77 Veggie Boutique – Dubai’s first all-vegetarian, organic café?
So with an open mind, I am a foodie after all, I find myself at JLT – thank goodness my destination is one of the first clusters with no sign of the usual bottlenecks. Overlooking the lake sits the vibrant, green-fronted, 77 Veggie Boutique, only just open. Don’t let the name confuse you, this is no shop, the boutique reference is aligned to the vegetarian, organic and healthy ethos. It’s a cosy café, deli, catering, delivery and take-away operation all-in-one, founded by Dubai-based Indian entrepreneur, Roma Megchiani, 36.
“We play with 77 vegetables available in the market that cover all the vitamins,” says Megchiani, who is as expected, vegetarian herself. “They are all veggies because we’re vegetarian, and they are all organic. Our menu is international and based on seasonal produce that is not fried, but par-cooked and calorie counted. We only use whole-wheat, but also offer gluten-free and non-dairy options. We never say no to any dietary request.”
All 77 vegetables are indeed organic with roughly 70 per cent locally sourced from the 28 organic-certified farms in the U.A.E, currently Dar Al Fateh in Al Ain and Liwa, as well as through farm champion Ripe. The remaining 30 per cent are imported, mainly from New Zealand and Germany through the organic supplier Unifrutti, as well as Ripe who incidentally do not just sell local produce, but ship in organic fruit and vegetables at this time of year. With the halt in the local harvesting season until September, the supply of local, organic vegetables is extremely limited and hence the reliance on imports over the region’s summer season.
“Instructions are given to us from the suppliers on how to retain nutrients, and we have purchased the machinery to keep them fresh. No chemicals, no preservatives, no canned foods, no carbonated drinks, no sugar and no frozen food. In fact we don’t even have a freezer in the kitchen. Just pure fresh veggies.”
Organic aside, ingredients are only par-cooked, if not served raw – a similar cooking style to new healthy opening Comptoir 102 Café on Jumeirah Beach road. 33-year old Indian Chef Walter Quadros who helms the 77 Veggie kitchen and is now a converted vegetarian explains why, “Once you cook vegetables, boil in a gravy or sauce, the vitamins and nutrients become water and they evaporate easily. So we do not boil or fry, we just simmer, steam, sear, bake and pan-roast, using convection cooking. The kitchen equipment we have on board makes magic. They are touch-button machines which indicate when food is ready, like a robot with special software. It tells me exactly how much time I need to steam a vegetable.”
77 Veggie Boutique serves à la carte with dishes changing according to seasonality over breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Meanwhile, the catering arm designs meals for office professionals, children’s packed lunches and healthy birthday parties, right through from Jebel Ali to Dubai Mall. French fries are high in demand, but Quadros has his own baked recipe using zero oil.
Organic produce may be good for us and bursting with flavour, but sadly it can also be prohibitively expensive when flown in from the other side of the world, and hence why Yael Mejia from Baker & Spice has paved the way for highly popular local farmers’ markets. Luckily, the local farms supply Quadros at a very competitive rate, which he averages out with the imported goods to bring it to a very sustainable price, with dishes ranging from Dhs25 to 60. His signature concoction is an Indian-inspired paneer platter priced at Dhs45; expect locally sourced paneer marinated in his very own low-fat mayo made from prebiotic yoghurt with parsley, oregano and chillies and then pan-roasted. Further down the line, he plans to produce his own paneer.
Tonic juices are a key component of the menu, as are sauces made from organic herbs, prebiotic yoghurts and olive oil – all low-fat – which are also available to take home.
77 Veggie Boutique may have just opened, but Megchiani will not rest on her laurels, “We want to make this an international brand. Already there are over 200 nationalities here in Dubai. So once this outlet is a success, we’ll perhaps open a couple more here, and then New York, where we’ve already seen a lot of demand for a concept like ours.”
So how do you convince carnivores like me to eat here? – I ask. “We are not just aiming at vegetarians, we want everyone and anyone looking for a healthy, balanced and organic meal to come here. You are very welcome,” says Megchiani.
Well if the piquant paneer platter and the sautéed cabbage and carrot balls with a tarty tamarind dip are anything to go by, I may just ditch the meat and return…every now and again.
77 Veggie Boutique, Tiffany Tower, Lake Level, Cluster W (opposite Damas building), Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai. T; +971 55 7178866. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.