Brandon's Table at Cafe Milano - Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi

Not waving but drowning is a poem by Stevie Smith. The poem talks about the disconnection between people, the misunderstandings. Brandon's Table was born of this sense that there needs to be a way to get people to really engage in meaningful conversation. I am not talking about some impersonal wine dinners where you are one of 25 people and are personable for the night without really opening up. Brandon's Table wants to create a space where people can come once a month and engage. The first Table was recently held at the fabulous Cafe Milano in Abu Dhabi. 

The menu for the evening was created by Executive Chef Franco Sangiacomo and the guests were seated in the private dining room. What I like about the private dining room is how open it is. There is an option to create privacy but we forego that so that it is more semi private than private. After all, we want to be able to absorb the atmosphere of Cafe Milano on a night when the restaurant is 70% full. Impressive for a Monday night. 

Brandon's Table is not a wine dinner. Wine may be served and paired with dishes, but it is not  a wine dinner. Food and wine are in fact incidental. The table can be anywhere. The food can be a peanut butter sandwich. Brandon's Table is about the people gathered around a table and the food and wine are a vehicle to something more, something greater - conversation. Of course, it is an absolute boon that we could have the first event at such a beautiful venue as Cafe Milano and to have a menu created by Chef Franco Sangiacomo is just the bubbles in the Prosecco!

We live in a  city where many expats pass through. As a result, not many are willing to open up to the possibilities that really make life meaningful - the possibilities of friendship, romance and love. There is logic to this - why invest in people who are likely to leave at any point? Brandon's Table wants to challenge that notion by creating a  space of intimacy where people, over food and wine, can indulge in real conversation. Converse as if there were no tomorrow. 

I have come to enjoy wine dinners over the years, but in addition to being formulaic, it is a place where we wear a  face to meet the faces that we meet, to paraphrase TS Eliot. That is because unless there is a core of people who return every month, there will always be that distance between guests. Furthermore, restaurants are quite inconsistent with offering wine dinners. Brandon's Table wants to create that safe and inspired space every month.

In the end, Cafe Milano was a fitting venue for the inaugural Brandon's Table. Because service was immaculate - it was attentive, knowledgeable and classy as I have come to expect from my favourite Italian restaurant in the city - it allowed guests to focus on the motivation  behind this concept - conversation.  A great menu that allowed guests who had never tried Cafe Milano before ensured that they left with quite an impression. Finally, Aas someone who dealt with the restaurant in the background setting this up, it was such a pleasure. Emails and calls answered. Replies sent timeously. Consummate professionals. 

At the end of the evening, strangers parted as less than  strangers and friends parted as deeper friends because of this evening. Am I being idealistic in believing that real connections were forged this night or that some of the connections made will continue? I don't think so. I think most people, even the cynics among us, will never stop believing in the essential qualities of life that make us human - hope, joy and love. 


Cafe Milano at Four Seasons Hotel,
Al Maryah Island,
Abu Dhabi
+971 2 3332600

Brandon's Table is held once a month
Guests limited to 12-15.

The next  Brandon's Table: JW Steakhouse at Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi, 30 January

Brandon Stoltenkamp