A Dubai pizzeria marries the old world with new themes to create its own unique look
PI.Dubai, the UAE’s first gourmet pizzeria and the only independent restaurant located in Dubai Mall, is making a mark on the culinary landscape — creating an experience that is authentic to the emirate with its contemporary twist on a traditional Neapolitan-style pizzeria.
The pizzeria set out to turn the Dubai model of importing experiences from other locations on its head by creating a home-grown experience that is true to the Dubai landscape.
“The Dubai model, for the most part, has been to recreate an experience tried somewhere else. We want to create an experience that people outside Dubai will remember, by finding authenticity in the surroundings and owning and taking pride in Dubai,” notes Amber Haque, co-founder of PI.Dubai.
In order to bring this vision to life, the PI.Dubai team enlisted world-renowned creative director David Irvin of Folklor, a creative agency based in Los Angeles, US, that specialises in brand stories such as the famous Sprinkles Cupcakes. Irvin is known for his work on numerous Los Angeles-based restaurants including Gijelina, The Tasting Kitchen, Hinoki and The Bird, Sprinkles, Mo-Chica and the entire Line Hotel, including all of Roy Choi’s restaurants therein – Pot, Pot Café, Pot Lobby Bar and Commissary. His portfolio also includes an extensive collaboration on the branding and design of Voss Water.
“The restaurant was designed and conceptualised by Irvin, who specialises in creating brand stories, such as the famed Sprinkles Cupcakes. The brief was very simple: we were looking for a space and a brand that reflected what we were doing in the kitchen: authentic, high-quality, technique and ingredient-driven cooking, with our pizza dough and pizza taking centre stage. We also wanted it to look and feel different, marrying the ‘old world’ feel with contemporary design,” says Haque.
Irvin describes his vision for PI as “New York Bowery meets Venice California” or “Bohemian chic meets UAE influences”.
To realise his vision for PI.Dubai, Irvin worked closely with local interior designer Atefeh Bashir of Ruiz Velasquez Design. The pair transformed the 3,000-sq-ft interior of the restaurant into a sanctuary, with every single item authentic and carefully chosen to embody the experience that is PI.Dubai, from the chicken wire glass in the interior windows to the white subway tiles on the ceiling, the statuario marble mosaic floor and the arches in the hallway — all inspired by ‘old world’ New York.
“Unlike cities such as New York, it is much harder to inherit older, beautifully aged structures in Dubai. While newness has its advantages, we really wanted to recreate a more textured, lived-in and layered environment,” says Irvin.
The space, located on the lower ground floor of Dubai Mall, consists of old-world inspired interconnected spaces and also boasts an indoor greenhouse, a concept that Irvin replicated from some of his Los Angeles designs.
“The idea was to create a hidden sanctuary within the mall. Since the Dubai heat rarely permits for comfortable outdoor dining, we decided to bring the outdoors in,” notes Irvin.
The restaurant also features a 1,000-sq-ft terrace with views of the iconic Dubai Fountains.
Brand and design work started in November 2014. Work on the project started in April and ended in mid-July last year with the opening of the restaurant.
The challenge was to create an intimate space that did not feel like it was a part of a busy shopping centre, according to Irvin.
“We wanted an authentic, textured and lived-in look that is hard to come by in newer cities like Dubai, but is commonplace and easily accessible in cities like New York. There are not that many older structures to inherit here,” says Irvin.
“Our brand colours are black and white. You will find the colours picked up throughout the design, but it is not overwhelming or washed out. For the interior, the emphasis was really on choosing the right materials and on quality finishing,” Irvin comments.
The white subway tiles have been used as the backdrop to the open kitchen with a strip of a black line running through to complement the brand features. Other details include stained brass, dark wood, imposing windows with metal and wired glass, distressed walls coupled with striking panelling, a rugged wooden floor in the greenhouse area and intricate tiled floors that have been enhanced by the use of an earthy, natural colour palette.
This apart, the antique mirror glass encased in frames above the banquette seating serves to create the illusion of a wider corridor, and reveals a glimpse of green bursts of life at the rear of the restaurant.
Almost all the furniture is custom-made using real wood and carrera marble from Italy. The floor is made of Italian statuario marble mosaic and is hand laid, and the indoor greenhouse has a real teak floor and real plants. Work-tops and shelving are made of brass, and banquette seating in the main dining room have genuine Italian leather.
All marble and leather are from Italy; the teak floor is from Maisons et Parquets in Dubai; the pizza ovens are from Forni Valoriani in Florence, Italy; and patio furniture is from Ambar Garden Furniture.