International Restaurant Concepts
Learning Outcome/s (found in the Subject Outline)
Mourad Mazouz is a renowned Algerian born restaurateur. He opened his first venue in Paris in 1988 - a bistro known as “Au Bascou”. A mere couple of years after its conception, the venue received the accolade of “Bistro of the Year”, a great accolade in this competitive gastronomic city (“Speaker Profile: Mourad Mazouz”, 2020, para. 1).
In 1990, he opened the restaurant “404” in the chic and rowdy Paris district of Le Marais. To this day, 404 is an institution that is still fresh and modern (Baidawi, 2020, para. 7). The name is riff on the diaspora of North Africans arriving in France, in Mazouz’s mind all the immigrants arrived in a ‘Peugeot 404’, at the time a popular model of car across North Africa (M. Mazouz, personal communication, May 22, 2020).
In France at the time, and to some extent even now, North African restaurants were viewed as only serving traditional North African cuisine - couscous and tagines. He wanted something that reflected his roots, still serving those traditional dishes but to elevate the offering; more of its time - cooler, sexier and modern compared to his contemporaries. More recently, the venue can be experienced with its next-door cocktail bar, “Andy Wahloo”.
“Andy Wahloo”, a clever play on words in North African Berber meaning “I have nothing” is a nod to the Pop Art design of the venue itself and the famous Pop Art artist, Andy Warhol. The bar was originally designed to allow people to sit and have a drink whilst waiting for a table at the 404. This bar first opened in 2004 and had a revamp in 2013 refreshing the kitsch design, including neon pink lights spelling out the name of the fictitious character the bar is based around. Mazouz teamed up with Hassan Hajjaj, a London based Moroccan artist for the design revamp of Andy Wahloo.
Hajjaj is heavily influenced by the club, hip-hop, and reggae scenes of London as well as by his North African heritage. His work includes installations, fashion, interior design and furniture made from recycled utilitarian objects from North Africa, such as upturned Coca-Cola crates as stools and aluminium cans turned into lamps. His design aesthetic works perfectly at Andy Wahloo (Hassan Hajjaj & Mourad Mazouz Join Forces to create a Moroccan inspired Pop Up Bar, 2018, para. 2).
Mazouz moved to London in the late 90s and opened the critically acclaimed North African restaurant “Momo”. The restaurant was the place to be and in its early days hosted a plethora of ‘A List’ celebrities including a birthday party for Madonna. Naturally, it received a lot of publicity due to its clientele and this put a spotlight on the venue. The restaurant commanded an air of exclusivity and this was further bolstered by the addition of special Momo keyrings that gave access to a members-only basement bar, where decadent parties took place (McCoy, 2019, para 2).
Momo restaurant is situated on Heddon Street in London, this falls within the wealthy Mayfair district and just tucked away in a small, quaint street; just off the posher Regent Street shopping area. Mayfair has over
5,100 permanent residents from more than 42 nationalities and the highest representation of the residents sits in the 30-44 years of age category. This part of the city also boasts London's largest concentration of luxury hotels and restaurants. Rents are among the highest not only in London, but in the world (City of Westminster, 2018, p.2).
One particular demographic very drawn to this restaurant is wealthy Arab visitors. Although tourists from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar make up only a small percentage of total visits to the UK, compared with their counterparts from the U.S. and Europe, they are lavish spenders. Figures show that Middle Eastern tourists ranked just 19th in terms of visitor numbers but were high yielding tourists in 2014 as they were second in total spend of £888 million (Hui, 2015, para. 5).
The décor and menu offering have remained largely consistent since it first opened. Despite a recent refresh in 2019 (McCoy, 2019, para. 4), the décor is that of an elegant and eclectic North African souk. The space consists of brass trays, burnished terracotta and vibrant blue accents. Meanwhile the lighting is dimmed and at varied levels for a diffused effect and Moroccan lanterns disperse different colours. A luscious and secluded garden space with tables on the terrace. The venue has retained a unique offering and a lasting point of difference throughout the years.
The original basement bar beneath Momo relaunched in 2019 to great acclaim teaming up with award winning mixologist Erik Lorincz. Lorincz made his name at the Savoy's American Bar, propelling it to the top space in the World's Best Bars. This new venture coming in at number 47 of the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2019 within five months of opening (Kwant, n.d.). “Kwãnt”, pronounced quaint, has a cream lounge, bamboo ceilings and palms evoking the 1940s classic Casablanca era all put together by top French-American interior Designer Bambi Sloan (Hanly, 2019, para. 3). Experimental drinks using fermented pineapple and spirulina served in fine glassware, served by white-jacketed professional staff. The food offering consists of classics with a Maghrebi twist such as oysters with tahini, smoky foie gras and scallop carpaccio with cauliflower tabbouleh.
In the same year, and set right next door to Momo, Mazouz created a diner called “MO Diner” after reading an article in the NYT about the slow death of diners; “It made me think how these were popular canteens with an extensive menu – and always a warm familiar feeling when entering” (Baidawi, 2020, para. 13).
The menu is a fusion of North Africa, the Med, and Los Angeles: hash browns with pomegranate and brown sauce, Berber pancakes, and bouillabaisse, served throughout the day. The design consists of yellow handmade Moroccan tiles, beachy wicker baskets lined in palm-print fabric whilst the lights along the bar are those found in the French “TGV” trains. The diner nods not only to his Algerian roots but to the classic French brasserie, with yellow glass screens between the booths that line one wall, and a row of framed mirrors (Roux, 2020, para. 7).
Mazouz’s most iconic venues launched over a decade earlier. In 2005, the restaurateur launched “Sketch”, merely a stone’s throw away from his first London venue in Mayfair. At the time, it was very much a disrupter on the London fine dining landscape - the design was so out there. Many fine dining restaurants at the time were very “vanilla” in their décor and lacked personality. In contrast, this place injected colour and a sense of fun. In Mazouz’s words, he wanted “to provoke” (Prince, 2018, para. 7). The venue is admired for its design elements - in 2018 was nominated by GQ for Best Interior category in their Food And Drink Awards (Prince, 2018, para. 1) and is often frequented by influencers sharing their dining experiences on their platforms.
He joined forces with Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire and introduced a uniquely designed all day dining room. However, Sketch was not accepted by the critics at first (Jaques, 2013, para. 6). This was partly due to the immense hype surrounding the launch, along with what was deemed an extremely frustrating and overly engineered booking website, accompanied by an extreme air of pretentiousness when the venue was launched (Haler,2005).
The food has been highly rated and whilst Mazouz is no stranger to accolades, the now iconic Sketch was the only restaurant in the UK to move up from two Michelin stars to the coveted three in 2019, making him the first African restaurateur to receive three Michelin stars (Kaabi, 2019, para 1). For a cutting-edge restaurant that’s now well over a decade old, it remains a “must see” dining attraction in London and there are calls to see a Sketch outpost in Dubai (Kerr, 2019).
The Middle East
Whilst Mazouz hasn’t yet introduced Sketch to Dubai, he has established a restaurant concept in the Middle East. His first foray was in Beirut, Lebanon. Beirut had a thriving culinary scene in the 2000s. Whilst the restaurant worked at first, the war had made things difficult. Lots of regulars left and there were no tourists. This inevitably took its toll and the venue closed (Lutrario, 2014, para. 10).
Undeterred, and having observed the popularity amongst his Middle Eastern clientele at Momo in London, he saw the opportunity to expand further afield. Mazouz adapted the Momo concept and gave birth to “Almaz by Momo” - 'Almaz' meaning diamond in Arabic. The aim was to balance tradition with modernity, and the menu is a mix of Maghrebi style of cuisine, Lebanese and modern dishes, which are not always Arabic (Saeed, 2014, para. 4) and reflect the myriad of cultures represented in the region (United Arab Emirates Population Statistics, 2020). As in all United Arab Emirates restaurants, no alcohol is served, and the concept is targeted predominantly to families.
The décor of these venues includes a starry sky ceiling with Moroccan lamps hanging low over brass trays and low, embossed metal tables in keeping with the theme. Described as comfortable, these venues effectively blended North African craftsmanship with a contemporary edge (Long, 2016, para. 2). The style is described as decorative, vibrant and intricate. The Abu Dhabi restaurant, in the heart of the financial district, opens up to a shisha cafe, which is housed in a covered terrace. This is accessed through large glass bays letting in natural light and provide views of the cityscape (Sherry, 2014, para. 6).
Mazouz is someone that is drawn to arts and culture, noted for his hospitality passion, human insight and perfectionism. He thrives working on restaurant and brand design, often analysing how a business will survive when the fashion moment passes - something he admits to spending hours brainstorming over coffee in London (Singleton, 2020). Mazouz has the luxury afforded to few in that he’s his own shareholder, he will design and open when he’s ready and not before. He will look through a microscopic lens at the business ensuring everything his guest will see, feel and remember are perfectly orchestrated. All his concepts have a striking style and timelessness. All his venues are design, theatre and experience driven - whilst they may all be different, at their core remains the sense of theatre, design and stimulation of the senses
For solution, connect with our online professionals NOW!