“Our vision is to strive to make healthy dining fun and exciting by providing a varied selection of delectable ethnic fare from around the world.” Café Mandarina
Just off the beaten track in Al Shahama lies Café Mandarina located at the Mandara Equestrian Club, not a remote desert location as I first anticipated but in fact a mere seventeen minutes from the comfort of my sofa in Raha Beach (thanks Google Maps you life saver).
‘Hidden gem’ is a phrase bandied about regularly but sometimes like in the case of Café Mandarina it’s never been truer. A jewel in the dusty residential enclave that’s just off the highway as you leave Abu Dhabi en route to Dubai (near Deerfields Mall for all those familiar with that landmark) and as I discovered it’s actually quite accessible. What makes it shine you may ask? The nucleus of the cafe for starters, softly spoken and passionate entrepreneur Juwayryah Perez and her sizable menus of delicious unpretentious home-style food. Her positivity and vision are reflected in the vibe of the venue, I instantly felt welcome as if I was dining in her home, not her business. The staff are courteous, well trained and attentive and the wholesome food is mouth-wateringly tasty.
Invited to enjoy a late lunch, I got to sample a selection of dishes from the main and new seasonal menu, a mix of both International and Middle Eastern comfort food with a healthy twist. Alongside my well documented sweet tooth I’m a lover of cheese so imagine my delight to discover a whole baked camembert on the menu. Simple yet so delicious with an aroma that had me instantly salivating, it’s served straight from the oven in a pretty china pot along with nuts, dried fruit, honey and freshly baked country bread for dipping. This hot gooey cheese dish was marvelous, it’s designed to share but I definitely consumed more than a fair portion. I was also presented with a huge cheese board adorned with nuts and dried fruit, a good selection of different flavoursome French and Swiss varieties.
Other noteworthy dishes were the colourful 1001 salad, a combination of semolina couscous with rocket, orange segments, beetroot and nuts and the cheese loaded Bomba. Usually found in a Spanish tapas bar, Bomba is a tasty stuffed mashed potato and Emmental cheese ball, an oversized croquette with a slightly spicy coating served with bravas sauce (also available in meat varieties).
I must also mention the desserts, the carrot cake with its sweet drizzled icing was moist and probably the best I’ve ever had. The creamy calorie-rich Italian tiramigiu is coffee free so differs from the traditional tiramisu and perfect for younger members of the family too. Finally, a traditional trifle that reminded me of home, layers of fruit salad, cake, yogurt, whipped cream and toasted almonds (available as a smaller guilt-free portion), spoilt for choice is quite the understatement at Café Mandarina.
A great place for a lazy weekend breakfast, Café Mandarina has a considerable menu for a good start to the day jam packed with Emirati favourites, healthy dishes and an extensive egg selection including the very popular avocado toast with poached eggs and red pesto. The popular and reasonably priced family Friday buffet attracts a loyal crowd, along with the large Arabic and International feast there are lots of activities for children including pony rides, playground, face painting and nature activities weekly from 2pm.
Part of the menu is dedicated to lighter fare, leaner dishes for the more health conscious that includes superfoods, gluten free options and paleo diet-friendly dishes, I was impressed by the wide selection of vegetarian choices too. Locally grown herbs are hand-cut, all juices, stocks, sauces, dressings (including the mayo) are homemade and the finest honey is sourced to replace sugar in the homely desserts. It’s not all about the food either as the menu has a huge drinks section including specialty coffees, teas, juices, smoothies and several beverages made with camel’s milk, reported to be a more healthier option with ten times more iron and three times more vitamin C than regular cow’s milk.
The large cafe with its quirky decor has several different areas with comfy sofas and dining tables, a surrounding outside patio area allows parents to sit and relax while watching their children ride. A large first-floor shisha terrace gives guests the ultimate place to relax during the cooler months with a panorama of the whole club. Mandara Equestrian Club is a large family-owned modern equestrian club with a riding school and livery, indoor air-conditioned arena, beauty horse training, show jumping facilities, ferrier and clinic. A lively and busy stables that’s home to countless horses, if you are a fan of all things equestrian I suggest you pay the club a visit, it’s one of those places that if you know, you know.
Café Mandarina is a cozy eatery with an extremely pleasant ambiance that offers guests home cooked dishes using freshly sourced local ingredients. The authentic and conscientious experience is family friendly and welcoming. Overall it’s a really great spot to sit back, relax and enjoy the top-notch food, I’m looking forward to returning with my family so they can sample The Main Affair, a slow-roasted whole leg of lamb infused with spices.
Location: Al Rahba Farm Plot 991 (Near Deerfields Mall), Abu Dhabi
Telephone: 02 564 5770
Equestrian Club Website: lenadorsystems.com/MEC/
I was invited to visit Café Mandarina. All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2016. All rights reserved. Final photo used courtesy of cafémandarina.com