Do you ask a chef or server for their recommendations when dining at a new restaurant?
In the current foodscape of set menus or omasake – where chefs decide what you're served – it is common practice among discerning diners to ask for suggestions when faced with the a la carte menu at an unfamiliar restaurant.
To that end, The National is launching its Taste Test series, taking you inside the latest restaurants just before they open their doors. Chefs reveal what dishes they recommend – and what makes them special – for you to try (or, indeed, avoid).
This guide can help foodies wanting to tick off the latest restaurants from their culinary bucket list, which can be a Herculean task in the UAE where no fewer than a dozen restaurants are unveiled month on month.
Inside Blue Box Cafe
To understand the appeal of having a meal at Tiffany & Co’s Blue Box Cafe, it’s crucial to appreciate the storied legacy of the jewellery house itself, which has been around since 1837.
Its founder, American Charles Lewis Tiffany, famously went from New York to Paris to buy the crown jewels from the French aristocracy – and dismantled them to make new jewellery. This is a company that has made pieces for Queen Victoria and Russian tsars, created the invitations for the opening of the Statue of Liberty and more or less invented the engagement ring with the launch of the Tiffany Setting in 1886, a single diamond raised into the light with six platinum prongs.
For all of that, the legendary jewellery house has always maintained its hold on pop culture, which keeps it relevant – be it signing hip-hop artist A$AP Rocky as a brand ambassador in 2018 to capture the zeitgeist of the time, or featuring K-pop star Jimin, of the boyband BTS, in its latest campaign. Bollywood-Hollywood darling Priyanka Chopra Jonas even had her bridal shower in the Blue Box Cafe in New York.
Arguably the brand was immortalised best by Audrey Hepburn’s famous film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And breakfast is exactly what I sampled at Blue Box Cafe ahead of its launch.
There are currently four such cafes in the world – 5th Avenue flagship in Manhattan, Harrods in London, 1 Peking Road in Hong Kong and now at The Dubai Mall. The UAE outpost opens on Thursday in collaboration with Rikas Hospitality Group (of Ninive, Mimi Kakushi and Tagomago fame).
The 38-seater cafe is ensconced within the Tiffany & Co boutique in the mall's Fashion Avenue. Unsurprisingly, the decor has lashings of bird egg blue, from plush seating and wall paint to jewellery boxes distending chandelier-like from the ceiling.
The overarching blue palette works in tandem with the glittering mirror-encrusted facade, and even serves to balance the multicoloured accents on the concrete tile floor.
The menu has French overtones (in keeping with both Rikas and parent company LVMH’s roots) and is led by French chef Marion Lefebvre. Here are her top recommendations from the breakfast menu, which is priced from Dh260.
Four dishes to try
“I choose each avocado myself,” says Lefebvre. “But other than that, I let the simple but good-quality ingredients do the talking. The sourdough is made fresh from Rikas restaurant Madeleine Et Marcel; the dressing is a simple lemon juice with olive oil from Italy; the garnish is roasted pumpkin seeds, pomegranate and cress; and my secret ingredient is sumac.”
Taste test: It’s a quintessential breakfast staple, yet every avocado toast is different. The one at Blue Box Cafe is an elevated version of this time-tested favourite, in that it is practically doused with the fruit. Not only does the toast have a base of avo mash, but also it's topped with sliver-thin slices with nary a gap in between. Despite this, the sourdough does not go soggy or collapse in itself, making this a must-have dish during your breakfast at Tiffany’s.
“As with the sumac in the avocado toast, I try and add little touches of the Middle East in the dishes,” says Lefebvre. “The menu brief was to offer new dishes that appeal to local tastes, and as I love both croissants and zaatar, I thought this was a perfect combination for this region.”
Taste test: Given the French influences of this menu, I was most looking forward to trying the croissant. While I do wish the one served here was warmer, as viennoiseries go, it ticked the flaky, fluffy and buttery boxes. The zaatar garnish was not overbearing but added enough balance to the bread’s slight sweetness with its earthy flavour. I’ll probably get the pain au chocolat the next time, though.
There are various types of exotically flavoured eggs on the breakfast menu, from truffle omelette to lobster Benedict. The one with Italian caviar comes highly recommended, though, given the chef’s husband and nonna hail from Italy.
“I’ve used a potato bun in this recipe as it has a pleasingly smooth texture, with some easy-on-the-vinegar hollandaise sauce on top. A bed of spinach adds some earthiness, but this is Tiffany, after all, and so the caviar is the highlight of this dish,” says Lefebvre.
Taste test: Can one have enough caviar? Connoisseurs would say no. So while I wish the not-ungenerous dollop of caviar could be doubled in this dish, it still serves to elevate what is, essentially, eggs and bread (albeit both brought in from France). The spinach is a good touch, too, and enhances each scooped bite.
Pancake with berries
“I must have made dozens of alterations to get the pancakes exactly right, not too dry, not too smooth. And now my preferred technique is to add vanilla essence to the buttermilk,” says the chef. “This also complements the vanilla and icing sugar-infused Chantilly cream, while the maple is fresh from Canada.”
Taste test: What’s breakfast without some fluffy pancakes? Despite the drizzle of maple, these ones are not overtly sweet – so just the way I like them. It is the cream that’ll have me returning for more, and the dish provides just the right energy punch one needs in the morning before a shopping spree at The Dubai Mall.
Tiffany & Co’s Blue Box Cafe is open 10am to midnight, serving breakfast, afternoon tea, lunch and dinner