Common Grounds has been a firm favourite of mine over the last couple of years (or however long it’s been open). It’s always busy, they serve decent coffee and the food is relatively healthy, fresh and tasty. I’ve been working through the restaurants on the new floor during that time, but it’s the only place that I’ve returned to; the pizza place served me a soggy mess and the Chinese (edit: Taiwanese – thanks Russ Cooper!) place was shocking (much to the chagrin of Haiya of PassMeTheDimSum.com fame, who rates it very highly).
I’ve had several arguments with foodie friends about Commmon Grounds who think of it nothing more than a hipsteriffic, narcissist’s playground – and yes, you do get the odd chap wearing tortoiseshell-rimmed, circular specs, working on the mythopoeian novel he’ll never complete and the archetypal high-heeled-in-the-mall-for-some-reason, sunglasses-wearing-indoors female, sipping back a soy-milk-caffeine-free-mocha-latte, but who am I to judge eh?! “They serve good food!” I cry.
This recent, fateful Saturday afternoon visit though, has made me question my opinion of Tom & Serg’s first venture into Mall dining, and I’ll tell you for why (sorry, watched a LOT of Gavin & Stacey this weekend).
We got there and were surprised at the busyness of some of the other establishments – Eat Greek was absolutely rammed so I was expecting this to be replicated at Common Grounds, which from earlier visits was always packed. It was pretty quiet, about half-full, which for a place where I usually have to wait for a table, was a bit of a shock.
We sat down towards the back and ordered some drinks. I’m somebody who likes his coffee strong; I have a French Press at work (yeah, already had a big rant at coffee-snobs about this method here: https://theemireati.com/2017/07/26/la-farine-jw-marquis-marriott-business-bay-dubai/) and my standard ratio is 2 tablespoons of coffee to a mug of hot water (in the French Press). Some places get the strength spot on when I ask them to “make it strong please!” – shining examples of this are More Cafe, La Farine, the Yacht Club (before it’s sad demise ) but my call was unheeded; the girl who served me lacked any kind of knowledge about coffee – recommended a bean that I found out after was described on the menu as “tea-like” and tasted like witch’s piss. They might as well have just given me a cup of hot water. I complained to one of the staff who mentioned “yeah, I don’t drink any of the coffee on the menu here, it’s too weak”. Charming.
We ordered the Jerk Chicken (as we’d had it before and it was excellent) and the Crispy Scampi Bahn Mi – a french baguette containing panko prawns, gochujang aioli, lettuce, herbs, chili slaw, Vietnamese dressing, chives and shallot crisps .
The Jerk Chicken – normally full of spice and flavour, was unusually weak, almost like they’d watered down the sauce. It wasn’t sticky, it was just wet and unappetizing. No real love had gone into the plating and it just all looked pretty drab, topped off by some pedestrian, soggy “spicy” potato wedges. It really lacked the overall freshness and quality that I’m accustomed to in both flavour and love.
The sandwich was even worse. The french baguette was soggy and cheap (I don’t know about you, but French baguettes should be deliciously crispy, but this was far from it). With the respect to the initial viewing of the dish, when it arrived it looked packed with filling, the top of the sandwich erupting likes a volcano with all the ingredients mentioned above. The problem though, WAS THAT THERE WAS NOTHING INSIDE THE BLOODY THING. They’d rested all the filling on top of the bread, to give the impression of generosity but in fact, had not filled it, so by the time we’d put the filling inside, it was about 80% bread, 20% filling and for a 65 AED sandwich it was a joke. Tasted good, but the ratios so far off, it was unenjoyable.
We finished off the food and drinks, paid and left, vowing to give it a big miss next time we’re in the mall.
FOOD: 5/15 – Stingy sandwich, watery jerky sauce – an utter disappointment.
SERVICE: 6/15 – Food and drinks arrived promptly but lack of knowledge on coffee by the server and lack of interest in making me happy after complaining about my weak-ass coffee left me frustrated.
DRINKS SELECTION: 4/5 – Good variety of coffees, teas and juices.
AMBIANCE: 3/5 – Pretty quiet for a Saturday lunchtime.
DESIGN: 4/5 – Pleasantly designed place, a good environment for a bit of food and coffee – especially good for a mall.
VALUE: 2/5 – Poorly-filled sandwiches, overpriced weak coffee, not in the Entertainer. Not worth it any more if this is their new standard.
CONCLUSION: Yet again, the standards have slipped to an unacceptable level with another of my favourite institutions – which perhaps is a sentiment shared by others, judged by the distinct like of diners of a Saturday afternoon.