After four years of planning, No. 57 Boutique Cafe has finally opened in Abu Dhabi. Emirati friends Buthaina Al Mazrui and Alamira Noor Bani Hashim officially launched their long-awaited Al Bateen last week. The women also used the night to celebrate the two-year anniversary of The Dinner Club by No. 57: a concept that gathers about a dozen strangers once a month in a chic – but often strange – location for an evening of great food and unpredictable conversation (past locations include a construction site and an empty swimming pool). We talked with Al Mazrui on the opening night.
Before you officially launched on December 15, you quietly opened your doors at the end of October. How is it going?
With the cafe, Noor and I believed we were ready. We thought: “Oh, two years with the dinner club – we’ve got this. We can do it.” But we learnt so much when we opened the cafe. Operationally, it’s challenging. Every time we try to solve a problem, another one comes up. We’ve been getting a lot of feedback in terms of service, in terms of food. We try our best to listen to everything that every customer says.
What kind of food is on the menu?
It’s not a specific cuisine. We have soups, salads, sandwiches, starters, desserts. The menu contains all my favourite foods. It’s sophisticated comfort food. Our signature dishes are the spicy tuna on crispy rice, lobster linguine and, for dessert, the toffee skillet cookie. Not everyone’s going to like everything we do. But everyone will agree we serve the best toffee skillet cookies.
Whose recipes are these?
Mostly our chef’s, Gavin Gleeson. He’s Irish. He was at Monte-Carlo Beach Club before, and before that, at Wheeler’s. He’s amazing. His presentation skills, I’ve never seen anything like it. We sat down together and he said: “Tell me what you want.” I did and he thought I was crazy. He admits it now. I told him the top dishes I wanted. It was a long list. He said: ‘We’ll have to narrow it down’. So we did.
Have you had negative feedback? How are you handling that?
Noor and I are not built to handle [negative feedback] – we take it personally. We’ve worked so hard on this. I don’t know if people know how much effort we put into this. We’re hands-on, even though we both have full-time jobs – plus we have the dinner club to take care of. But we’re passionate about what we do and we want to make sure that everything’s perfect. Negative feedback gets to us but it makes us want to work even harder.
What sets you apart from other cafes?
This isn’t typical cafe food. And we’re here a lot. There are some cafes where you will see the owner – that inspires us. You want the owner to be part of it. It adds a personal touch. And I think that’s the point of No. 57. We respond to every single person. We don’t have a marketing company. We do everything on our own.
How many people can the cafe seat?
Fifty-three. Maybe we’ll put a table outside, a table for four, and make it 57.