The Sum Of Us: is it all hype?

The Sum Of Us

THE SUM OF US – bottom right shows the ground level, and the other two are the second storey (photos taken near 5pm).

I am usually sceptical when hype surrounds a new restaurant or café opening in Dubai, or anywhere for that matter. Expectations rocket higher than Burj Khalifa, one is typically left seriously disappointed…and most probably hungry. The Australian and Spanish duo opened Tom & Serg café in Al Quoz 18 months ago (another hyped up opening) and now their latest venture behind the Sheraton Grand hotel on the Sheikh Zayed has flooded Instagram feeds with an unusual name, The Sum Of Us.

As my Australian friend suggests, perhaps the café is named after the Oz comedy. Google the storyline and you’ll see why that’s highly unlikely in Dubai. When I pose the question to our waiter he initially stumbles, but then manages to blag his way through a story about the team effort behind the name. Something Tom himself confirms later. Disclosure here – after we finish our mains, my cover is blown when Tom pops across to introduce himself. We have only ever met on Instagram, where he manages his own social media channels taking the time to respond to both compliments and complaints in a humble, constructive manner. Many a restaurant and café would do well to take heed of his customer engagement strategy.

There are many similarities with the two concepts – from the two-storey, urban, industrial style décor with exposed ceilings rammed for a Saturday lunch, to a compact breakfast, lunch and dinner menu peppered with the odd native Australian ingredient, and a fascination for coffee that has garnered a love hate following across Dubai. So it’s interesting they have decided to change the name. Perhaps a clever approach to avoid direct comparisons? But I am comparing anyway.

My risotto is cooked with a wonderful zesty bush tucker ingredient, lemon myrtle that I first taste at Bushman’s, the Australian restaurant at Anantara The Palm, generous shreds of silky roasted cod, a sprinkling of chilli oil, a hint of tarragon, and a dollop of sour cream. You have to mix it all together to bring such powerful, distinct yet complementary flavours to the fore, in particular the fragrant verbena of the lemon myrtle. This dish is pure comfort food, one that I polish off pronto, and one that I can see becoming a firm favourite in Dubai.

Lemon myrtle and cod risottoTuna sanga

My friend’s ‘sanga’, Australian for sandwich, is listed as tuna and egg which she requests sans egg, but the waiter can only oblige once he checks with the kitchen. A sign that the mix is pre-prepared, but at least they are able to accommodate special requests and make it from scratch. A simple tuna mix is elevated with the intensity of preserved lemon, a spread of olive tapenade, and a few rocket leaves – sandwiched in a home-baked sourdough toastie with as expected, a strong tangy taste. Interestingly it’s the only bread available at The Sum Of Us, baked daily on the premises, and available for take out. The generous portion is accompanied by a small dressed salad of rocket with slivers of parmesan. As an aside, at the end of our lunch, Tom presents us each with a loaf to take home and I have since been living off grilled cheddar cheese, and smashed avocado on toast – simply delicious.

The cake display is very limited, so don’t go here if you only have a sweet tooth – but I understand it’s work in progress. The lamington, another Oz speciality, is a twist on tradition; with chocolate sponge instead of vanilla; a centre of fresh cream with strawberry jam; and sprinkled all round with desiccated coconut. Super moist as it should be if freshly baked, the coconut is surprisingly very mild; a good thing in my opinion, allowing the other flavours to shine. But we have to chase this order, and when the lamington does eventually arrive, it’s followed by a second accidental serving which we return.

LamingtonOolong tea

Whilst our food impresses, our drinks do not – my apple juice listed as ‘fresh’ resembles the like from Barakat – and is most certainly not freshly squeezed. My oolong tea has a good depth of flavour, but sadly is served in small, chunky ceramic coffee cups which don’t retain the heat well, so I request a take-away paper cup instead. A pet peeve of mine, and that of many a tea drinker I would have thought.

As for the hyped up coffee, we are politely told that The Sum Of Us does not make cappuccino with skinny milk as the thinness of the milk impairs the flavour of the coffee – something that my coffee-drinking friend quite rightly says should be left to individual preferences. Undeterred, she orders a half-strength, extra hot cappuccino – which arrives not once but twice as barely lukewarm – she even sinks her finger in the cup (twice) to prove a point to our (horrified) waitress. When she suggests that maybe the cappuccino could be served in a paper take-away cup to retain the heat, she is inexplicably told no, that would make the coffee even colder. When the coffee finally comes for the third time, it is hot (but not extra hot), and its flavour pleasant enough, but not a patch on Bystro, she claims, which arguably makes the creamiest (skinny) cappuccinos in Dubai.

As you can tell, service is hit and miss, with our waitress better than our waiter, but the banter between staff and diners is welcoming. There’s no doubt The Sum Of Us has successfully replicated Tom & Serg’s vibrant vibe, but upstairs where we are seated is a little canteen-like. Given the choice, I would opt for the more intimate ground level with a view into the coffee roastery. Expect to pay on average AED115 per person for two courses, a coffee/ tea, and a cold drink – like its sibling, good value.

The Sum Of Us has been open less than a month and clearly does have teething issues, but that’s something Tom acknowledges, so am sure with time will be resolved. When there is so much hype around a new opening, especially one with a full house, cafés and restaurants would be better off charging half price until they are confident staff both front and heart-of-house are fully trained and they have got it right.

I would give them a little more time to settle in, but in the meantime if you’re in the area, you’d be hard pushed to find a better café. On top of that, home-grown concepts should also be firmly supported by the local community. Oh and I do leave with a full stomach…and a loaf of sour dough.

Do you think eateries should open with a half-price strategy for a so-called ‘soft opening’ period? What’s your take on The Sum Of Us?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

  • Ground floor, Burj Al Salam building (back of Sheraton Grand Hotel Sheikh Zayed)
  • +971 56 4457526
  • International, Australian
  • AED 115 per person
  • Open daily 8am - 10pm
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    Australian, Cafes, Dubai, Hotels, International, Location, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants, Sheikh Zayed
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29 Responses to “The Sum Of Us: is it all hype?”

  1. GA May 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    I am yet to visit The Sum of Us but look forward to paying it a visit. I agree about the soft opening and the prices being reduced during that period. Great review 🙂

    • FooDiva May 25, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Thanks GA. The only restaurant I know of that did offer a 50% opening discount is Roberto’s at DIFC…and it’s been packed ever since. I hear the quality has gone down though since Roberto left.

  2. ishitaunblogged May 25, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    While I have met Serg many moons back while he was in this quirky restaurant called Bohouse, and had really loved his passion… I am sorry I have found Tom & Serg really overhyped. Also bewildering is how The Sum of Us was noninated in Ahlan even before it opened its doors. Your reveiw however makes me want to visit the place.

    On a diff note, you must have a Foodiva rating system for unlicenced places.

    • FooDiva May 25, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      I believe Serg also worked with Starwood for a while Ishita…but I did not know he was at Bohouse. What a horrendous cafe with such a confused identity! Agree with you on the Ahlan award…most bizarre. A revised rating system is in the works for this summer 😉

  3. SJ May 25, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    I visited twice already, for lunch and for breakfast. We had the lemon myrtle risotto (delicious!) and the chicken katsu bowl with cucumber kimchi (yum!). For breakfast,I ordered the smoked salmon bagel with poached eggs for breakfast and it was equally good. Service is a little slow. When we went the first time, the AC was broken and it was a little too humid in there but the food made up for it. Will definitely be back to try the rest of the menu and have a coffee!

    • FooDiva May 25, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      I was torn between ordering the risotto and the chicken katsu, so will definitely order the latter next time SJ. And I do want to return for breakfast…once they introduce tea cups 😉

  4. The whistleblower May 25, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Although I have not eaten at the Sum of Us yet, I concur with your comment about their coffee practices. It’s pretty arrogant of a place to tell you how you should or should not drink your coffee, I think we can decide that for ourselves. I used to frequent Tom and Serg regularly when they opened but have not been back since purely because I drink my coffee in a take away cup as it keeps it warmer longer. When they refused to serve me my take away cup, 3 weeks after opening and having visited the place on an almost daily basis, I went elsewhere. It sounds as if I m gonna go to Sum of Us only once since the same faith will be waiting for me ….

    • FooDiva May 26, 2015 at 9:31 am

      Oh dear, not good at all. Let’s all champion take away cups when dining in! On a more positive note, Tom is monitoring the feedback here so I hope these comments will be taken on board and the operation addressed. Out of interest, where is you go-to spot for good coffee? (I am not a coffee connoisseur so can’t really comment).

      • Sally May 28, 2015 at 8:29 am

        There are only a few places I buy coffee is Dubai…Coffee at Eataly is excellent at Dubai Mall and Jones the Grocer also good…

      • The Whistleblower May 28, 2015 at 9:55 am

        Foodiva, most coffee bars and restaurants today serve RAW coffee so the majority tastes all the same. As Sally said, Eataly do a good Italian coffee but there is also a new coffee kiosk that has opened in Jebel Ali Building on Sheikh Zayed Road and they serve coffee from a brand called “BOON”. its roasted locally and the coffee comes from Ethiopia (the owner is Ethiopian hence). Pretty good coffee in my opinion. The kiosk is called GroundRush and its their first outlet that opened a week ago. Go check it out, all their food is also home made and their muffins are one of the best in Dubai IMO.

  5. Sally - My Custard Pie May 26, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Haven’t been to the Sum of Us yet but the risotto makes me want to go there now. I like the vibe and atmosphere at T&S and have often received the Tom personal treatment – a nice touch. However the menu is really hit and miss with some absolutely stellar salads (the butternut squash and preserved lemon one had veggie teen and I going back again and again before they changed the menu) and some real howlers (the shakshuka with mozzarella on the top – salty, strange and just wrong).
    Service is always friendly if a bit patchy. I like some of their pioneering things like free filtered water in bottles.

    • FooDiva May 26, 2015 at 9:35 am

      Shakshouka with mozzarella Sally…sacrilege?! Mind you, I do confess to making mine at home with (Cypriot) halloumi as a base. Good point on the still filtered water (we had sparkling) – more places should follow suit.

  6. Drina C | Eaternal Zest May 26, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Went there, and was unimpressed. Great vibe but the food didn’t awe me. I ordered a shrimp salad, the waiter that took our order was on another planet- asked if the shrimps were fresh/local, he was a little stunned about the question, took a couple seconds to digest and comprehend with a puzzled look and then spat out “not sure i’ll check”.. he didn’t walk far and turned around saying, I’m sure they’re fresh. Shrimps didn’t taste fresh.. no flavour and was overly salted to compensate lack of flavour.
    I liked Tom and Serg better; but now with Bystro across the road I would rather go there (they have breakfast all day and I would be happy to dig into their huevos rancheros alongside their kenyan coffee).

    • FooDiva May 27, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      That’s not good Drina. This place surely has everyone divided. Oh and I too have a soft spot for Bystro and its huevo rancheros.

  7. Sally May 28, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Agree with all comments re the NO skim milk coffee…let me choose how I want my coffee. Great review..I also had the chicken Katsu which was really really delicious. We went with a group on the 2nd day and the service was fine and no hiccups.

    • FooDiva May 28, 2015 at 10:40 am

      Thanks Sally, and for your coffee tips too.

  8. Kishan May 28, 2015 at 8:36 am

    I agree Samantha. Irrespective of when they opened, if I am paying full price I expect nothing but the best. The place happens to be next door from work – so have happened to go there quite a few times now. Each experience rather different. I was surprised they were able to flex and accommodate your requests. I have been told – your eggs can’t be done white (as the menu doesn’t state so and that the eggs are cracked open in the morning). Being a vegetarian I requested no chicken in my wrap (while asking for nothing additional and paying full price), was told sorry can’t – as we wrap them up a night before. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to hear that and makes me question how fresh the food is.

    I am sure given time it will do well, but for now if they are not dropping the prices they better start get thier service right and flex a little too accommodate small requests. Else, unlike you (walking out with a sour dough – which is great), most people will be walking out with a sour taste.

    • FooDiva May 28, 2015 at 10:50 am

      I don’t understand why anywhere would need to crack eggs in advance Kishan. Surely they take up more space than whole…and it only takes a second to crack one open! I think the dietary requests are only accommodated dependent on who is serving and who is cooking, with no consistency – unless my cover was blown when I walked in which case they decided to accommodate the egg-less sandwich. There is a real discrepancy in service, with some staff better than others. Ultimately Tom and his kitchen are dictating what can and cannot be accommodated so I hope they will review their policy.

      • Kishan May 28, 2015 at 11:36 am

        Just came across an interesting read this AM: Customisation – a top restaurant trend for 2015 driving loyalty.

        • FooDiva May 28, 2015 at 6:48 pm

          Brilliant article Kishan! “However you do it, by recognising customers as unique and allowing them to tailor your offer, you stand to benefit from raised satisfaction and increased loyalty.” Amen 😉

  9. Mrs White Hat May 28, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Hi Samantha,

    I have to add my comments about coffee here (full disclosure – I have worked in the coffee industry for 15 years across 3 continents).
    What both Tom & Serge and The Sum of Us are doing is importing the advanced coffee culture from Melbourne to Dubai, but without the years of incremental changes that Melbourne (and then London) went through.
    Both cities used to have extra hot, extra large skinny milk drinks as standard. As the coffee industry developed the skinny milk was slowly replaced with semi-skimmed or only full cream – for the reasons given to you. Most good coffee shops now offer both semi-skimmed and full cream milk as options. As for extra hot milk – milk boils at around 70C. After this point the sugars (sweetness), proteins (structure) and fat (mouthfeel) degrade and the milk turns into a scorched, lumpy liquid that not only tastes bad BUT will also burn the coffee (and thus burn off all the nuanced flavours) on contact.
    So over several years good, independent coffee shops slowly changed how they extract coffee and heat milk, all with the aim of allowing customers to taste the incredible flavours in specialty coffees and appreciating them. Along the way they communicated to customers what they were doing and why. Now customers in cities such as London, Melbourne, Seattle, Wellington and many others expect better flavours and cooler milk in their coffee.
    Maybe the baristas at The Sum of Us just need to chat to customers more to explain some of these points; or even have a gentle sign visible? Of course, coffee is such a personal drink that if a customer really, really wants their coffee extra hot – the barista should make it for them but explain that it won’t have the full range of flavours and mouthfeel.

    Food and drink are constantly evolving as industry professionals chase flavour, texture and the joy of discovery. That is why we work in it; and why customers enjoy learning more as they eat out and about.

    And soft openings should have the menu at half-price; the customer puts up with a few hiccups but doesn’t pay full whack.

    My 2 cents worth!

    • FooDiva May 28, 2015 at 7:04 pm

      Agh Mrs White Hat. I was hoping you might pop by to shed some light on this discussion 🙂

      Very interesting. Not being a regular coffee drinker, I had no idea. But when I do drink the odd cappuccino (skinny!) or Greek coffee, I want it piping hot, like my tea. I personally hate the taste of milk, it makes me retch, so I definitely can’t tolerate it lukewarm. In my friend’s case the coffee was hardly even lukewarm, surely that can’t be right? And she’s from Oz too!

      You bring up a valid point though – coffee etiquette should be explained (I for one would be very interested), but ultimately if the customer wants their coffee a certain way, so be it, they are paying at the end of the day. Given The Sum of Us’ focus on coffee, the baristas, if there are any, should be doing the round of tables – in the same manner a sommelier does when we order wine in a restaurant. Oh well over to them.

      • Mrs White Hat June 1, 2015 at 5:44 pm

        Hi Samantha,

        I agree that a barely lukewarm drink is wrong in every sense. Even I would send it back and ask for a warmer, fresh one. 🙁 Having the barista visit the tables and ask for feedback/explain their standards would be helpful.
        In the end I think The Sum of Us could communicate their coffee standards through a mixture of website, waiters, barista and cheeky signs on the bar or menu BUT still make the coffee to a customer’s specific request.

        Still, I had a truly grim ‘caffe latte’ in the Costa outlet in Bahrain Airport this week. At least Dubai now has independent cafes that care!

  10. Johann Z May 29, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Giving a 50% discount during an opening phase is a ‘double edged sword’…….. it will reduce complaints for any shortcomings that might arise as patrons will understand that this is a ‘breaking in’ period – however, it will usually increase the number of persons coming to dine (especially at peak times) and this often leads to even more shortcomings/problems and exacerbates the problem. Much better to have a week of ‘dummy runs’ when people are invited ‘free of charge’ to come and test the product – you control the number of invitations and have a chance to see where the problems are etc and the invitees are delighted to have been considered as ‘a VIP’ for the invite……. after that week is over then open to the public having made sure all the ‘problems/shortcomings’ are solved.

    • FooDiva May 31, 2015 at 4:53 pm

      Fair point Johann. I like to think restaurants should be doing dummy runs anyway from a few weeks in advance…especially the likes of The Sum of Us who have a big fan base.

  11. Noreen May 31, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    When they first opened I was so excited, firstly because it’s walking distance from my place and I just loved the idea of walking over there with my laptop for a coffee and lunch. I visited twice and only ordered coffee, each time the coffee was great and I didn’t experience the luke warm cup as your fellow diner did. I picked up their wonderful sourdough loaves both times as well which I use for sandwiches all the time. The third time I ordered the confit lamb & quinoa salad, when it came out I noticed there was no quinoa. I thought maybe since they are so new, perhaps it was forgotten? So I called the waitress over and she informed me that “there isn’t supposed to much quinoa in it.” I showed her that I couldn’t even see one grain on quinoa visible, and she said “that’s the way it’s supposed to be.” Eventually I dug around the plate with my fork and found about 5 grains of quinoa (not exaggerating), which is fine but don’t call it a quinoa salad then. I’m not one to make a fuss so I didn’t say anything further. I just went again this past weekend just for coffee and it wasn’t too good. The first time I ordered an iced latte with almond milk (I had an amazing almond milk latte back home in Rhode Island so I thought to give theirs a chance) I really really didn’t enjoy the almond milk they use, maybe that’s my preference. So I asked if I could return it for another iced latte with regular milk as I really didn’t enjoy this one. She did exchange it but told me I would be charged for both, I really wanted a coffee so I just said ok. The second latte came after about 15 minutes of waiting and it was OK, I think the hot lattes are a better choice. Then came the whopping bill of 58 aed, I wish they would’ve comped the first latte, I hardly had even a couple sips.

    • FooDiva May 31, 2015 at 4:58 pm

      The waiters’ handling of your quinoa and second coffee experience are unacceptable Noreen. I really, really do hope they are taking all this feedback on board – because the scales are tipping towards more complaints than praises at the moment.

  12. Maria June 17, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    I must say, my experience, and my group of friends experience have been disappointing. On arrival, we were seated within 10minutes. However, we waited for 20minutes before we realised nobody had approached our table to even offer us a hello never mind a menu. When I looked around, all of the waitresses were busy or staring into space! I had to stand up to wave somebody over as we were getting impatient. I ordered the Beetroot salad and my partner ordered the burger. The burger was very basic, so don’t go for a burger. The beetroot salad was just too powerful with fennel. As I looked on Instagram afterwards, I noticed the salad was served differently in each picture posted, so there is no consistency. Maybe, if i return, I will get a good week!

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