I love brunches especially when I'm not cooking. Catching a few more hours of sleep and tucking into a great meal over a hearty conversation is a treat on a Saturday when the weekend is nearly over. I probably enjoy brunches more because of eggs. Then there could be stacks of waffles doused in maple syrup and dollops of freshly whipped cream and strawberries. And bread, lots and lots of it. Toasted and smeared with softened butter and raspberry preserves. Possibly all of this washed down with fresh smoothie or a carrot juice. That's because I don't drink coffee. You can see why brunch can be be quite a heavy meal leaving no space for hunger till dinner. You can also see why it's not a ritual that can be repeated every weekend unless your'e training for a triathlon. I was invited to Nathalie's Cafe which was hosting food bloggers to sample their brunch menu focusing on freshly cooked, healthy and wholesome food. I was hooked to find out how they interpreted a meal that can be calorie-heavy to be otherwise.
Tucked away into a corner of twofour54, Abu Dhabi's media and entertainment hub, it may be a little drive if you live in the city. My husband and I arrived a bit late and brunch seemed well underway. We were seated alongside other guests on a long table that overlooked the cafe's counter filled with green salads, entrees and baked goodies in glass domes. We were informed that selected specials from the brunch menu would be served and we could order anything additional that we fancied.
The cafe has a relaxed ambiance with chic design details. Ceramic tiles flown in from Lebanon graced the floors alongside concrete flooring. The earthen tiles provide a rustic feel and I'm informed that it has been used as tabletop finish for the seating outdoors. The sophisticated Bocci chandeliers floating over worn wooden tables was my favourite element in the restaurant. Tiny pastel buckets like the above were found holding napkins throughout the cafe. The space will have you relaxed and ready to enjoy a hot meal. 'Eat Well. Live Life. Love Food.' is the tagline for Nathalie's Cafe. Nathalie's believes eating well doesn't have to be bland and boring. Founded by a nutritionist who loves food, the menu has been painstakingly created to include the best ingredients and every dish is prepared fresh daily.
I placed my order for a fresh sweet melon smoothie and decided to take a look around. The dishes for the day were prepared and displayed alongside slates bearing their calorie values. There were quite a few salad options to choose from and the hot meals displayed in what looked like Copper serve-ware even included a Biriyani. The menu included pizza slices which shows that you don't have to deny yourself something you enjoy if you make the right lifestyle choices. There's plenty on offer for sweet toothed people like myself. I made a few mental choices on what I'd like to try before making my way back to the table.
Sitting down at the table, I realised there was a bread basket waiting for me. It had an assortment of freshly baked whole wheat breads including a muffin, croissant, multi-seed sliced bread with mini jars of fruit preserves and honey. Before I reached out for the fruit studded muffin, a little something caught my eye.
Amongst the bread basket lay a wee croissant. Would you believe it if you were told that this Nutella Croissant only has 50 calories? And it isn't a smear of Nutella. Tear open this wonder and you'll find a lustrous hazelnut chocolate puddle inside. All the bread baking I do at home is exclusively with whole wheat which is why I truly appreciated and enjoyed this attempt of a whole wheat croissant. It didn't taste too buttery and had enough croissanty layers within. With a bite in my mouth, I continued peering into the croissant and wanted to photograph proof of all its layers when my husband snatched it out of my hands. Before I could rebel, the remaining bite was consumed. I don't blame him. I might have 'just' absentmindedly had it all myself.
The first dish to arrive was the Foul Moudammes. Bubbling away in earthern-ware, it was accompanied by three puffy pita breads, whole wheat of course. Foul Moudammes is a gravy of mashed fava beans and chickpeas cooked with sautéd onions, garlic and tomatoes and spiced with cumin and red chilli powder. This popular Middle Eastern dish is finished off with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice and parsley. The aroma from it was quite similar to an Indian curry. I peered at my husband who has yet to eat a mouthful of legumes since we've met. I watched him tear a piece of pita and add a spoonful of the dish on his plate. He finished his share, nodding approvingly and said he liked the flavours. I found the dish very similar to Rajma Masala and since I love my pulses, I had no complaints.
As we were finishing, the Lebanese Breakfast was brought to the table. This platter came with black olives, fresh vegetables, low fat Mint Labneh, grilled Halloumi cheese, mini Zaatar Manakeesh and Pita bread. You would associate whole wheat bread to be slightly chewier than its white flour counterparts, but apart from the slight brownish tinge, the soft warm bread was a delight. I love the texture of Halloumi and its grilled version did not disappoint. The Zaatar Manakeesh tasted its tangy best and dipping it in mint Labneh was refreshing.
Despite a nearly full tummy, I was planning on ordering the whole-wheat waffles but I overheard a waiter apologising to a fellow guest that their waffle machine wasn't working. I was disappointed, but at this point, I knew I had another reason to come back to Nathalie's. The last dishes to be served were both eggs-based. The Mushroom and low-fat cheese Omelet was served with grilled tomatoes, multi-seed bread and herbed baby roasted potatoes. Unfortunately, I don't have a photograph of that dish. The potatoes were crisp, well seasoned and almost buttery in flavour. The Omelet was fluffy and the melting cheese inside made a great bite. Sam's Eggs were served with sunny side up eggs on a base of low-fat Halloumi cheese. At this point, I was quite full and only served myself a small sliver of the last dish. I dipped a slice of Halloumi in the runny yolk and mopped up the remainder of it with the bread that came with it.
Our host Nathalie checked on us and was willing to hear feedback about her brunch menu. I decided to take away sweet treats for later in the day and decided on a Rocky Road Brownie and a Peanut Butter Jelly Tart. While I waited on these to be packed, a beautiful White Chocolate Tart was being served to a guest. Bursting with fresh berries, the dessert looked quite tempting and I waited for the verdict. The guest confirmed it was a good dessert, not overly sweet with a crumbly shell and half-jokingly added that he would have liked ice-cream on the side.
With our treats to go, we thanked our hosts for a great brunch and lovely afternoon. The dishes served to us were classic brunch options and the highlight of my afternoon was the Nutella Croissant. I am also happy to report that both my take-away treats were wonderful. The Peanut Jelly bar was smooth, creamy and contrasted the tartness of the drizzled Strawberry Jam. The Rocky Road Brownie was less fudge-like and more biscuity in texture. Nevertheless, both pastries being light on calories, extremely reasonably priced and perfect portion sized to satisfy a sweet craving, I do wish I lived a bit closer.
Flavourful wholesome food without the guilt is worth a litte drive out of the city and I hope to visit soon with my friend Saman. We both love waffles and pancakes and the honey cinnamon has me enticed enough.
Location: Twofour54 Tower, Khalifa Park, Next to Park Rotana, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Contact: Tel: +971 2 441 1330
Read more on Nathalie's Cafe on their website
For more details visit their Facebook page through this link
Have a good food day.