Despite the fact the Afghanistan Pavilion remains closed, the scene outside it is bustling. When you get closer, the reason is fairly obvious: it’s also the location for Al Baik’s Expo 2020 site.
The National visited on a weekday afternoon, and sure enough, there’s a line extending outside the building, and once you enter, there are barriers in place for more queues. A separate line allows people to place their order for the popular fried chicken or shrimp, and visitors are then guided to another line where they can get their hands on the meal.
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Despite the fact that the line begins outside, it moves rather quickly and – on a weekday afternoon at least – it was possible to pick up an Al Baik nugget meal in under 15 minutes, which easily explains the venue’s popularity.
“I lived in Saudi Arabia for 16 years and I used to eat Al Baik food every two to three days,” says one customer, Mohamed Abdel Halim, who is part of the Expo 2020 team that offers daily tours of the Expo site. "When I first heard they had opened up a branch in The Dubai Mall this year, I had a craving, but when I visited there was a two-kilometre long queue. I couldn’t wait that long.
"This is the first time I’m trying it after about seven or eight years, at the Expo site.”
Halim says he’s been visiting Al Baik’s Expo branch every day since, sometimes twice a day, and there are always lines “but they move very quickly here”. “It’s not just about the taste, when you eat it, you get the same memories, emotions,” he says. “And of course the taste is amazing as well.”
Another customer, Pravin Singh Bhati, echoes a similar sentiment, that the Al Baik queues at Expo 2020 are shorter than at The Dubai Mall. “I visited The Dubai Mall branch once but couldn’t wait. I’ve been a fan of the brand since I tried it in Saudi Arabia and thought it was better than KFC. I visit the country two or three times every year, and I always stop by for Al Baik when I’m there.”
Of course, there are other benefits to the Al Baik Expo 2020 branch that explains its popularity, such as the extensive seating area upstairs, which guests can access by lift. Six long tables have been set up, with dividers as part of Covid-19 safety measures, and some tables have also been placed outdoors. The overall area can seat up to 80. While orders must be placed downstairs, you can get additional soft drinks and sauces upstairs if required.
Raicyl Pacia, supervisor at Al Baik Expo 2020 site, says the reaction has been amazing. “A lot of people are queueing up, not just for the food but because they are curious about the brand, and are new to it. Also, we live in the era of the internet – social media is quick – and people have been posting a lot about it.
“We are expecting it to be crazier in the coming weeks,” he says.
Despite this, he says customers shouldn’t let the queues intimidate them. “It seems longer because we are ensuring social distancing. There actually isn’t much of a wait time as we have a big team here and are doing our best.
“The longest wait time we’ve had so far can't be more than 30 minutes. There have been times when the seating area gets full though, especially in the evenings."
The branch currently serves chicken nuggets, its best-selling item, as well as fried shrimp, jumbo shrimp and falafels. Fries, soft drinks and sauces such as the nugget sauce and garlic sauce are also available.
Prices are slightly higher than The Dubai Mall branch but still competitive, with Dh18 getting you a meal of 10 nuggets and fries, with sauces.
Al Baik opened its first UAE branch in The Dubai Mall in June, and expansion plans are in the works. The brand has announced that it is “dedicated to operating and expanding Al Baik across the seven emirates”.
Al Baik Expo 2020 branch is open daily from 10am to midnight. It’s located in the Opportunity District.