Pantry Cafe is a cafe and delicatessen with branches in both Al Wasl Square (close to Safa Park) and Bay Square (Downtown Dubai). With coffee culture being rife in the Emirates of late, it seems like a sensible move to capitalise on this trend.
Pantry Cafe is a promising prospect and the first from Retail & Beyond, the team behind the frankly wonderful BU and Aji. Pantry is an altogether different concept, being neither fine dining, nor South American inspired. This may be part of the problem.
Pantry Cafe blends into the casual dining landscape a little too well and our initial impression was that we’d stepped into a Starbucks. Polished concrete floors, exposed brickwork, industrial ducting and plenty of wood, make for a harmless and inoffensive decor, but there’s nothing to set Pantry Cafe apart from their competitors.
Moving away from the decor and the hybrid cafe / shop set-up that’s becoming all to common at the moment, Pantry’s menu shows promise. In fact, it was this specific factor that brought us out of our fine dining comfort zone and into Pantry Cafe for a weekend review. Seductive images of Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs, bacon, black beans, chipotle sour cream, tortilla, avocado and pico de gallo) and The Hangover (herbed organic eggs , wagyu meat balls, caramelized onion, Emmental, garlic lime aioli and brioche) had piqued our interest and prompted us to leave the confines of the house on a sunny Saturday lunchtime.
Unlike the decor, the menu at least tries to differentiate Pantry Cafe from the crowd. Dishes like Masala French Toast (an Indian-inspired, savoury take on the breakfast favourite) and Masala Omelette, show Head Chef Yogesh Rambhujun is looking to subvert expectations and re-interpret classic dishes. Yet despite an extensive menu and a push towards healthier options, the results are somewhat of a mixed bag.
Pantry Cafe offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we inevitably find ourselves drawn towards the breakfast choices. Which are not only served all day (a huge plus in our books) but promote the use of organic eggs, locally sourced. French Toast (classic not Masala) is our favourite dish of the day and offers a slab of sweet brioche at least an inch and a half thick and topped with mixed berries, poached pairs, maple syrup, butterscotch and a generous helping of mascarpone. It’s fluffy, sweet, comforting and altogether pleasing for a lazy weekend.
The Skillet Baked Pancakes on the other hand, are a complete disaster. It’s a great dish to look at, stacked high with caramel popcorn and wild berries, before being topped with caramel, dulce de leche and a scoop of cereal flavoured ice cream. The pancakes are ultra-thick and this proves to be the problem, as they’re far too dense and not sweet enough. The texture is bizarre and we imagine the experience to be similar to that of eating wet concrete.
The trend of disappointment continues with the Slow Cooked Beef Bao. Another good-looking dish let down by textures. Bao have taken the world by storm in the past year or two, though the word has seemingly only recently spread to Dubai. We can handle the copious amounts of Aji Amarillo which almost make the dish too hot to consume enjoyably, but are unable to forgive the textures. The Bao bun should be a delight and when prepared properly, is light and fluffy. Here at Pantry Cafe they’re tough and chewy and more than a little underwhelming.
Our meal is redeemed towards the end with the Coco-Cola Chicken which despite being a glorified version of chicken and chips, provides a comforting plate of food. The Cola marinated chicken has been cooked well and the sweet and sticky glaze is beautiful but locate some meat without the marinade and there is little to no seasoning.
Perhaps we made the wrong menu choices? An easy mistake given the extensive selection that ranges from sandwiches and burgers, to grills, pizzas, breakfast items and more.
Pantry Cafe is not an entirely negative experience and beverages are good. The fresh juices and coffees all hit the mark (with cold brew available for those so inclined) and with freak shakes being another popular trend at the moment, we can’t resist, The Tiramisu Milkshake (cold brew coffee, chocolate sauce, mascarpone, coffee and vanilla ice cream) is not quite the monstrosity we expect and the scaled back nature is greatly appreciated, plus it tasted good without being too sweet.
We could see ourselves visiting the Pantry Cafe again, but perhaps for coffee and cake (the glass displays present some beautiful pastries) rather than a sit down meal. Service was proficient throughout and those with children will especially appreciate the patient and friendly demeanor of the Pantry Cafe Team.
Ever since Tom&Serg made hipster coffee culture popular, it appears that every cafe in the UAE is looking to follow suite. There’s no harm in that, but what that establishment so successful was their inventive menu, top quality food and the fact that they weren’t afraid to be different, thus allowing them to resonate with the Instagram generation. Pantry Cafe despite being a forerunner in Dubai’s cafe culture (opening two years before Tom&Serg) seemingly tries too hard, plays it too safe and doesn’t live up to the promise of the menu.
If you’re looking for staff who genuinely care then by all means visit Pantry Cafe but if you’re in search of a neighborhood eatry boasting healthy and holistic options, you’re better off going to Fume, Roux or one of the Tom&Serg joints – sorry Pantry.
On a side note. What is it with family-friendly establishments in Dubai having generally poor bathroom fascilites?
We were invited to dine at Pantry Cafe. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.