Sunday, 29 January 2012
Central Perk, Umm Al Sheif St, Jumeira, Dubai
A most un-FRIENDS-ly experience!
Back in the 90s, I was obsessed with Friends. In the days before cheap DVDs and numerous TV channels, I used to tape every episode and watch every episode religiously until the tape snapped. All my pocket money was spent on Friends merchandise, posters, books, you name it and dreamt of visiting Central Perk. Thanks to the show, it encouraged the UK to wake up and smell the coffee and see there was a gap in the market for coffee houses. It's obvious that most of the coffee shops on the UK high street used Central Perk as an inspiration with their massive cups, mismatched crockery and huge comfy couches. An actual Central Perk theme cafe was long overdue. 15 years later, I now watch Friends feeling all nostalgic so you can imagine I felt overjoyed to find a Central Perk branch in suburban Dubai! The main man himself Gunther jetted in to open the place, so my expectations were high....
The layout of Central Perk is pretty much like the fictional one- big comfy couches, faux-French artwork and exposed brickwork. Disappointingly, there was no Phoebe Buffay-style singer in the corner and none of the huge mismatched cups that became a talking point of 1990s interior decorators. However, they did have Central Perk- branded crockery as in the picture above- a nice touch. I sat down and was greeted by the most dour sourpuss I have ever clapped eyes on in Dubai. At first, I thought I was being greeted by Gunther-style comedic surly service but I was wrong. Central Perk's 2 staff on this particular day were grumpy bordering on downright rude. No please, no thankyous, no niceties whatsoever. I gave them a chance, maybe they were just taking a break from the tiresome Dubai standard of saying sir/ma'am after every single word.
The menu was extensive- a little too extensive for such a small coffee shop. Curries, burgers, stirfrys, steamed puddings and wraps filled the 8 page menu, indeed, the menu read like a gourmet paradise but judging from the small kitchen, I sensed this was going to be a case of Jack of all Trades, Master of None. In the name of research, I gave it a go though. I ordered an Indian Vegetable Club Sandwich from Mr Personality and my carnivorous colleague a Square Burger, along with the obligatory Americanos. The Americano passed my stringent test, it was indeed a potent one of the highest order, so I had high hopes for the food.
Half an hour later, my meal still hadn't arrived. Had they actually gone to Spinney's to buy my sandwich? I should have trusted my initial instinct that this place was going to be like Fawlty Towers. Meanwhile, irate diners were coming and going, others tapping their watches impatiently and staring eagerly at the kitchen. After 40 minutes, I plucked up the courage to ask Mr Personality what had happened to my meal. He grunted and proceeded to argue with Mr Personality no 2 in a language I presume was Tagalog. The chef popped his head out and actually looked intimidated, poor guy. Mass discussions ensued, along with an atmosphere you could have cut with a knife. As if by magic, the meals appeared. With a side order of a snarl and a grunt of course.
My sandwich was rather tasty, a combo of spicy potatoes, warm veg and salad, but there's no way it took 45 minutes to prepare. I'd have a bash at making this take on a club sandwich at home actually; as a fan of the occasional chip butty, the idea of putting boiled potatoes on a sandwich is a healthy alternative. The side order of potato wedges were rather grim, they were cold as if they'd been lying round and looked cremated, there was barely any potato on them. The Square Burger was another story. As well as coming with similarly insipid wedges, the burger was one of those from a 5 dirham cheapo frozen box and the bun was square, not the burger. In fact,the burger was inedible, Mc Donald's offerings seemed like gourmet next to this piece of cardboard. The burger was left untouched and a refund was requested. At first, they seemed reluctant to refund us but after little persuasion, we got the money back with a snarl. Upon leaving Central Puke, sorry Perk, not an apology or a 'goodbye' was proffered, and Mr Personality No 2 pushed past us at the door, didn't hold it open or even say excuse me. These are definitely not 'Friends' who'll be there for you when the rain starts to fall.