Quirky ambiance, eccentric music and a wide selection of beers — Shaheen Nouman explores what it takes to establish a neighbourhood eatery.
Located on the fourth floor at Pier 7 in Dubai Marina, The Scene Dubai recently opened its doors to the public. Spearheaded by UK chef Simon Rimmer, the vision was to introduce casual dining to the neighbourhood.
The Scene general manager, Nicholas Theaker explains: “I had not been to Dubai in 10 years and Simon had never been to Dubai before this. We had an idea of Dubai, and it was very much fine dining. It has changed, but not dramatically.
The problem is that each restaurant we go to, they are just very serious. We wanted to bring fun back into dining. We wanted it to look like nothing you have ever seen in Dubai. Quirky, eclectic, laidback. We want to get to customers who don’t feel like they have to make too much of an effort.”
The Scene, probably among the last venues to open at Pier 7, was actually one of the first to sign the location. According to Theaker, Pier 7 was the perfect spot for the concept. “We wanted to it be more of a community restaurant than a tourist destination or some place you go once in six months. We wanted people to feel comfortable, to come here 2-3 times a week and choose a different seat every time,” he says.
The restaurant can seat 70 people in the dining area, another 130 around the bar, and 170 on the alfresco terrace.
Getting the liquor licence recently has significantly improved the business for The Scene, declares Theaker. “We have cocktails, which do 50-50 with beer. There are not that many places in Dubai that serve a good selection of beer, and for Brits it’s nice to sit down and have a pint. We really benefitted from that.”
Other ways in which the management at The Scene has gone to many lengths to make guests feel right at home include scouring authentic furniture from the UK, and creating a number of differentiated corners around the floor for a distinct experience on every visit. Theaker shares: “We wanted it to be kind of nostalgic.”
Moreover, the team is equally passionate about what plays on the Funktion-One sound system. Theaker reveals they prefer British music, with indie and 80s tunes. “Definitely no house music or generic pop.”
Despite being a quintessential British concept, The Scene serves almost as many locals as expats. “They love the place. It’s a breath of fresh air for them as well,” says Theaker.
The Scene has been operational for only a few months, yet the team is hungry for more. Theaker reveals the company is looking at another location in DIFC for a different dining concept. As for The Scene, he says: “We will be looking at Abu Dhabi next, but we want to take it global.”
“I was a head chef in England but it was a lot smaller. Busy and just as many covers, but a lot smaller venue. I was there for four years, and knew the ins and outs of the business. It’s a lot different to be in charge of a big team and venue here. Different types of people, different types of products; all a massive challenge for me. But I would say I am okay now,” says Tomkinson.
She currently heads a team of 15 chefs in her kitchen, and specialises in classic British food. “Too much food on the plate is not good for me. Less is more. I like clean and simple food. I have always worked like that,” shares Tomkinson.
A menu was already decided upon when she came on board; however, once Tomkinson joined the team, a few adjustments were made on the basis of her suggestions. She explains: “He [Rimmer] trusts me.” She adds that the team is keen to regularly update the menu to keep it fresh. “We write down all our new ideas. Whatever isn’t working will be changed. It’s a well-balanced, large menu, with choices for everyone.”
When asked about the most popular option available, Tomkinson says: “To be fair, everything on the menu sells a decent amount. Things that haven’t, they have been changed because there is no point having them. We like to keep things fresh.
The big sellers are two vegetarian dishes — both are Simon’s dishes. [These are] the feta pie and Lancashire cheese and herb sausage. Fish and chips are a massive seller.” She further added that the response from the customers has been positive. Her favourite dish, after quite consideration, turns out to be the glazed short rib of beef with British beans.
Relocating from England, dealing with locally produced ingredients and sourcing was somewhat difficult for Tomkinson. She had the executive chef by her side and banked on his experience in the industry to make the best of it. “He has the contacts and knowledge and I have been lucky to have him and the support. He has been fantastic.
On the whole, it is quite difficult because we have a finance department who do it all. We don’t have a direct contact with the supplier. It’s a lot different than home. It takes a bit getting used to,” she explains.
The Scene has expansion plans already in place; but besides more restaurants, they are working to introduce new services as well. One of them will be brunch with table service, to be launched very soon.
With The Scene’s concept focusing on casual dining, the servers have been trained to serve it in a casual manner, and the kitchen also mimics the vibe. Tomkinson reveals she loves the service — prepping and presenting, and all that is in between.
The place sees a lot of walk-ins, almost 85% of the total covers. And more so since they got their liquor licence. “The kitchen will get busier and better… I haven’t had a quiet night in a while” Tomkinson happily confesses.
This article was originally published in Caterer Middle East – December 2015 issue. Image courtesy – The Scene.