality driven breakfast buffet. Featuring the expected breakfast staples of pancakes, waffles, sausages and veal bacon.
It’s a refreshing approach that allows Cafe 302 to cater to not only the hotel guests who get breakfast as part of their room rate but to the passing trade from the abundance of office workers in the vicinity. The team behind Cafe 302 have cleverly utilized the space and transformed it into an attractive option that really stands out amongst the fast food outlets and shawarma shops for which Hamdan is renowned. The modern, bright and almost boutique feel is unique for its downtown location and has a distinctive visual appeal.
Foliage abounds in a space made for exploration and attention to detail is impressive. As you travel through the multi-faceted space of lounge, coffee bar and restaurant, you quickly realize that everything is for sale. From the shelves stacked with imported Italian olive oil, through the to the aprons and chopping boards that hang haphazardly from the walls, as if left there by a passing chef. The approach is unique and feels far more natural than the hard sell of merchandising, in outlets with a similar concept (Carluccio’s).
One of the first things we noticed was how reasonable the prices were. Coffee is very well priced and is significantly cheaper than the Starbuck’s located a short stones throw across the street. To say the pricing structure is competitive would be a vast understatement, yet it appears as though the quality has (thankfully) not been sacrificed in the process. We were so impressed by the breakfast… that we returned for dinner just a few days later.
The beauty of Cafe 302 is it’s transitional nature and with the passing of the day, the menu and the space adapt accordingly. With breakfast out of the way, the buffet is cleared and the central island is utilized as more of a deli concept, offering imported produce from Austria, Italy and France (think balsamic vinegars and pastas), all available to try before you buy. At lunchtime the food is aimed predominantly at passing office workers, with a selection of health conscious salads and sandwiches that are very appealing. As night falls Cafe 302 takes on a more formal approach as it transitions into more of a dinner setting.
The dinner menu is varied, taking in pizzas, pastas, burgers and curries but only offering a handful of choices in each category. Torn between the Cafe Burger and the Braised Beef Short Rib on Rustic Roll, we settled on the latter and were not disappointed. The fresh roll is stuffed with pickled onions, aged cheddar cheese, rocca and the sticky short rib. The task of eating said sandwich is not the easiest of undertakings but it’s worth every nuance of effort. Accompanied by hand cut fries and herb aioli, the portions (much like the prices) are more than generous.
With a pastry case full of cheesecakes, cookies and other sweet treats. The idea of dessert was more than a little appealing and upon the chef’s recommendation, we gleefully devoured the Potted Banana Cream Pie with its macadamia nut crust and soft caramel. A fantastic dessert that’s more than enough for two people and could well give the infamous version at Magnolia Bakery a run for its money – it’s that good.
Intrigued by the Kyoto Cold Press Coffee, looking more like a chemistry set than a brewing method. The process involves organic coffee that’s been handpicked and brewed for ten hours, before being refrigerated for three days, to enhanced the flavours and draw out the subtle taste of honey and dates (interestingly, if brewed hot it takes on the flavour of cherries). Served over ice, the coffee will not be to everyone’s liking for it’s exceptionally strong and the flavour somewhat bitter. However for coffee obsessives like ourselves, it provided a much needed hit of caffeine that’s likely to keep you going all day!
With an open door policy and seperate entrance from the street, Cafe 302 doesn’t feel as though its part of the Maha Arjaan Hotel. A selection of well timed promotions, daily Burger Hour (daily between 4pm – 7pm) and Daddy Sundays (in which prices are reduced for all fathers dining), certainly add to the cafes appeal. If visiting after 8pm everything in the displays is reduced by 50%, perfect for those not wanting to cook after a long day at work.
Cafe 302 has become quite the talking point in Abu Dhabi and an oasis of calm on busy Hamdan. It’s not just the New York style fit out, the artisanal baked breads or the cold brew coffee. None of this screams Hamadan Street, in fact none of this really screams Abu Dhabi. It’s new, it’s unique and best of all it’s good!
Location: Al Maha Arjaan by Rotana, Hamdan Street, Al Markaziya, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 6am – 10:30pm
Phone: 02 610 6666
We were invited to dine at Cafe 302. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.