After an inaugural season with limited F&B options, the Dubai Opera now has a restaurant befitting of its prestigious setting, helmed by Yorkshire-born, Australia-based chef Sean Connolly. Located on the top floor of the iconic dhow-shaped opera house, an open-plan style restaurant features sea-inspired interiors created by Australian designer Jeremy Bull.
Designed with versatility in mind, Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera has the capacity to host up to 350 guests. The brasserie offers different dining experiences with four main areas to choose from – the Raw Bar, the Fire Bar, the central Pearl Bar and the outdoor rooftop terrace, which boasts views of the Burj Khalifa.
The restaurant also features an intimate private dining room along with an exclusive chef’s table that offers eight guests the best seats in the house.
There are several focal design features throughout the restaurant. The Pearl Bar that takes centre stage in the space is inspired by an oyster, one of Connolly’s signature dishes.
Grey marble and pops of pink leather reflect the delicate contrasts of the ocean corals and sea creatures, while blue dappled carpet tones depict the ocean waters.
Jeremy Bull, principal architect at Alexander & Co, tells Commercial Interior Design that the brief was to create a contemporary brasserie, which would focus on an uncomplicated and produce-driven menu serving seafood and steak.
“The space would feature a main restaurant, cocktail bar, raw bar (sushi and seafood), hot bar (pizza oven) as well as the outdoor rooftop terrace bar with an impressive view of the Burj Khalifa,” says Bull.
Each design element within the venue explores ideas of the sea, from the oyster with its combination of smooth sensual inner surface and textured outer surface to the oceanic tones and colours of corals and pearlescent hues.
“The restaurant was inspired by the highly irregular shape and scale of the building and tenancy, and drew upon our personal interest in 20th century classic design and architecture combined with the oceanic Australian/New Zealand influences of Sean Connolly’s cooking,” adds Bull.
Commenting on the overall colour scheme and the material choice, Bull says: “As mentioned above, the materials and colour palette were directly related to the overall design concept, exploring the ideas of the sea and oyster shell.
The design team used an array of colours in the restaurant, such as the green velour Vladimir Kagan couch in the front bar area as well as various coloured leather and upholstery across the dining space in pink salmon, green, black, grey and white shades.
“These pieces were chosen to create an elegant warmth and femininity to the restaurant,” explains Bull.
A combination of fabric and materials were chosen to reflect the contrasts of the ocean. For example, the tiled roof has a ‘roughness’ like the outside of the oyster shell and polished marbles and leather play into the smoothness and softness of the ocean.
The custom salmon-coloured leather banquettes in the main dining area were designed by Alexander&Co and are one of his favourite design features.
“They are beautiful, sculptural pieces. Elegant and feminine. They talk directly to the design aesthetic referencing the soft tones of the ocean, coral and the oyster shell,” says Bull.
The majority of the furniture was custom designed by Bull and his design team at Alexander&Co in conjunction with Tribe Studio and manufactured mostly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“The main retail suppliers for the chairs were the Churner Chair Company, specifically the Churner armchair which is bentwood and leather while of the white feature table lamps are by Serge Mouille,” adds designer.
Commenting on the opening of his first restaurant in the region, Connolly says: “I’m honoured to have the opportunity to open my first restaurant in the UAE and at this landmark location, it’s something seriously special. I plan on letting the produce speak for itself, keeping the food super-simple, and the floor all-singing and all-dancing. I want people to feel good – that’s what really counts.”
The chef himself was involved in every stage of the kitchen design, working closely with Bull and his team.
“I touch every part of the kitchen,” explains Connolly. “My philosophy is that we never have shelves above waist height so you can see that there’s nothing on the walls. Chefs like to cluster things up, but I wanted a very clean open kitchen. It’s very low profile and with no shelving it’s very beautiful. It has lots of marble and a nice feel about it. So while it’s a challenge for many chefs, I don’t put shelves up in the kitchen. It’s about clean working space. It looks like an extension of the restaurant, and it’s just easy on the eye.”
Jasper Hope, chief executive of Dubai Opera, says that finding the perfect restaurant partner for Dubai Opera was something they knew was vital to complete the customer experience it has delivered throughout its first year.
Hope comments: “In Sean we have an outstanding chef who knows exactly how to create a fantastic atmosphere using the best quality and variety of ingredients, a sense of fun and contemporary style and, essential to complement Dubai Opera’s unique dhow shape, a consistent and proven delivery of incredible seafood.”