The One Café has for me, perhaps oddly, long been somewhere that triggered amusement, delight and even admiration. The insanely small kitchen in the cafe of this rather eclectic collection of home furnishings in Dubai’s posh Jumeirah strip had always turned out food that pushed the envelope: mad fusions, medleys of things you just wouldn’t have thought of and mixtures of flavours and textures that seemed a little, well, surreal or even potty. And yet they more often worked than not. So we have that most marvellous of things: discontinuity, innovation that challenges. Food that takes you somewhere different in a most unexpected way. And, to be honest, in a most unexpected place. Nobody expects to have their idea of good food or appropriate food to be challenged in a furniture shop cafe: and yet this is what The One Café
always managed to do for me.
Mind you, this was the ‘old’ version. Things have changed in the last few years. The market’s moved on, become larger and more competitive and The One has been trying to style itself as something more than just a furniture shop: founder Thomas Lundgren has been investing in carving out his own space in the Sofasphere, pulling stunts of Bransonesque proportions and dubbing his stores ‘theatres’, sponsoring major gigs like Robbie Williams and making grand gestures aplenty (including one report that The One was to charge for entry to its ‘theatres’). So much so that some of his customers have simply wandered away, slightly put off by the sheer pretentiousness of it all.
Which is a shame. I’ve met Thomas a couple of times and found (rather to my surprise) that I liked him.
The One Café has had a number of great moments. Mexican falafel: breadcrumb coated patties of refried beans on a salad-strewn bun scattered with pomegranate seeds, nut pieces and drizzled in a tahine-like dressing. Pasta dou chi: chicken, wilted greens, broccoli and red onion in a black bean and sesame seed sauce. Thai chicken parcels: a sandwich of wonton skins filled with chicken and broccoli with kaffir lime, peanut, sweet chili, coriander and basil. The breakfast Thai pancake with bearnaise sauce thingy. The One’s menus changed almost daily and a range of mad specials always enhanced the ‘old standards’ in Dean Inman and Neil McFarlane-Earby’s menus. The food was as potty as the chef’s names. It couldn’t last.
Today The One has changed. Those two ever so slightly camp names no longer adorn the menu: the dishes have all been transformed. No more pasta dou chi, no more falafel. This, as Marilyn Manson and Peter Gabriel both tell us, is the new stuff.
And, to be honest with you, it isn’t quite as good as it used to be.
Two tests in one week later and it would seem that The One Cafe has got some catching up to do. These days there’s a a Lime Tree Cafe packing them in 100 yards away (just behind the tourists snapping away at the ‘famous’ Jumeirah Mosque, housed in a restored villa that’s actually older than the fake Ummayid landmark itself) housing Jumeirah’s newnew cafe society success. There’s funky fusion on offer elsewhere, too. Japengo and the Noodle House do fusion (if you must have ‘fusion’) and the Lime Tree Cafe does do a great ‘Australian Women’s Weekly’ selection of worthy salads, quiches, wraps and salads – even if they do all look and sound better than they taste. The Grand Hyatt’s Panini is a better Italianesque lunchtime venue and Biella’s not bad, either. Olive House, Shakespeare and Cosmo are better ‘Arabesque eclectic’ lunch venues. The One, a cafe experience that truly caught the imagination, truly led the way. Does it do so today?
I’d say no.
Hammour on a bed of broccoli and potato with a yellow pepper coulis? A small portion disappointment on a yellow-stained plate, albeit reasonably well cooked fish. Companions had the mushroom soup and pronounced it excellent and the ‘brick’, a pancake wrapped parcel of things was also enjoyed. Second time around, a spiced lamb and tomato ciabatta with emmental and a side salad turns out to be excellent, but heavy on the cheese (a worry for today’s health-conscious luncher) and served up with an impossibly oily side salad of kos lettuce, (pitted out of the jar) olive and chickpea. And, sorry, any restaurant that secures a sandwich with a mint-flavoured cocktail stick topped with an olive is really slacking.
The same is true of the chicken and beetroot wrap. Graced with a lemongrass-ginger mayonnaise, the wrap itself is really good. Served with an oily side in a bowl it’s OK. But then, having placed an order for two sandwiches, two juices and two coffees, we found ourselves sans drinks. Halfway through the food we complained: by the time we’d finished eating, no juices had appeared. We cancelled the juices but asked for the coffees. One appeared. A row. A second appeared. The bill was called for: the juices were on the bill, then cancelled. That wasn’t made clear and so more fuss ensued. We left, disappointed in the food, the service and the experience.
And you'll think I'm niggling, but you used to get a biscuit with your coffee and you don't now.
We’d go back, but this once unequivocal, even fanatical recommendation is now a cautious ‘you might like to try this’. And that is such a shame.