When visitors walk through cobbled pavements with bags of spices surrounding them amidst the thick, bitter scent of Arabic coffee, they can be forgiven for thinking they have somehow been transported to old Dubai from the heart of Dubai Festival City.
With the taste of authentic Emirati cuisine, Al Fanar Restaurant & Café revives the memories of Dubai from the 1960s, when it was a small town on the shore of the Arabian Gulf — with rows of wind towers surrounded by the Al Badia oasis where fishermen, pearl merchants and Bedouins lived a simple life.
Hashem Al Marzouqi, owner of Al Fanar (which means “beacon” or “lighthouse” in Arabic), and principal of theme park specialist firm Aspen Creations, said he wanted to create a restaurant with a 100% Emirati ambience and educate visitors about his culture.
Before entering the restaurant, a scene of the Al Badia oasis has been constructed: a Bedouin tending to his flock of camel and goats; a donkey loaded with kerosene to fuel the lamps of the town, an old Land Rover parked near the side door ready to unload the goods from a long haul, and the landscape dotted with tents and barasti (palm fronds) huts where the locals spend lazy summer nights outdoors.
The old town of Dubai was a thriving city of trade where goods from neighbouring countries were brought in, and traded with pearls. The architecture had a very distinctive character — rows of wind towers, walls made of coral stones and mud, grilled wooden windows and vaulted wooden doors.
Recreated in the same manner, visitors are expected to go through an alley to their right, which takes them inside to the roofed souq (Souq Morshed) where oud (incense), bukhoor (scented woodchips/bricks), saffron, spices and sweets are sold, with a traditional café serving Arabic tea and coffee.
Through another corridor, people step into the main seating area of the restaurant called Bait Al Tawash (house of the pearl merchant) courtyard through its vaulted doors with a large Al Sidr tree in the centre and a ceiling wallpaper of blue, cloudy skies.
In every traditional house, visitors will most likely find one of two trees – Al Sidr and Louz. “The trunk is a little bigger than it actually is because there was a column over there, which we cladded,” said Al Marzouqi. With this setting, visitors experience what was once the centre of the house a long time ago.
He said currently most of the restaurant visitors are UAE nationals, with even aged members of society visiting to relive the past.