When Jesse Blake and Kate Christou first came to Dubai from Australia a couple of years ago they noticed a distinct lack of independent eateries. "We had gone to a lot of hotel restaurants, where they're cooking someone else's food," explains Christou. Since moving here, however, their perception has changed. "It's been really enjoyable, discovering all these little places; the local, home-grown restaurants are what we enjoy the most. We also love the grill spots, falafel places, that kind of stuff," she says.
As chefs, Blake and Christou naturally spend most of their days thinking about food. Before moving to the UAE, they ran three restaurants in Perth, and only two months ago they opened Lowe at Koa Canvas Dubai. While they were approached to open the cafe by Koa's founder and chief executive, Mohammed bin Zaal, who had eaten at their spots Down Under and whose wife went to school with Christou, the pair were given free rein when it came to developing the concept. They came up with a cafe that serves good, honest, fuss-free food made with high-quality, carefully sourced and even home-grown ingredients. The restaurant has a variety of seating areas, kombucha on tap, a pet-friendly terrace, a wood-fired oven, rotisserie and charcoal grill. Basically, it's a millennial's haven. For them, it was a dream come true. "We dreamt about certain things like a kitchen garden and dry-age room, and we've been able to do that here," says Christou.
A long process
It wasn't exactly easy getting to this point, though. Firstly, the opening date was postponed by about a year after construction delays in the wider development project set them back. While everything was being built, Blake and Christou were still in Australia, so they had to trust other people with their livelihoods. But once progress was made, everything clicked into place. "It was a long process but all of us, including [bin Zaal], had the same vision, so it was very, very easy in that way," says Christou. "That's why all the pieces came together so well, because we all want the same thing."
That's not an overstatement. So far, the restaurant has had positive reviews: the space is beautiful, the food is flavourful and what they're offering is unique to the market. Sharing-style dishes such as buckwheat waffles with wood-smoked peach and burnt honey are on the menu next to shakshuka baked slow eggs with aged feta, salt beef flatbread with kimchi hot sauce, and slow-roasted lamb shoulder with sumac onion salad.
Meat-lovers, diners seeking gluten-free meals and vegans are all catered for, and that's a big part of what they're trying to achieve: a community-focused, neighbourhood-style cafe where everybody can go to relax in a friendly, characterful atmosphere. "That's why we're here in the restaurant all the time, speaking to the customers, because it makes such a difference when the people who made the menu, set up the restaurant and bought the plates, are the same people who are serving you and cooking your food. Having that connection is really cool," says Christou.
All hail the independent eatery
It's the kind of place they like to dine themselves, and what they want to see more of in Dubai. "I would like to see more small restaurants, the small guys, open," says Christou. "It's definitely happening. While both chefs admit the hospitality market in Dubai is highly competitive and over-saturated, they believe there's still room for more concepts. "It's definitely happening. I think the food scene here is going to be really exciting over the next few years. There's going to be a bit of a change., with more home-grown places and that's really cool."
But how can the little guys make it in such a mammoth market? “You have to do what you do really well and you can’t compromise,” says Christou. “Keep your consistency and use high-quality ingredients and produce.”
Blake adds: “Food needs to be more affordable. People are more conscious of where their food is coming from, too, so those relationships need to be developed with the local farmers who are currently here.”
The pair agree restaurants need to go plastic-free, too. "We are as plastic-free as possible," says Christou. "We use glass bottles, recycle everything, we don't have straws – which causes a lot of problems – and our takeaway boxes are made from vegetable material."
They've also been pleased to see the Dubai government implement a new initiative under the National Nutrition Agenda that will see the city's restaurants display the calorie content of every meal they serve by January 2020. "It'll make consumers a bit more aware of what they're eating," says Christou. "It's a positive move."
Plans for the future
Lowe has only been open for about two months, but this creative culinary duo seem to have settled in quickly. They have plenty of ideas for the future and by early next year at the latest they hope to open a new restaurant a minute's walk from Lowe. "We have a progressive dining space that's very small, almost like a chef's table," says Blake. "It'll be similar food to what we're doing, but on a much higher-end scale."
This is where the kitchen will become experimental, Christou adds. "There won't be a menu. Lowe has sharing-style, a la carte, approachable food. We're looking to do something more refined, an individual tasting-style experience." Blake says you simply need to come with an open mind "and be open to trying different flavours and ingredients, which we hope to source and grow ourselves".
In the meantime, the pair are hosting pop-up dinners and one-off events and hope to do those once a month, if not more regularly. "We've started a travel series doing dinners inspired by places we've travelled to," says Christou. "The first one is Japan, and that'll happen after Eid."
They also have plans to showcase different cooking skills and techniques, as well as flavours, across the various spaces they have available to them both in and outside Lowe at Koa.
It's clear they hope to work more widely across the foodie scene in Dubai, but in the short-term at least, they're channelling all of their passion into Lowe. "Our focus is on making sure Lowe is everything we want it to be," says Christou. "It's better to focus on one thing and become really good, and once we've nailed that then move on. You can't run before you can walk!"
Open 8am-11pm during Ramadan, Koa Canvas, near Al Barari, 04 320 1890, www.lowe-dubai.com