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For the past few months, Dubai's café scene has been experiencing its moment in the sun. New, edgy hangouts are opening up, which take their purpose and food very seriously, and a recent entrant is Tom & Serg.
Owned by Tom Arnel, from Melbourne and Sergio Lopez from Madrid, this café is the quintessential chic neighbourhood joint you'd want to spend a Friday afternoon in. And boy can it get packed.
I walked in on a weekend afternoon and this massive two-level café set in a warehouse in Al Quoz was teeming with customers. The open kitchen was bustling with a steady stream of orders, with the staff constantly running up and down the stairs in a bid to ensure perfect service.
"We wanted to get as far from the glamorous side of Dubai as possible and go for a space with a little more character. Al Quoz being an industrial area has bigger spaces and the café's design pays respect to its origins," they say.
Service is one thing that will stand out. The staff is young, exuberant and super-friendly. You don't get the usual formal hellos. Instead the person taking your order will interact with you, like you've come into their home and they want to make you comfortable. For instance, I ordered some toasted sourdough with just butter on the side. It was a bit dry and more than one staff member came over to ask if I wanted some jam with it.
Naturally I ordered the jam — a measly Dh2 — and when I tasted it, was immediately glad I did. Homemade and astoundingly fresh, the berry jam was slightly runny (which is how I love my jam) with generous dollops of berries in it. A wonderful blend of sweet and sour, it went really well with my sourdough. This just goes to prove that on some days, a nice piece of toast with jam and a cup of coffee can make for a memorable meal.
Speaking of which, the coffee at Tom&Serg is amazing. I ordered a cup they call Magic, which comes with some milk and froth. Each sip was rich and flavourful, and great bang for the buck. I also ordered a flourless chocolate cake on the side, which came highly recommended by a member of staff. It was a delectable melt-in-the-mouth treat with hints of toffee and biscuit.
Of course, Tom&Serg serves meals as well, including soups, salads, wraps and a mean breakfast, which would cost you upwards of Dh35. Its bestselling breakfast item is the poached eggs and beef bacon on toasted sourdough with crushed avocado, black bean, tomato and lime salsa.
Arnel and Lopez wanted to revitalise Dubai's café culture, a fact that emerged from their many interactions while working at Jones the Grocer. They drew inspiration from Melbourne's café scene and as they inch towards their first anniversary in November, it's clear they got their ingredients right.
Source: Tania Bhattacharya, Sub-editor