Society Café and Lounge in Jumeirah 1 has made quite the impact on society – it’s a popular haunt for Emiratis, and many an influential local has passed through the upmarket café’s doors.
So it’s no surprise to see wunderkind Executive head chef Jarek Wysmyk turning out an iftar to match the venue’s buzz – it’s contemporary, delightful and surprising.
This week is your last chance to try a menu created in collaboration with Middle Eastern cuisine guru, Chef Troy Payne.
Enter the premises – which looks like a pretty nondescript villa from the outside – and you are confronted by modern urban design, all bare walls, polished floors and pale wood – but you will also notice the ‘greenhouse’ at the front of the café has been turned into a peacock-inspired space, in partnership with Albal Design. The inspiration for the stable-style dark doors, popping cushions and high-backed wicker chairs is the vibrant city of Jaipur; re-imagined as an update on the traditional majlis-inspired Ramadan tents.
Traditional Ramadan lamps dot the space, and there’s potential for a cosy evening if it weren’t for the sub-zero AC – bring a cardigan!
We started our iftar with drinks – and even these have been given a Society twist. Laban, Amar al Din, jallab, karkadeh, even Vimto and Tang are there. But take the Amar al Din, for example. The staple apricot drink everyone has in the Holy Month. Society has taken the drink and mixed it with fresh mango, peach and lavender.
The cinnamon chai I opted for was a warming homemade treat, mixed with condensed milk.
The dates and dried fruit which you traditionally break your fast with where the best we’d tasted in years. Apricot, fresh figs and pistachios left us yearning to come back every night, and the meal proper had not yet begun.
The classics are there but served with genuine effort to make the dishes stand out, make them more memorable and ultimately, to give you all the traditional, comforting tastes you know and love, but with some superb twists.
These guys – the Wsymyk / Payne partnership – have taken iftar and suhoor to the next level.
We started with a simple soup, and already felt sated. The Moroccan style harrisa was a rich festival of flavour, while others opted for grain and whey soup with silky lamb, Society’s take on shurba.
Behind the ‘stable’ doors, and in the original part of the villa, there was a buffet for starters. It’s hidden from view on entry and provides a wonderful cornucopia of goodness. We loved the hazelnut falafel, the sambusek, the cheese stuffed filo “Fatima’s fingers”, the koosa, the pickles…everything seemed familiar, yet a little different.
“How did you make the hummous so creamy and smooth?” I demanded to know of Darrell Guest, the general manager. “Would you like me to tell you?” he responded, while I’m poised with my pad, ready to make notes on what must surely be in the top three bowls of hummous I’ve ever tasted (I like to think I haven’t tried the best yet). “Of course!” I replied, crestfallen as he turned away with a wink and “It’s a secret”.
So maybe I’ll never know. My years of research into the humble chick pea and tahina paste has revealed a few tricks, to be sure, but I’ve never tasted a hummous so deeply satisfying.
Having had the soup, and indulged in a delicious range of starters from the buffet, we were now faced with the toughest decision of the night – what to choose from the main course section of the specially created iftar menu (including a real peacock feather!).
Offerings include imaginative yet traditional dishes such as veal schnitzel served in kataffi pastry with tahina’ Moroccan chicken b’stilla pie (spicy, savoury, yet slightly sweet); ras el hanout chicken; imam bayildi (roasted eggplant), twice-cooked French chicken fatteh, and ouzi marinated roasted lamb. More non-traditional items include polenta crumbed red mullet; pan roasted salmon and lobster risotto.
As we over-indulged on the starter buffet, we opted for imam bayildi, and boy, we nearly fainted like the star of the dish. It seems that we were not the only ones bowled over by the main courses – all around the room there were reverential sighs as people tucked into dishes that they thought they were familiar with, only to discover a new taste or a different texture.
And for us, this is what iftar should also be about – sharing new and exciting culinary adventures with friends and family.
Desserts are included, and we forcefully persuaded ourselves the brioche-based Umm Ali was worth loosening our belts to try. And we were right. A delicious, rich, decadent upgraded take on the traditional dessert, first bite had us wanting to eat Umm Ali like this for the rest of our lives.
The generous feast includes a buffet-style selection of some of Society’s best-selling housemade pastries, including the legendary rose croissants and charcoal croissants, samoa cake (chocolate flavor sponge cake with buttercream frosting coated with toasted coconut and chocolate and caramel drizzle), date and mandarin bundt cake, and lemon and apricot Madeline.
There’s also traditional baklava and kunafa, and we are still heartbroken that we didn’t try the sticky date pudding.
Still, there’s always suhour…
Non-fasting customers can take advantage of the café’s daytime opening, from 7am – 3pm for breakfast and lunch. It re-opens from 7pm – 10pm for Iftar, and 11pm – 2am for Suhoor.
Iftar price starts at AED180 and Suhoor at AED150.
Booking essential. For more information, visit www.societydxb.com or call
+971 (0) 56 228 8825