Ice & fire

Designing the restaurant at the foot of the largest indoor ski slope in the Middle East, Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates, was always going to be a challenge. Factor into the equation that the space had to provide seating for 1000 people, offer breakfast, lunch and dinner with unique food concepts and incorporate a fashion and theatre entertainment element, and the task becomes even more impressive.

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By  Charlotte Butterfield Published  April 6, 2006

|~|Sezzam-body-1.jpg|~||~|Designing the restaurant at the foot of the largest indoor ski slope in the Middle East, Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates, was always going to be a challenge. Factor into the equation that the space had to provide seating for 1000 people, offer breakfast, lunch and dinner with unique food concepts and incorporate a fashion and theatre entertainment element, and the task becomes even more impressive.

Faced with an empty shell measuring 2,543 sq.m, the concept had to be decided upon. The intention was always to have 1000 seats, and the actual physical location of the restaurant was immoveable from the beginning; the view of the ski slope had to be incorporated and had to be a primary feature in the restaurant’s design. It was just a question of how this would be done.

Michael Henssler, general manager, Kempinski, Dubai, and Stéphane Franchini, director of F&B development, Kempinski, met with the food service & hospitality consultancy firm, FOCUS, from Singapore, the kitchen consultants, Creative Kitchen Planners and the interior designers, Wilson & Assoc. for a brainstorming session to conceive a restaurant that redefines dining.

Mr. Jurcik, CEO of MAF Hospitality had the idea “to create something where things are done in a refined way, in an extraordinary venue.” He wanted Sezzam to: “Combine a new and exciting, innovative way of dining and going-out in Dubai, where food is proposed in a spectacular way.” During the second workshop all the restrictions were identified — in terms of technique, space, feasibility and the financial aspect. Furthermore, MAF Hospitality had determined that the restaurant should fit 1000 seats, that was a set configuration and therefore also a restriction.

From that moment everything was identified: equipment, entertainment and food. The restrictions were known and the main frame of the concept was ready in May 2005, although construction didn’t start until October, and doors have only just opened in March 2006.


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Together they came up with several objectives such as creating a multi outlet configuration that had a large market appeal that was unique to Dubai. The venue had to combine all-day dining, retail and entertainment and they decided the best way to inject a sense of performance and to encourage the five senses of taste, vision, smell, hearing and touch in the dining experience was by creating open display kitchens with interactive stations.

In an age where two thirds of consumer choices are made as a result of subjective, irrational sensations, buying decisions are directly linked to sensory stimuli triggered off at the moment of purchase. Mark van Rijmenam, marketing co-ordinator, Kempinski, adds: “When we told the staff during training that they would be on show, performing for the guests they were taken aback to begin with, but they really seem to enjoy it now.” In addition, quick service, value for money, variety and high turnover were also key objectives. The design had to be durable, functional and flexible, and to maximise seating capacity by the utilisation of a basement production kitchen.

The concept emphasises how the food is prepared and cooked, as opposed to being aligned according to a distinct geographical area. The three principal kitchens are divided into ‘Bake’, ‘Steam’ and ‘Flame’. ‘Steam’ features a large dog-bone shaped kitchen, located along the main guest corridor, maximising its visibility and accessibility. ‘Bake’ is conceptualised around its oversized baking ovens and has an interesting juxtaposition with the adjacent snow dome and the wood-fuelled ovens. ‘Flame’ features the largest charcoal grill, rotisserie and spit roast in the Middle East and the fiery tones are dramatic against the icy backdrop. Each cooking hub has a slightly separate visual identity and colour scheme, while still relating to each other.

Patrick Waring, deputy managing director, Wilson Assoc. says: “The biggest challenge was to create a vibrant, dramatic, sexy restaurant for 1,000 diners. We certainly did not want it to be just another food court and we needed to create a space that would attract 3,000 or more people a day.” Jord Figee, project manager says: “We discarded all conventional ideas of fast turnover restaurants and instead looked to create a space which would cater to both diners looking for a quick bite and others who might want a proper sit-down meal with a more relaxed pace.”


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The furniture was conceived to be simple, yet elegant and colourful. Since the restaurant has 1,000 seats, the chairs had to be simple and not too overwhelming since their sheer numbers were overwhelming enough. The seating is a mixture between Globus Chairs from Stua; the two ranges, Poppystar and Pacific were from Segis and Taj Chairs from Rover. The upholstery fabric is from Maharam, from the “Sudden” range and used in various colours. Lisa Garriss, design director, Wilson Assoc. says: “The fabric on the upholstered seats and banquette seats is reflective, lending to the dramatic lighting effects.” Also, because of the high numbers of diners in the restaurant daily, the furniture needed to be durable. The table-tops are also reflective and colourful but incredibly strong as they are made of high pressure laminate. The banquettes were custom designed by Wilson Assoc. Garriss adds, “they have very simple lines and are not the typical fully upholstered “sofa-like” banquette seat, however, they are very comfortable, which was imperative.”

“The concept behind the finishes was to make the walls and ceilings disappear in order for the large architectural elements, such as the show kitchens, the central timber clad “egg” and the seating, within the space to stand out,” Waring explains. This justifies the decision to clad the walls in black plastic laminate and to paint the ceiling and all the services above the dropped ceilings black. Dark tiles were also chosen for most of the flooring to continue with the theme of floating elements standing out in the space; this chosen hue also lends a sense of drama to the vast area. Some of the dining areas have timber flooring in alternating dark and light stripes, while in the dining section nearest to the ski-slope, tiles of alternating stripes of black and white were installed.

The show kitchen counter tops are a unique design element for this type of restaurant. They are all made from either black or white Corian in an individual curving profile. Only Corian could be used for these counters as they needed to be able to curve in two different directions.
There are no two different sections of the countertops that curve in the same manner. Waring explains: “The contractors initially told us that this would be impossible to achieve and that we needed to simplify the design, but we had a Corian fabricator here in Singapore make a quick mock-up demonstrating that in fact, it was possible. In the end, the counters are the most visibly engaging visual element of the restaurant. Changing the design profile of the counters would have changed the entire feeling of the space.”

As the largest indoor dining venue in Dubai, Sezzam’s primary design challenge was size; but Wilson and Assoc. has created an informal, timeless yet stylish atmosphere amidst one of the Middle East’s newest tourist attractions. MAF Hospitality describes it as an ‘avant-garde dining and entertainment experience.’ And according to general manager Michael Henssler, “the bracing, contemporary design of the restaurant will capture the imagination of restaurant go-ers.” ||**||

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