Aidan Imanova visits fine dining concept Em Sherif launched by Lebanese entrepreneur, which takes visitors back to the glory days of Lebanon.
Nestled among Downtown Dubai’s shiny skyscrapers and shopping malls, Em Sherif is a time capsule that transports its visitors to an era of imperfect opulence and Mediterranean splendour. Launched by Lebanese entrepreneur and passionate cook, Mirelle Hayek, Em Sherif’s Dubai location is the second launch of its kind, with the restaurant being first conceived in Beirut, where Hayek is from.
A strong love for the culinary arts led Hayek to open her first restaurant in Beirut in 2006, an Argentinian steakhouse, La Parrilla, leading to a second restaurant concept called Yasmina, an Indian fusion eatery named after her daughter. Much like with Em Sherif, Hayek has been involved in both the menu as well as the design of each space. She calls Em Sherif her “dream venture”.
“My biggest inspiration was my passion for cooking and hosting people. I had a restaurant at home long before Em Sherif came to life and found the transition to be quite organic,” says Hayek. “My love for fine dining drew me to take this experience further by adding my personal twist on the recipes and the look and feel of the place.
“If anything, hospitality is an intrinsic part of Lebanese culture, it is part of our DNA. This was an inspiration for me to build a place where people can come in and have a good, homely meal.”
The restaurant itself is designed to reflect a traditional luxurious Lebanese mansion, with each artefact specifically crafted and chosen to embody the rich culture of Lebanon in the past.
“The overall experience of Em Sherif is a true and authentic depiction of how guests were hosted and served in the golden days of Lebanon, an era I am very reminiscent of,” Hayek explains.
The Dubai restaurant is the exact replica of the first concept that was launched in Beirut, with the only adjustments being space-specific due to the differences in the floor plan.
“Being the perfectionist that I am, I set out on a mission to make sure that Em Sherif Dubai was an exact replica of the one in Beirut and it was certainly not an easy task,” says Hayek. “One of my biggest challenges was to recreate each of the elements, including the hand-painted ceiling. Another challenge was finding the right ingredients which we now ship from Lebanon to ensure consistency in food, taste and quality.”
Hayek is proud to say that Em Sherif is a “perfect execution” of her vision, where with the help of an interior architect, each and every corner of the space was conceptualised by Hayek herself.
One of the many things that one notices when first entering the restaurant is the ceiling.
Depicting an old yet opulent roof, the ceiling is painted a Mediterranean blue, much like the rest of the space, and depicts an image of an old painted tapestry, broken in some places yet still upholding its level of luxury.
“The ceiling is a giant canvas which was hand painted and crafted to look like a work of art. It sets the mood of the place which is supposed to be artistic and tasteful,” says Hayek. “To me the ceiling is such an essential part of every room and I made sure that it did not go unnoticed.”
Describing the overall architecture and design of the restaurant, Hayek says: “Em Sherif’s architecture is a fascinating vision of royal blue hues – a signature Mediterranean colour with a very comforting feel to it. Every corner has been touched by vintage pieces, layered underneath ambient indirect lighting, that compliment this fine dining experience.
“I genuinely see myself in every detail as if it were an extension of my home and have gone to great lengths to make the décor as unique as it gets by simply adding my personal style. There are so many elements, such as the ceiling and the tiling, that have been given a raw feel to further reinforce the authentic aspect.
“The Diwan area was crafted using custom-made textiles and chairs that were hand-embroidered with soft velvet finishing.”
She explains that each area of the restaurant has been designed to showcase the various areas of a mansion such as a balcony, a dining area, outdoor area as well as others, with accessories that are created or chosen to specifically replicate the antiques that transport visitors to days past.
The dining area features mirrored tabletops in order to make the dishes and silver cutlery stand out, using Russian silverware that is reminiscent of every Lebanese home as well as crockery with motifs created by Hayek herself.
“Each and every item in the restaurant is bespoke, such as the black and white motifs on the plates. Whether I personally designed them or selected them, they add depth to the overall eclectic charm of the place,” she explains. “Even the decorative roosters perched on the tables are crafted from a mould specifically designed for Em Sherif.”
One of the most interesting and nostalgic concepts of Em Sherif is a wall installation, situated next to an open baking oven, that features dozens of vintage plates in different shapes, sizes and images.
“People who walk in will inevitably find a piece or an accessory that takes them back to the old days or reminds them of something they saw in their parents or grandparents homes,” Hayek concludes.