Omnia Gourmet – Silvena Rowe’s first café in Dubai

Omnia Gourmet - DubaiSilvena Rowe seems almost custom-designed for Dubai, and also seems to have a plan to exploit her built-in local market advantages. Those advantages start with a convincingly cross-cultural background combining Ottoman and Balkan heritage, move on to a strong London media profile, then on to a style of modern Middle Eastern cuisine with good potential appeal to both expats and Emirati nationals, and end with the sort of boundless self-confidence and energy that seems to be a prerequisite for a powerful presence here in Dubai. For better or for worse, this isn’t a city where laidback beta personalities typically thrive.

Over the last year, the plan – whether real or apparent – has included growing a local media profile, a chef consultant partnership with The H Hotel, building awareness of her food via a pop-up restaurant at Dubai Food Carnival, love-bombing and assiduously cultivating the local food blogger community (which is why, to ensure neutrality, I’m writing this review rather than FooDiva herself), and now opening her new informal Omnia Gourmet café over Ramadan. The next (and possibly not final) step will be to open her more formal Omnia by Silvena restaurant in Downtown Dubai (‘omnia’ is Arabic for ‘wish’). At times over the last year, Chef Silvena has appeared to be a one-woman hallouminati seeking total dominance of Dubai’s modern Middle Eastern-cum-Arabic food scene.

With Omnia Gourmet now open in ‘Al Souq’, the Gourmet Souk next to the Jumeirah Fishing Harbour in Jumeirah 2, we have our first chance to decide whether or not, media blitz aside, the food is any good. Reviews of Silvena’s Quince restaurant in London’s Mayfair were decidedly mixed, so a fair amount is potentially riding on initial reaction here. The good news is that early signs are promising if occasionally uneven (fully conceding that a casual café shouldn’t necessarily be taken as any automatic indication of the quality of a still-to-open higher-end restaurant).

Omnia Gourmet heavily emphasises fresh and organic ingredients, sourcing these locally where possible. Primary ingredients are often supplemented by ‘superfoods’ such as chia seeds, goji berries, etc. Silvena herself told me (more of that in a minute) that about 75% of the ingredients are local, which impressively includes both the burrata and ricotta cheese.  The high quality of the ingredients really comes through in the salads. The sugar snaps in the signature avocado, sugar snaps and organic chick pea salad in za’atar pesto dressing were brilliantly crispy, perfectly offsetting the texture of the avocado. Mrs White Hat indulged her inner Slav, and ordered the beetroot and ricotta salad. Beetroot is quite possibly my least favourite vegetable (which is why we almost never have it at home – and why Mrs White Hat jumped at the opportunity), but even I had to concede that these were perfectly prepared, retaining a good, firm, earthy texture that – continuing a theme from the avocado salad – nicely balanced the underlying ricotta. As good as the ingredients were, though, both salads seemed just slightly underseasoned; a minor shame given the obvious quality of the ingredients.

Avocado saladBeetroot saladChicken with harissaSpanakopitaRaspberry chocolate brownieEmirati gold smoothiePistachio cup10. Wild rose tea

Of the mains, the highlight of the lunch was the orange blossom and honey-glazed chicken with potatoes and harissa. This was an excellent dish with moist, well-seasoned chicken beautifully complemented by a nicely warming harissa. Silvena is rightly quite proud of the quality of the local chicken; I would have happily eaten this AED69 dish in a far more expensive and formal setting. The spanokopita, however, was a disappointment. The filo at the top was properly crispy, but the centre and base felt more like coagulated glue than spinach and pastry; Greeks will likely choose to go elsewhere for their filo and spinach fix.

Desserts divided opinion. The emphasis is on raw, gluten-free, sugar-free, ‘guilt-free’ desserts; many are also dairy-free. Alas, the famous raspberry cheesecake was so popular that they’d run out at lunch, and while a new one was in the fridge, it hadn’t set yet.  I ordered two raw, dairy-free desserts, a raspberry and chocolate brownie and a creamed pistachio cup. I really liked the latter, possibly because the pistachio and coconut oil centre reminded me of evaporated milk, one of my great “I should never admit to that in public” secret guilty pleasure food shames. I also enjoyed the raspberry component of the brownie, but the chocolate base – while fine in flavour – was so dense it was difficult to cut through with a fork. Mrs White Hat was less convinced by either dessert, but conceded that, as a keen baker, she’s naturally biased against what she calls “gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, fun-free” desserts. But the helpful and friendly waitress happily accepted Mrs White Hat’s constructive feedback here, and recommended that she try the chocolate mousse the next time we visit. On the other hand, Mrs White Hat really enjoyed her Emirati Gold smoothie of mango, orange, banana, and bee pollen; the rich, creamy texture justifying the slightly hefty AED26 price tag. My wild rose tea was perfectly acceptable, but serving it already steeped in a glass teapot, and then pouring it at the table, only emphasised that the teapot was less than half full even before pouring.

There’s a minor irony that ever since FooDiva rightly highlighted the problems with Dubai restaurant service, every restaurant or café I’ve reviewed for this site has had impeccable service. The Omnia staff could have been forgiven if they’d struggled slightly on the day we visited since the café was in the middle of changing its menu, and no printed version was available. Instead the staff had to explain every dish from memory either at the table or at the counter. This was done flawlessly; friendly staff were always ready with helpful recommendations, and food was served promptly and efficiently. Silvena appeared in person about halfway through our lunch, taking time to talk to each table in turn (no, my cover wasn’t blown), though she was dressed in a manner that suggested she either doesn’t give a flying monkey about the whims of fashion or had come straight from the gym (I’d guess the latter given her Instagram profile).

Omnia Gourmet interiorDécor is bright and airy with gentle Middle Eastern touches, though I had mixed feelings about the butterfly holocaust adorning several walls (and some of the tables). Silvena may perhaps be aiming to fill the previously unsuspected niche market in lepidopterist-oriented cafes serving healthy food, but I found it slightly disconcerting to be eating so many locally sourced organic ingredients while surrounded by dead insects. The waterfront location will likely become more appealing once the weather cools down and customers can actually enjoy walking around the harbour, where there are a few more restaurant options.

Omnia Gourmet is neither cheap nor outrageously expensive; our lunch was AED 202 for two. The café does a lot right, and is a strong option for anyone looking for an informal café serving what’s for the most part good-quality, healthy food. Vegetarians will be particularly happy to have another veggie-friendly dining option. That the café was busy and buzzing at a weekend lunchtime, drawing equal numbers of expats and Emiratis, isn’t just down to having a celebrity chef in charge. And as long as I avoid the spanokopita when I go back, I’ll likely consider Omnia Gourmet if I need lunch the next time I’m driving down Jumeirah Beach Road.

Does Omnia Gourmet’s locally sourced, organic ethos appeal?  What do you think about raw, sugar-free desserts?

The Man in the White Hat.

So who’s FooDiva’s anon guest reviewer, The Man in the White Hat? He has an abiding interest in both history and food; his holidays tend to combine an intriguing local cuisine with a UNESCO World Heritage site, and he’s eaten his way across some 50 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australasia.  He currently lives in Dubai, where he edits a couple of academic publications.

  • Al Souq (Gourmet Souk), Jumeirah Fishing Harbour, Jumeirah 2 - near the junction of Beach Road and Al Urouba Street
  • +971 4 3437181
  • Modern Middle Eastern, Arabic
  • AED 100-150 per person
  • Open daily 9am - 11pm
Reserve with RoundMenu
  • Posted under
    Arabic, Cakes, Delicatessen, Dubai, Emirati, Jumeirah, Location, Middle Eastern, Restaurant Reviews

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18 Responses to “Omnia Gourmet – Silvena Rowe’s first café in Dubai”

  1. Claire August 19, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Oh Man in the White Hat – I do love your reviews!! We popped in there a few weeks just before Ramadan, and we were the only people apart from one other table that came in part way through our meal.

    The food was the most outstanding thing about our visit, totally divine and morish that for that alone I can not wait to go back. Service (apart from 1 chap) was a little worrying and basically not very good. Prices a little steep for where it is I thought, AED 202 for lunch I think is too much, but luckily the food makes it worth it to go back. Just not as often as we couldn’t afford it sadly.

    • silvena rowe August 19, 2014 at 10:17 am

      Dear Claire, many thanks for prompt comment! When deciding on prices, I was measuring against the finest coffee shops in town, such as Lime tree and my beloved Baker&Spice, in that comparison, you will find us rather competitive…especially taking in consideration the fact that we offer large selection of organic foods as well as locally sourced ( which are more pricey), then there is the added slight expense of making all desserts gluten free , sugar free and dairy free! Our entire dessert selection is all that apart of the award winning and most popular Silvena’s Velvet cheesecake, which is now also GF and SF but of course made with the best quality creme cheese… I would love to see you here more often, meet you and talk more about all things food! I am most grateful for your kind and positive feedback. Celebrity chef Silvena Rowe PS Pls come have coffee and my cheesecake sometime with me!

    • The Man in the White Hat August 19, 2014 at 10:42 am

      I didn’t think the prices were steep given the quality of the ingredients, Claire; so I think the comment Silvena has already made here about her prices being competitive given the quality of the food is a fair one. This is especially true given that so many of the ingredients are organic and locally sourced, which will naturally drive up prices. The White Hat household orders a box of organic veggies every week, and there’s no getting around the fact that buying local and organic is more expensive – especially since we live in a desert!

      The glazed chicken is, I think, a good example of the fairness of prices given what’s on offer; AED 69 is a reasonable given the quality of a dish that Silvena could easily charge much more for if served in a high-end restaurant rather than an informal cafe.

  2. Garry W August 19, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Great review and nice to read that the service was very good despite the change of menu – clearly training is shining through, though it’s a shame that the spanakopita was not upto scratch. However what do you mean when you refer to Silvena as “hallouminati” – is this a reference to Cyprus’ speciality cheese “Halloumi”?

    • silvena rowe August 19, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Dear Garry, re the spanakopita….its what I was brought up with as a child! Usually is amazing and light and crisp, all I can imagine is that since we were so busy on that day and perhaps the spanakopita was taken out of the oven a little too early! Just like Silvena’s velvet cheesecake…which we had run out of and the new fresh one wasn’t yet set…so I didn’t offer. Its a good point mdd by the Man in white hat , we are already making sure it doesn’t happened! I am proud of my service especially when we have been open only for a month! I put myself in all of my staff, i give, give , give …..and it all comes back twice fold! Thanks for your comments! Celebrity chef Silvena Rowe

      • The Man in the White Hat August 19, 2014 at 10:51 am

        Given that the spanakopita was so uncharacteristically disappointing compared to the rest of the food, I’m willing to accept the possibility that I was just unlucky here. Every kitchen can have its off moments, after all.

        Your staff really did do you credit, though Silvena – I hope you pass on some of the positive feedback about how well they coped with what was probably a difficult day for them!

    • The Man in the White Hat August 19, 2014 at 10:45 am

      Jokes that have to be explained have probably fallen flat somewhere along the line, but “hallouminati” is supposed to be a portmanteau of “halloumi” and “illuminati”, building on “seeking total dominance of Dubai’s modern Middle Eastern-cum-Arabic food scene” line.

      But if I have to explain it, it probably didn’t work, did it?

      • Garry W August 19, 2014 at 4:58 pm

        Dear Silvena and the Man in the White Hat – thanks for responding about the spanakopita and also for clarification about hallouminati……. now very clear and a good play on words.

  3. Claire August 19, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Thanks Silvena and Man in the White Hat for the replies. Given Silvena’s reply, I now totally understand and can justify the cost, especially if comparing with the considered competitors, I’d have to say Omnia’s food wins hands down! Fresh and yummy! Don’t worry we will definitely be back, especially as we also never (as we were too full) to try the famous cheesecake!

    • silvena rowe August 19, 2014 at 11:29 am

      Awwww! I truly appreciate and I am most grateful Claire! The review was written on a very high ground by someone who has in depth interest and genuine at that!
      I am used to all sorts of reviews….as you all know! What I appreciate most is the time , length, detail that the man in white hat took for me and Omnia Gourmet! It really makes very humble with the respect shown ,for attention shown for us at OG! x Celebrity chef Silvena Rowe

  4. Cyprus Tales August 19, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Great and interesting review which tempts me to visit Omnia Gourmet when visiting Dubai.
    Being Greek/Cypriot, I am tempted to comment on spanakopitta. I tried the Greek way and the Cypriot way. I must say though that the Greeks are the specialists in all sorts of pies. (there are the mini individuals pies of course which are handy at any time of the day). The phyllo should of course be crispy and this is part of the success of making a good spanakopitta or in fact any good Greek pie. The filling, apart from the spinach of course, includes fetta cheese. There are also other variations e.g. by adding some leeks which give it a sweet taste balancing the saltness of the fetta.

    • The Man in the White Hat August 19, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      I’m in no position to comment on the differences between the Greek and Cypriot versions, but you’re of course entirely right to mention that feta is an integral part of spanokopita. I’ll be in Thessaloniki in September, so I should have plenty of opportunities to try authentic Greek spanokopita for myself sooner rather than later!

      But it would be a shame if the disappointing spanokopita was to distract from all of the other things that Omnia Gourmet does right. It’s sometimes easy to focus on the negatives (and it’s important to be honest about them when they happen), but I do want to stress that the many positives at OG easily outweighed this one negative.

  5. IshitaUnblogged August 19, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Well, I can go back many more times to Omnia Gourmet for the guilt free desserts, specially the Chocolate ganache tart! Also for some of the simple but delightful dishes like the chicken and pumpkin soup or the grilled lamb kofta. Since I have been to Omnia Gourmet before it had started operating fully, I have been curious about Omnia Gourmet once its up and running at full steam.

    • The Man in the White Hat August 19, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      I’ll admit that I looked at your interview of Silvena when researching some details of my review, Ishita – it was really helpful for doublechecking a fact or two here and there. Though judging from one of your photographs, there are more butterflies on the walls now then there were then!

      If anyone else wants to take a look (and Foodiva doesn’t mind me doing some blog cross-promotion), Ishita’s interview with Silvena Rowe can be found here: http://ishitaunblogged.com/2014/06/13/omnia-gourmet-by-chef-silvena-decadence-deliciousness-a-lot-of-expectations/

  6. JayEim August 21, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Thank you for the review and a rather very eloquent and sharp quil.

    Filo pastry is more of a technical challenge and provided the FIlo was either produced in house, as expected, or of proper provenance and in addition to the usual mistakes in baking – filling – size….etc.

    It is a matter of of neutralising the moisture by having each pastry sheet sufficiently buttered to add a barrier to the seeping moisture……….clarified butter of course.

    ………and I had to look up “lepidopterist”…..it is good to learn something new each day 😉

    • The Man in the White Hat August 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Jayeim.

      But I have to admit that I’m slightly surprised at all of the attention the spanakopita is getting. Filo pastry aside, it’s a broadly positive review; honest!

  7. Murray January 11, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    My partner and I first experienced Silvena at the taste festival in Edinburgh a few years ago. She bowled us over and we subsequently visited quince. It was one of our first tastes of the Middle/near East, a cuisine we have grown to love, and everything about that visit to quince was great. ( including sipping prosecco with Silvena). We visit Dubai every year more or less so have been looking out for omnia. We will be in Dubai in late February and will dine there then (if we can get a table!)

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  1. Can Omnia by Silvena elevate Emirati and broader Arabic cuisine? - Dubai restaurants - FooDiva | FooDiva - March 18, 2015

    […] Downtown Dubai, Omnia by Silvena is chef Silvena Rowe’s latest restaurant and her flagship after Omnia Gourmet and Omnia Blue. Omnia which translates to ‘wish’, offers contemporary Arabic and […]

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