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

Caterer Middle East - - Contents -

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.

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