DIFC my regular haunt, but here’s a few things that would make it better

Franke Kane: Readers will probably have noticed over the years that I spend a lot of my time in the Dubai International Financial Centre, and for very good reasons.

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Readers will probably have noticed over the years that I spend a lot of my time in the Dubai International Financial Centre, and for very good reasons.

The DIFC truly is the emirate’s financial hub, and convenient for getting to any other part of the city where you might have business. Equally it is a great place to arrange meetings, from the informality of the Dome Cafe (where I usually hang out) to the rather grander (although still relatively laid-back) environs of the Capital Club.

So all well and good, except for a few defects that could easily be set right with just a little bit of encouragement and direction from DIFC authorities.

Perhaps the most glaring absence is this: that in the financial heart of Dubai, it is nearly impossible to do any serious banking business. As far as I’m aware, none of the big UAE banks has a branch in DIFC.

This may be for official reasons, something to do with the onshore-offshore divide of the DIFC and its surrounding commercial areas. But it is a real inconvenience.

Sure, you can take cash from the many ATMs in the centre, and it may be possible to deposit cheques at some of them. But try anything more complicated, like paying in cash or getting hold of a printed and stamped statement (on which many credit suppliers and other bodies still insist) and it is impossible.

I have to leave the supposed financial centre and head out to the wilds of Creek-side Bur Dubai to do anything more complicated than a hole-in-the-wall transaction.

The next omission from the list of services provided by the DIFC is equally annoying: there is no decent newsagent, stationer or bookshop in the centre at all.

You can get some newspapers from the outlets that double as sandwich stores in the main concourse, and maybe a copy of Ahlan or something similarly peripheral. But try buying a book, or such an arcane thing as a notebook and it's a lost cause.

There used to be a branch of Borders, which because the chain appears to be rapidly turning itself into a children’s toy store, was barely adequate. But there must be demand among such a sophisticated, literary clientele as frequents the DIFC for a proper bookshop.

Why can’t Kinokuniya, the fantastic book emporium in The Dubai Mall, open a second branch in DIFC? It would be a roaring success, I’m sure.

Finally, where’s a chap supposed to get a haircut in the DIFC nowadays? There used to be a ladies and gents’ hairdresser in the main underground drag, but that closed without warning or explanation a few months back.

A boarded-up site nearby proclaims: “Coming soon: men’s barber shop”, but that has been there months with no sign of imminent activity.

On the other hand, I have found a new venue for refreshment that ranks among the best in Dubai. The Cafe Belge, on the ground floor of the Ritz-Carlton and easily accessible from the DIFC’s central Gate area, is surely one of the best informal restaurants in town.

The menu is great, and by no means restricted to the traditional Belgian moules frites. Dinner recently was a journey across northern Europe, with some delicious seafood followed by some distinctly Germanic-looking “fleisch”.

The best part of the art-deco cafe is the outside shisha and drinks area, which seems to enjoy its own temperate micro-climate on these muggy evenings.

If only I could sit there with a cool beverage, hair neatly trimmed, reading a good book and with all my banking affairs taken care of, it would be ideal.


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