A major challenge for designers of Pi.Dubai, a contemporary Italian restaurant in the Dubai Mall, was trying to create an intimate space which didn’t feel like it was in a busy shopping centre.
Merging authentic Italian cuisine with New York vintage design has led to the creation of the PI.Dubai restaurant located on the lower ground floor of Dubai Mall. Co-founded by Amber Haque and Rami Badawi, PI.Dubai is a home-grown concept, which reimagines authentic Neapolitan pizzas by marrying old-world traditions with a modern Dubai take.
“Dubai is a melting pot of cultures with international ambitions and should have its own style of restaurant and cuisine. Instead of copying an international chain, we wanted to create an experience that people from the city and abroad will remember, honouring Italian tradition with a Dubai twist,” explains Rami Badawi, co-founder of PI.Dubai.
The restaurant was designed and conceptualised by David Irvin, founder of Folklor, a creative agency based in Los Angeles that specialises in creating brand stories such as the famous Sprinkles Cupcakes. On this project, Irvin collaborated with local interior designer Atefeh Bashir from Ruiz Velasquez Design to realise his vision described as ‘New York Bowery meets Venice California’ or ‘bohemian chic meets UAE influences’. Both of them worked closely with the founders to bring a different concept, from the brand identity, logo and symbols to the tiles cemented on the floor.
“The brief revolved around the Neapolitan pizza being the star of the show, so we made sure that the two ovens were ‘on stage’. We knew the years of time and commitment Rami and Amber put into mastering their craft so we made sure this was on display,” explains Irvin.
The owners say that at the heart of the restaurant concept is the dough. With flour that comes from a 13th-century mill in Italy, the dough is handmade and proofed for three days before it is ready for consumption.
“We both come from cultures that make bread and the dough is the cornerstone of our pizzas or ‘pies’,” says Amber Haque, one of the founders.
Covering over 280m2 and with a 92m2 terrace facing the Dubai Fountain, the biggest challenge for the designers was trying to create an intimate space that didn’t feel like it was located in a busy mall.
“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,” explains Irvin.
One interesting element was the introduction of an indoor greenhouse.
According to Bashir, the inspiration for this area was to bring a hidden sanctuary within the mall and to bring the outdoors into a beautiful and serene space.
“It gives you a calm and serene feeling and takes you away from the crowd in the mall. This way you can actually enjoy your company and the food served. Also, the greenhouse serves as the dynamic element in the industrial world we live in, which is something that is missing in restaurant concepts of the region. The use of mismatched furniture adds a quirky dimension to the overall personality of the restaurant. I also like the detailing of the patina brass used all around the restaurant,” explains Bashir.
It was important for the founders and Irvin that everything is authentic in the restaurant, including decor.
“Every item in the space is authentic and has been chosen carefully so that guests feel like they are going to be taken care of, enjoying their dining experience in a beautiful, timeless space,” explains Irvin. Premium quality materials are used throughout, from statuario marble on the floors, brass finishing, genuine Italian leather seats to solid teak flooring and natural plants in the garden. The restaurant also features a very simple, neutral colour palette.
“The brand’s colour palette is classic — black and white. So we wanted the interior to play off of this element as well with more colour and warmth. Rich leathers, patina brass, curated vintage pieces.
“We worked very closely with Bashir to align the interior with the brand’s visual identity, value and vision,” explains Irvin.
The interior consists of old-world inspired interconnected spaces. The kitchen activity adds to the overall ambiance and energy without being a dominant element.
Bashir comments: “The intention of the design was to create a concept with an industrial and urban character that has been preserved. At first glance, you notice the white subway tiles that have been used as the backdrop of the open kitchen with a strip of a black line running through to compliment the brand features. A clean modern scheme with details such as stained brass, dark wood, imposing windows with metal and wired glass, distressed walls coupled with striking panelling, the rugged wooden floor in the greenhouse area and intricate tiled floors have been enhanced by the use of an earthy, natural colour palette.
“Furthermore, the antique mirror glass encased in frames above the banquette seating is to expand the width of the corridor, and reveal a glimpse of green bursts of life at the rear of the restaurant which will have the passer-by’s retracing their step to have another peek inside.”
Irvin’s creative agency specialises in creating brand stories from inception to completion including: concept/direction, identity, name creation, logos, menus, branded collateral, websites/apps, photo shoots to the overall look and feel of interior design and architecture. Besides Pi.Dubai and Sprinkles Cupcakes, Folklor’s clients also include The Sydell Group and Viceroy Hotel Group as well as restaurants – Gjelina, Tasting Kitchen, Hinoki and The Bird.