If Tom & Serg and Tania’s Teahouse had a child, it would be Brambles. Like the former, this homegrown Dubai cafe serves up solid coffees and plenty of avocado toast. Like the latter, it feels decorated for the Instagram-happy crowd. And somehow, the entire combination works just right.
Floor-to-ceiling windows flood this brand new Al Barsha cafe with natural light. Pink walls, palm tree accents and wooden tables add to the boho vibe — there’s even pink-painted brick. Brambles’ location in the Citadines Metro Central Hotel Apartments is a bit random, but once you’re past the slick lobby it doesn’t really matter.
Dishes include ingredients you might expect from a cafe (toast, avocado, eggs, salads) but with creative and local twists. An avocado pizza includes radish, cilantro, pickled onion and optional egg. There’s chili fried eggs with Qatar labne, or peanut butter and strawberry French toast for sweeter moments.
For lunch, a vegan glow bowl offers up roast cabbage with softer sweet potato, goji berries and roasted garlic vinaigrette — ideal to share with a friend who’s ordered the shakshuka tacos, which mix shakshuka sauce with chickpea salsa and cabbage slaw. A range of acai bowls (one mixing in coconut milk with pineapple, another adding peanut butter and cacao nibs) rounds the entire thing out. And for true indulgence, try the kale brownie — you’d never know this green vegetable was hidden inside all that chocolate goodness.
With the food, founder and chef Mandana Shabani is hoping to take guests back to the basics.
“No matter who you are cooking for, the ingredient that everyone is searching for is heart and soul,” says this Iranian-American cook. “With all the excitement in the culinary world right now, I think sometimes this is forgotten. What I wanted to bring to Dubai, aside from northern Californian wellness food, is heart and soul, and a sense of community.”
Cooking is personal to Shabani. Raised in northern California, she learned to cook by spending time in the kitchen with her mom. She started preparing meals for her family by the time she was nine. Years later, after a stint studying fashion and living in New York City, Shabani realized her true passion meant spending time in the kitchen. Next came the International Culinary Center in Manhattan, working, and eventually a food-focused backpacking trip around the Middle East and Asia. By 2014, Shabani opened her first food venue, Apotheke, a health bar in MMA Fitness Center.
Now there’s Brambles, the chef’s dream venue — the result, she says, of growing up in northern California, where farm-to-table and local restaurants are the norm.
“One of the reasons I decided to open Brambles was to change people’s misconceptions on healthy eating,” says Shabani.
“Whole, fresh foods are delicious. It can,” she adds, “be beautiful.”
Featured photo: founder and chef Mandana Shabani. Brambles
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Women's Health Middle East and Men's Health Middle East, Danae has written for The Sunday Times, CNN Travel, Dubai Tourism, The Guardian, Afar, Bloomberg and many more. She's based in Dubai and is a trainer at Crank. instagram.com/danaemercer