Martinis are an undisputed luxury item, and Dubai is an undisputed luxury destination. If your familiarity with this Gulfi city extends to only brief flight transfers or superficial commercialism you might be due a more in-depth visit. Dispel the myths. This is a very diverse city and it is constantly evolving, with new ideas, experiments and experiences popping up on a regular basis.
Lulu and the Beanstalk is one such experience.
Located in the DIFC (the Dubai International Financial Centre) it’s a bar (and bookstore) that sits in delightful contrast to its more corporate environs.
In a time when so many bars and restaurants feel like they were designed in a spreadsheet, Lulu and the Beanstalk feels like it was genuinely created from a place of passion and originality.
It has personality; it has identity; and it isn’t trying to copy anyone else.
It’s not traditionally Emirati – far from it – Lulu’s proudly evokes its East African influences, but at the same time it showcases identity in a form of relaxed, individualistic confidence which I feel sets a highly optimistic tone for the UAE’s future.
It’s a family-run venue located in the ICD Brookfield place building on al-Mustaqbal Street. Sisters Wafa and Amirah have backgrounds in film making which is almost certainly why the bar has an attention to detail that really focuses on experiential imagery, mood and good music.
The bar is named after their grandmother, known for her storytelling abilities – and I’m sure many other talents. She clearly handed down creativity in her family considering the abilities of her grandchildren.
The bar itself is relatively small, so booking is recommended to ensure a seat. And when I say seat, that’s for the earlier part of the evening when you enjoy food and drinks. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself on your feet with the mixed, trendy and upbeat crowd, especially when they have a DJ in session.
From the moment I arrived I adored the eclectic arrangements and mood. The staff were warm, attentive and genuine. I use the word genuine because customer service in many establishments of Dubai, while thorough, can sometimes feel a little robotic. The staff at Lulu’s are fun, engaging and clearly invested in their work. This is authentic hospitality.
Classic martinis aren’t on the menu but it states that the bar staff will provide them on request. I didn’t want to be a difficult customer but I needed to ask for one so I had an excuse to blog about the place. Otherwise though, the cocktail menu is lovingly curated, with a length that I would describe as reassuringly focussed.
When I made my request for a classic martini I was asked all the right questions. What kind of gin would I prefer? How would I like it? Immediately I could tell that the bartender not only knew his martinis but was as passionate as I am about them, so I asked him for his recommendation.
Sometimes in Dubai if you ask for recommendations or for the chef’s preference you can see an expression ranging from confusion to panic wash over your server’s eyes, as if they are unaccustomed to people not knowing exactly what they want or giving them the benefit of an opinion. They are in a mode of total service provision, rather than actually telling their guests what to do.
This was absolutely not the case chez Lulu. The host was more than happy to recommend different options and gins because he knew exactly what he was talking about. He was confident in things like quality and experience.
He offered me a dry martini with Ginraw (a Barcelona gin) with a garnish of grapefruit peel, which he recommended would complement the gin’s botanicals. I eagerly accepted. I had not tried Ginraw before so was keen to give it a go.
The martini was cold, nicely balanced and with a refreshing bitterness. Bravo.
I normally prefer my martinis to be served in a traditional conical glass but I feel that the glassware in Lulu’s, like most of its decor and ambience has been selected to be whimsical and playfully nostalgic. A straight-edged traditional glass would be a missed opportunity to embrace the softer, more gentle mood of the bar. Some venues I would judge, but Lulu’s, like Control Room B in Battersea Power Station has deliberately chosen their glassware to fit the setting, rather than following rigid convention.
Some penny-pinching bars use coupe glasses because they can contain less alcohol than a classic martini glass without looking paltry. Lulu is no penny-pinching bar. It is caring, generous and attentive.
My second choice of drink was direct from the menu and not an off-the-books request at all. Indeed I wanted to try this drink straight away but I wanted to set myself a baseline of a classic martini before I indulged in this delightfully appealing cocktail option.
November in Nairobi
What an evocative name! Lulu met the future grandfather of the family one star-crossed night in the Kenyan capital. The rest, I guess, is history.
The drink ingredients were listed as gin, martini dry and vermouth bianco, so essentially this is a subtle variation on a Perfect Martini TM.
To clarify, a Perfect Martini is not someone’s subjective consideration of their perfect martini, it is a specific recipe, one involving an equal measure of sweet and dry vermouth against the gin.
Again, the service was attentive and caring and when my drink was served I was in no doubt of the quality.
While I prefer my martinis to be dry, this cocktail was still a beautiful, boozy sip, lifted beautifully by the citrus flavours which had clearly been imparted into the glass from a well-handled strip of orange peel. Indeed the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I was being encouraged to loosen up my usual astringent lemon ways to enjoy a softer, more gentle pour for the evening, like being led astray by someone with my best interests at heart. A theme for the venue, I would say.
The only recommendation I would offer is that after the drink has been poured, maybe cut the orange peel down to a smaller size so it doesn’t crowd the glass – a minor point. It was definitely taken into consideration with my classic martini, with its perfectly twisted and trimmed sliver of lemon peel.
The bar has a good range of other drinks on offer, including quality mezcals (which they took the time to talk us through), beer, wine – and mocktails.
Yes – I want to talk to you about mocktails. I didn’t order one but I was surprisingly arrested by how much they caught my fancy with their mixture of sweet-savoury options. I would definitely return just to try them out. No more parties in Lamu – I’m looking at you. I feel like it’s a mocktail invented for a martini lover on the dry. I was also intrigued to find out more about the name. Was this a reference to Al-Shabaab?* I will have to return.
The food menu is great with some really tasty options that I would describe as perhaps fusion or international but without the cynical connotations. We enjoyed charcoal chicken and now-now noodles which were absolutely delicious and wonderfully seasoned. The venue also has good allergen labelling, which is both convenient and reassuring. I regret to report that I don’t actually have any photographs of the food, but that’s simply because I was enjoying myself so much that I forgot!
The vibe of the night’s soundtrack started off eclectic but chilled, but as the evening progressed and the DJ set up it became gradually, but decidedly more engaging. A mixture of modern and retro-turn-of-the-Millennium, which seemed to delight the large (but not overwhelming) Gen-Z proportion of the crowd. There was dancing and a very friendly vibe which I would describe as… wholesome-trendy. It wasn’t edgy or urban, intense or the too-cool-you-just-wouldnt-understand vibe that London can sometimes be guilty of. It was just very good, fun and relaxed in a non-pretentious way that both Dubai and London could use more of.
So, if you find yourself in Dubai, especially near the fabulous new Mathaf al-Mustaqbal and you’ve got time for a quick drink, or a whole evening, be sure to sample Lulu and the Beanstalk. Try and book if you can, and really enjoy yourself with the decor, atmosphere, music, food and drinks. Most of all, enjoy the excellent, authentic care and attentive hospitality from the venue’s staff, and be sure to follow them on Instagram.
*Al-Shabaab is an armed Salafi-jihadi organisation based in Somalia which has conducted a number of terrorist attacks in Kenya, including against targets on Lamu. Lamu is a beautiful, historical and culturally noteworthy archipelago off the Kenyan coastline, and as mentioned above, also the birthplace of Lulu herself.