Unit Thirty6 designs a contemporary new space for classic Lebanese eatery in Dubai's Al Seef area

Unit Thirty6 designs a contemporary new space for classic Lebanese eatery in Dubai's Al Seef area
Published: 31 March 2019 - 3:50 a.m.
By: Michael Hasenstab

The challenge between preserving history yet keeping up with the modern times is something that is leading F&B establishments to embrace a more progressive approach. Al Mallah, an institution for foodies in Dubai and Sharjah wanted to re-invent its interior design identity in its latest branch in Dubai's Al Seef waterfront development which itself strikes a balance between the old and new. The restaurant chain commissioned Abu Dhabi-based design firm Unit.thirty6, founded by Reem Abou Khalil and Ornella Khattar, for the Al Seef outlet, which pays tribute to the eatery's history and its 40-year-old journey -- having opened six branches -- in the UAE.

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"For the design concept, we focused on translating Al Mallah’s history over the past 40 years from a juice joint to a full-service restaurant through the space layout, materials used and overall ambience," say the designers.
"With Al Mallah’s cuisine being essentially traditional Lebanese, we connected the historic milestones of Al Mallah with the authentic Lebanese architectural elements. Al Mallah’s current other branches are known for their bright green neon lights and seating alongside the main roads."

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For the new 190m2 outpost, Khattar and Abou Khalil did not want to stray too far away from what Al Mallah is known for. They explain: "We translated all those different elements of Al Mallah’s identity over the years in the design concept to include a 'street' side and a 'traditional' dining side. For the 'street' zone, we created a seating area for dine-in that resembles the tradition of sitting outdoors in a Lebanese village under the grape vines, a juice bar representing Al Mallah’s modest beginnings and a sandwich station connected to an open kitchen where those hoping to grab a quick bite on the go can place their orders, resembling authentic street food joints (called 'snacks' in Lebanon). For the traditional dining experience, we created the spatial layout in a manner that encourages diners wishing to have an authentic Lebanese meal to experience the tradition of sharing different platters and dining alongside strangers in a more communal setting."

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The materials for each zone have been selected to visually separate and highlight the different experiences. The 'street dining experience' runs across the restaurant on one end with the limestone walls, street-like flooring, vine leaves pergola and aged oakwood. Whereas the traditional dining zone’s material selection is more homelike with patterned vintage floor tiles and reduced wall materials.

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Adding to the interior, the restaurant also features two outdoor dining zones as well as a back entrance to the closed kitchen. "We felt that using the back kitchen entrance area as a third façade and shawarma serving station for passers-by within the development was a complementing addition to the already existing Al Seef “village” concept, as well as an essential spot to direct clients to the hidden main entrance of Al Mallah located at the back of the development by the creek, without hindering the adjacent tenants," say Khattar and Abou Khalil.

Photos: Keegan Shepherd

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