Outlet 360°: The London Project
In the shadow of the world’s largest ferris wheel, The London Project is set to be one of the first restaurants to open on Dubai’s Bluewaters Island
One of the first locations set to open on Dubai’s Bluewaters Island, we took a look around The London Project and speak with
the chefs and front-of-house staff.
Taking up over 1,000 sq metres and seating 380, The London Project is set to to bring a little bit of everything to Dubai’s dining scene when it opens in December.
Much like Dubai, London is a true city of the world, with every country on Earth represented in its population. It’s this side of the British capital that The London Project team wish to convey, rather than the more stereotypical view.
“We didn’t want to go down the path of cliché London,” says founder Stephen Valentino. “You won’t find union jacks or telephone boxes. It’s more about the subtle parts of London, the boroughs, the bits you really enjoy.”
The result is a venue that Valentino calls “a global culture with its heart in London”. Split into zones that each offer a different experience, from a gin garden to a coffee bar to a private dining area, The London Project has its namesake’s diversity at its heart.
There’s a key focus on quality drinks with head of bar Nana Sechere crafting an extensive array of cocktails based on a theme of the four elements — earth, wind, and fire — and heavily featuring tropical flavours including papaya and mango. But with over 40 gins, and Sechere working with suppliers to get special bottles imported, the gin garden is sure to be the star of the show.
Aesthetically, The London Project is like an indoor garden, with Valentino saying he wanted it to be a “sanctuary, something that wasn’t typically Dubai”. There’s greenery in abundance, and the views are second to none — with JBR, Dubai Marina, the Palm, and the Burj Khalifa all in sight from the terrace.
General manager Cesar Breton has been involved with the project for almost two years. Describing the vibe he plans to bring to the service, he says it’s “fine dining with your shoes off”, with all customers welcome. Breton experimented with innovative ways to bring in his staff, including video interviews. “I think the modern days of assessment have to be multidimensional because education is,” he explains. “We’ve got a team from Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, North America, so we’re being as eclectic as we can be, just like London is.
“Most of the guys they have a story, they have a passion, and we’re trying to fuel that. I think that’s what is going to make the place a success.”
Breton hopes that the mix of areas within the venue will allow them to keep customers for longer — for example if a couple want a table for dinner but it is full, they will be guided to the gin garden for a drink while they wait.
As with front-of-house, the kitchen at The London Project is “inspired by the city of London and inspired by the multicultural nature and wide array of influences that go into London, being a super culturally diverse city”.
So says Robert Fairs, chef de cuisine, and one of two New Zealanders in charge of bringing the boroughs of London to life on the plates of diners.
The other is Christopher Walker, executive chef for The London Project, and like Robert an extremely successful chef back in his homeland where both won multiple “hats” — the Kiwi equivalent to a Michelin star.
The London Project has given them both a fresh start in a new country and with a venue that allows them to offer everything from bar food to fine dining options across its multiple sections.
For example, taking inspiration from the British classic of fish and chips but giving it a twist with their more upscale background, they have created a “champagne battered fish and chips” that “plays on all the things you get in a traditional chippy but with an ingredient focused twist so it’s the best it can be”.
When it comes to more exotic dishes, such as a sashimi dish using yellowtail, the chefs have stayed true to its roots while adding their own twist. So although they stick to the recipe handed to them by a Japanese chef for the ponzu they make from scratch, they also add a twist of pomegranate to make the dish their own.
Sustainability is also a key issue at The London Project, both front and back-of-house, and Walker tells us they have a relationship with vertical farm Badia Farms in Al Quoz to ensure locally farmed and eco-friendly vegetables are used when possible.
Walker admits that “it’s been challenging as we haven’t been here that long and don’t have many personal relationships but we do have some pretty amazing suppliers as part of our family.”
He also believes that detachment from the local scene in Dubai is a blessing in some cases, saying that although they “take it into consideration, we just want to do good, honest food".
Several former colleagues of Walker and Fairs have made the journey to The London Project with them, and Fairs says they were keen to foster a multicultural and diverse team.
“We have staff from all over the world. Different ages, different sexes, different religions. We wanted a balanced, diverse team. They weren’t all necessarily hired on skill set or who had the best CV but it was more on personal relationship and are they excited by the project."
Having had months to prep, we ask Walker what he is most excited about now?
“Opening,” he says simply. “It’s something new, it’s a big challenge, but we have such a strong foundation already. Cesar our GM is amazing, Nana our beverage manager is phenomenal. I’ve never worked with anyone so inspirational when it comes to the combination of food and drink.
“We’re going to be the best. Definitely. There's no questions about it in my mind.”
CARE TO SHARE: The London Project is meant to be a group experience with food to share. ART ATTACK: 3D art dominates the walls around the venue. SUSTAINABILITY: Money from every bottle of water sold goes to charity.FOUNDER: Stephen Valentino.