What springs to mind when you think of Dubai? The tallest building in the world? Billionaires doing mega-business? Wildly unsustainable construction projects? Whatever it is, I bet it isn't organic kale, converted warehouses, or public bookshelves. But Dubai's coolest cafe, Tom & Serg, has all three.
We discovered Tom & Serg after taking the kids on a half-term holiday to Dubai in February, staying with friends who also have two young children. Like us, they are former Londoners (can one really be a former Londoner? Once a Londoner, always a Londoner?) who yearn for a bit of the Big Smoke from time to time. And Tom & Serg does London-in-Dubai better than anyone; our friends are great customers.
The cafe is situated by the side of a big, bad, busy road, and next door to a huge, ugly hardware store. So far, so Dubai. But push open the big glass door and you're instantly transported to Shoreditch, concrete floor, metro tiles, exposed brick and all.
Tom & Serg is located in Dubai's Al Quoz industrial district, an area filled with warehouses gradually being converted into art galleries, studios and - yes - cafes. Tom & Serg's interior design pays homage to the space's industrial beginnings, while retaining a very human, lived-in, friendly feel. Appealing details include the big blackboards, which are pleasingly chalked up with info, diagrams and illustrations (no kiddie scribbles here); open kitchen; curated greenery which picks up on the green tiled stripe running round the cafe; and red exposed piping, which contrasts nicely with the white walls and concrete floor.
And then there's the kids' play area upstairs. Now I have kids (or, more accurately, they have me), I find it baffling why more eating establishments don't have even a small space for children to hang out and entertain themselves while the grown-ups finish their food (it is one of life's mysteries how kids take light years to eat their dinner at home, but in a restaurant the plate is spotless in seconds, leaving them to whine about wanting to go home before you've had even a mouthful of monkfish). Now, Tom & Serg is no Center Parcs (what is it with the American spelling?), but their play area had plenty to keep four young children occupied long enough for me to enjoy my avocado and cottage cheese on sourdough and the Pink House Husband to devour his seared tuna with soba noodles and soy-and-ginger dressing. Then we all got stuck into the cakes (special mention for the chocolate eclair).
Other than visiting Tom & Serg, here are the other things I reckon it's worth doing if you're in Dubai with your mini-mes.
Dubai With Kids: 5 Must-Dos
1) Go up the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, as high as you can. Yes it's expensive, but worth it for the lift experience alone (I won't spoil it).
2) Visit a water park. We went to Wild Wadi, right by Dubai's sail-shaped seven-star hotel Burj Al Arab (and spotted Djokovic, who was hanging out before the tennis tournament started). If your kid is over 110cm they can go on all the big rides, but irrespective of their height they can play in the brilliantly designed kids area, complete with friendly, supervising staff and shallow water; my three-year-old non-swimmer had a whale of a time zooming down the twisty, colourful slides with his big brother while we sunbathed.
3) Have dinner at the Rivington Grill and watch the fountains-to-music display in front of the lit-up Burj Khalifa. This is a proper spectacle that every visitor to Dubai should see at least once, so why not do it in style by eating at a restaurant run by Caprice Holdings, the people behind The Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey. Plus, they have a special kids menu and activity packs to keep the small ones occupied when they're not eating/marvelling at the fountains.
4) Go for frozen yoghurt at Menchie's on the fab Jumeirah Beach. Here you help yourself to various flavours of frozen yoghurt by pulling a handle and letting it curl, turd-like, into your cardboard tub. The kids love it, and you get to treat them, guilt-free - yoghurt's good for you, right?
5) Marvel at the fabulous fish at The Lost Chambers aquarium at Atlantis The Palm. As well as the Nemos, Dorys and sharks, there are baby alligators, colour changing jellyfish and more than 65,000 other marine animals. Genuinely spellbinding.