An Abu Dhabi salute to Maradona: remembering Cafe Diego

From steaks to shawarmas, the menu reflected the countries Maradona’s football career encompassed

Cafe Diego was full of murals of Diego Maradona. Saeed Saeed
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Diego Maradona left his impression on the UAE both on the pitch and plate.

As well as coaching local football sides Al Wasl (2011-2012) and Al Fujairah (2017-2018), he was also the inspiration behind a former Abu Dhabi food gem.

Officially backed by the Diego Maradona Group, Cafe Diego in Nation Galleria mall was a culinary and sporting monument to the diminutive striker.

It was only right, then, that the footballing legend, who died on November 25, paid a visit during its opening weeks in May 2017.

There was a lot to take in, as the venue attempted to encompass all aspects of Maradona’s personality and career.

In a nod to his larger than life appeal, Cafe Diego's design was anything but subtle. The joint was an absolute riot of colours. As well as street art murals of Maradona in various celebratory goal poses, the walls were painted with the blue, white and yellow colours of the Argentinian flag, topped off with flashes of purple, alluding to his early days with Barcelona.

Then there was that rather odd Volkswagen camper van parked out front with another Maradona mural emblazoned across the body. Even the wait staff had no clue of its significance.

When it came to the food on offer, let’s just say it was eclectic.

There was pumpkin soup, seafood paella, ravioli, steaks and shawarmas.

On first sight it seemed chaotic, but I eventually realised it was designed to reflect the many countries his football career encompassed, with Argentinian, Spanish, Italian and Arab influences.

I wish I could say the food was as amazing as Maradona's playing prowess. While the dishes lacked in flair and flavour, its obvious affection for the great man was genuine.

The Cafe Diego Volkswagen camper van. Cafe Diego.
The Cafe Diego Volkswagen camper van. Cafe Diego.

I, too, got swept up in that love, once spending hours in one of the booths tucking into a Maradona Steak (medium rare with a side of mashed potato), followed by a dessert of churros, while watching hundreds of Maradona goals playing silently on one of the numerous screens perched above.

As Cafe Diego’s Instagram tags proves, the place became a low-key haven for football lovers to gather, enjoy a serviceable meal and geek out on Maradona’s abilities.

Photos show customers sitting down with Argentinian football jerseys and children using a replica trophy in an attempt to recreate the famous 1986 image of Maradona lifting the World Cup.

Cafe Diego closed down in October 2018, as Maradona bowed out of the UAE for new challenges abroad – it was sudden, but with the hope of a comeback.

The last post on the restaurant's Instagram page features an animated version of the Cafe Diego camper van with a message promising a new location and menu “soon”.

Two years on, that looks unlikely, but Cafe Diego will be fondly remembered as a quirky and affectionate Abu Dhabi salute to a legend.