Almaz by Momo

Restaurateur, Momo, breathes colour, glamour and passion into his first Dubai project, a lively Arabic-inspired restaurant in Harvey Nichols

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By  Charlotte Butterfield Published  July 7, 2006

|~|Almaz-body-1.gif|~||~|The elusive fusion of innovative design, excellent food and an impressive location is in short supply and much demand; with newly opened North African/ Arabic restaurant, Almaz by Momo, all the key components are there. The client is the reputable and established Al Tayer Group; the location is the top floor of Harvey Nichols, and to complete the magical mix, is larger-than-life restaurateur and general entrepreneur, Mourad ‘Momo’ Mazouz of Sketch and Momo’s fame in London.

Shireen El Khatib, general manager, fashion & jewellery division Al Tayer Group says: “Momo is one of the most innovative restaurateurs in Europe. We met in London and here in Dubai a few times, encouraging him to bring his unique and irresistible gourmet experience to Dubai. We had a vision about what we wanted to achieve and felt only Momo’s flavour and design concepts could complement the fashionable Harvey Nichols store.”

Mazouz told CID that after he completed the Moroccan restaurant in Selfridges, London, Al Tayer approached him for this project. “When I came over I realised that there was actually a need for the type of place they wanted me to create; somewhere humble, but passionate, warm and funky.” He adds: “The aim was to serve Arab food, simply but well. To create an atmosphere that is both beautiful and fun,” he says.

El Khatib says: “From an Al Tayer Group perspective, we worked very closely with Momo on Almaz by Momo, but we allowed the visionary to create something for Dubai that would complement the surroundings whilst also offering an eclectic blend of creativity, novelty and excellence in food and service. Originally, we wanted Momo to bring his renowned restaurant in London, ‘Momo,’ to Dubai, but we realised that to offer a unique experience for this market we had to come up with something new.”

||**|||~|Almaz-body-2.gif|~||~|Mazouz chose Beirut-based interior designer Annabel Karim Kassar to help him realise his design ideas. The first stage was dividing up the space architecturally, Mazouz explains: “It is 9000sq.ft and I started by drawing a plan – where did I want the kitchen, what floor did I want? The ceiling is a massive consideration too — with a space like this where the ceiling is so high throughout, it needs breaking up and bringing in. This is a point many restaurateurs don’t understand. A high ceiling can make diners feel uneasy and insignificant. I learnt this with Sketch, the ceilings there made my guests feel too small and so measures needed to be taken to combat this.”

Karim Kassar adds: “The journey of the Almaz project started with a massive architectural intervention transforming the hollow inner space and moulding into shape. These architectural manipulations gave structure to the concept of the project as well as to its space. As is very apparent in Almaz, the project is about the outcome of a blend between the modern and the traditional, a mixed marriage of the Moroccan and the contemporary.”

The massive false ceiling, inspired by the traditional Arab tents and ‘Hammams,’ gives coherence to the fragmented spaces by spanning, at different heights, over the totality of the project’s area. The surface of the ceiling is broken further into smaller skewed surfaces as it evolves from the Almaz Dining, through the Salon Arabe and Bar, and culminates in the Shisha room. Karim Kassar employed diverse treatments of the ceiling surfaces: from the starry diamond shaped ceiling of the Almaz dining room which is complemented with fractals and blazing drops, to the ceiling of the Salon Arabe and Bar punctuated with suspended stocking lights, to the intricately hand-carved bronze lanterns and splashing drops of the Shisha room.

The lighting layout and all the lighting objects were designed by Karim Kassar’s lighting business, Cai Light, which she co-owns with fellow interior designers, Christophe Hascoet, and Isabelle Rolland.

In fact, there is hardly a single item or finishing that has not been reconfigured or re-dressed by Karim Kassar. Even the antique or vintage items, purchased from different Oriental markets, were re-invented with new vibrant fabrics. She explains: “We didn’t want to create a space with uniquely traditional Moroccan objects, so we started with purely traditional objects that we made contemporary through, for example, surface treatment such as the hexagonal tables with reflective acrylic surfaces, or the table tops in the bar, laser cut with a zellige pattern. It’s the process of creating new contemporary objects based on the traditional ones.”

||**|||~|Almaz-body-3.gif|~||~|Karim Kassar explains that their aim was to create a strong sensation of visual dynamism and spatial fluidity. “This was achieved by focusing on an innovative use and juxtaposition of materials, patterns, textures and colours that populate the space. I was inspired by the interior of Moroccan houses where a large number of different styles of seats, couches and tables coexist together, and where soft materials such as fabrics are as important as wood and copper.” Mazouz adds: “I’m not a big fan of minimalism, I like to feel warmth and passion in an interior, and a space that is continually evolving and being added to is filled with history, passion and feeling.”

The mix of furniture and accessories is certainly eclectic; the chest in the fine dining room is from Morocco made in 1850, while the carved wooden doors have original panels with side panels copied and manufactured in Dubai.

Large ‘mashrabiyas’ over traditional Moroccan windows allow lots of natural light to flood in. The clipping tables on the stage of the Salon Arabe area and the kitchen pass panels in the fine dining area with tin and mother of pearl inlay are by Nada Debs, while the copper trays are by Karen Chekerjian. The French artist, Dominique Fury, created the two panels of art flanking the entrance and the individual little pictures on the tiles in the kitchen, which add to the eccentricity and uniqueness of the project.

Fury was part of the pop-artists group called ‘Bazooka’ during the 70s and now works mainly with the silk-screen technique. Karim Kassar first collaborated with Fury in 2002 on a project designed by AKK in Beirut — a trendy nightclub called ‘Strange Fruit’.

The Arabesque ‘zellige’ pattern recurs throughout the space; the intricate zellige wall outside the kitchen took four weeks to install, as each tile had to be placed one by one. In addition, the bold pattern is replicated on the carpet of the Almaz fine dining room, which is from Hong Kong and is actually 148 m (with no repeats). The geometric pattern is also echoed on the bright cement tiles on the rest of the flooring, which was from the Beirut firm, Blatt Chaya. Karim Kassar says: “These tiles follow the idea and patterning of Oriental carpets found in mosques and Moroccan tapestry.”

Momo explains that being a perfectionist constantly striving to be original has led to the creation of a thoroughly engaging space that matches the client’s brief and his own ethos: “We started work in October 2005, the project was completely finished at the beginning of May, it cost roughly US$2 million, and I really believe that this is now a restaurant that will appeal to a culturally-diverse customer. Above all, whatever I do, I make sure that I do it well.” ||**||

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