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Case study: Café No.57 in Abu Dhabi designed by Anarchitect
For the interiors of Café No.57 in Abu Dhabi, Dubai-based studio Anarchitect combined marble, oakwood, concrete and black-powdered metal
Underground eatery and social media frenzy, The Dinner Cub by No.57, was created by Buthaina Al Mazrui and Alamira Noor Bani Hashim, two Emirati female entrepreneurs, two years ago as a way of experiencing local fusion food in different surprise settings.
Each month, the hosts selected a new secret location, invited a group of individuals from various professional backgrounds and served delicious food in temporary, themed settings. The venture has become a success with its 18,000 plus social media followers and has attracted the support and sponsorship of international fashion designers, musicians and TV personalities.
The challenge faced by Dubai-based design firm Anarchitect was to capture this creativity and culinary flare into the first permanent home for No.57 Café without losing the essence of the pop-up dinners. For this project, the designers also won this year’s CID Award for “AHEC’s Outstanding Use of American Hardwood in the Middle East”.
“We wanted to create for them sort of a new home that would house their original concept. We wanted to create a space that allowed people to feel comfortable, to relax and really enjoy,” says Jonathan Ashmore, founder and director of Anarchitect.
“We were conscious not to try and replicate the exclusivity, secrecy or temporality of ‘The Dinner Club’ conceptm but rather create a new social experience where people and followers of the Dinner Club can come and enjoy the food and interact with this diverse, multifaceted permanent space.”
With the boutique café, Anarchitect had the chance to explore new concepts of what a meal or even a casual coffee would be like. Since the venue serves coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner, the client’s brief was that the café must provide several experiences depending on the time of day, type of dining, seating location and events.
According to Ashmore, they didn’t want to overcomplicate space and planned the internal area around three core sections – bistro, dining area and secret dining room.
Filled with natural light, the bright and airy bistro in front of an open kitchen provides a more relaxed and casual experience for breakfast and lunch, while a more intimate and cosy dining space has been designed for evening meals and long weekend lunches.
“We worked closely with our client to understand their approach and we created an established canvas, upon which they can layer up. You have to understand that people will inhabit that space and if you embrace that fact rather than trying to restrict it, the place will grow over time. It is also great for us to go back and see what clients have done since we created many zones where they can store books, a record player and add different details,” adds Ashmore.
He explains that the decision was made to work with a simple and refined palette of three natural materials – stone, wood and metal.
“A fundamental part in all of our designs is that the places we design will grow and get better with age, so it is important for us to use natural and durable materials. The stone creates solidity, foundation and base. The timber creates warmth, adds texture and brings a lot more character to the space. On the other hand, metal is pure and refined and able to frame and marry the two together.
“For the bistro we have used American white oak for the floors, white marble for the table tops and black powder-coated metal details. The kitchen is separated from the bistro by a metal frame storage wall that is fully functional where a client can store crockery, yet it serves as a kitchen’s backdrop and a beautiful feature. Guests can see how their food is being cooked and all the conversation that is happening with the chef and his staff.”
The dining area is a more upscale setting with timber wall panels and leather banquette seating to soften noise. Customised lights are a focal feature while the ceiling is kept clean by the use of recessed cove lights.
“We are always trying to be honest about what we do, so if we are working in an interesting space, we will refer to it within the project and reveal it in certain areas, like we did in the bistro area where we kept high ceilings and more of an industrial look.
However, context is very important and people would usually sit in a dining space for a longer period of time, so it can feel a little bit intimidating to be in a big volume space with high ceilings. In this area, we dropped down the ceiling space and created a more formal and classic setting,” says Ashmore.
A secret dining room has been designed for The Dinner Club events to take place. This area is discretely located behind bookshelves and is only accessible to guests who have received a personal invitation.
Ashmore notes that the budgets are getting bigger for the F&B sector and that “it’s not only about the design, food or service as people are now paying a lot more attention to the overall guest experience”. He explains that choosing the right location, looking at the right design and quality materials, as well as making sure that the food and the experience are consistent are essential for a venue to last, to be successful and more than just a one-hit wonder.
“It is important that there is a narrative and a journey in all of our spaces, to really refine and focus on the direction of the projects from day one and define what we want to create as a team. Once you define what clients want, then you have to step back and project what it will be like experiencing the restaurant as an end-user.”