We interview founder Tom Arnel and London-based architect David Archer on this buzzing new DIFC eatery
Words by Aneesha Rai in The Lifestyle · Oct 4th, 2023
The Guild, Dubai's latest culinary gem in DIFC, introduces a new era of dining inspired by the bustling brasseries of New York and Europe. This gastronomic masterpiece, led by Melbourne-born EatX founder Tom Arnel and brought to life by London-based architect David Archer, renowned for his work on iconic establishments like Chiltern Firehouse and The Standard Hotel, combines the artistry of design and architecture to redefine the city's dining landscape. With The Guild, Tom Arnel and David Archer have masterfully crafted a world where feasting meets revelry; inviting diners to savor an array of culinary delights in three unique settings, or 'acts' as they like to call it - the first being Potting Shed, followed by The Rockpool, Ritz and The Salon, with The Aviary due to be released in due course.
Q: Walk us through your design approach for The Guild.
David: As a practice, we have worked on a number of restaurants and venues that include multi-faceted F&B and entertainment spaces that are often based within the context of a historic building or environment, providing a design narrative. The Guild is a unique project in which the context of the site is the development of a new and energetic, modern city. This, paired with Tom’s vision of a single venue with multiple dining experiences, drove the design.
In order to provide a hierarchy between each element, where each is placed in relation to another and the overall experience of passing from one to another is one of excitement and imagination, Archer Humphryes looked closer to home for inspiration and based the layout on plans of historic English gardens where external spaces are treated as internal rooms and each one awakens the senses in different ways.
Tom: The aim was to create an atmosphere that felt timeless and sophisticated. The overall vision was to bring something entirely new to the dining scene in Dubai and introduce a venue that feels very cosy, private, and elegant which can be appropriate for all occasions, for all times of day amongst the DIFC and wider Dubai dining community. The overall concept was to draw on inspiration from the bustling brasseries of New York. The Guild is a unique concept, however, as with all venues at the conceptualising stage, we considered design inspiration from several best-in-class venues from around the world. David has a deep understanding of how restaurant operations work, meaning he is not only a creative talent, but his ideas are practical too.
Q: How long did the project take from design to fruition? What were the design influences?
Tom: The project has been five years in the making, three of which David Archer and I worked closely together to develop the brief and bring our vision to fruition. Nurseries for instance holds a Petersham Nurseries meets London’s Café Boheme charm – along with the cobbled streets of New York’s Tribeca. The Potting Shed is our sunken lounge bar, and feels a little like the Ladder Shed at Chiltern Firehouse. It’s strewn with plants where guests are seated amongst (more) beautiful potted plants, set against the backdrop of brickwork and red velvet couches. Texture is important here, this is in contrast to The Rockpool, which feels like a chic New York oyster bar, with a 12m sweeping tiled countertop and open kitchen, surrounded by seafood. It awakens the senses.
David: The project from design to fruition took three years. Our initial approach was embedded in the brief developed by Tom's vision, which was to provide a number of restaurant and culinary experiences and outlets that would sit within a single cohesive environment, allowing guests to choose what they ate, where they ate, and enjoy a variety of drinks, food experiences, and designed environments. With the project being in Dubai, Tom was adamant that the design would be indigenous to the city and not a replica of themed restaurants that have been developed or brought from elsewhere.
Q: How does The Guild set the stage for a memorable dining experience?
David Archer: The nature of the site, the sheer volume, and the expression of the structure and services that support the ICD Brookfield Tower were retained through the design and are felt by each guest the moment they enter the different acts of The Guild.
The individual spaces were developed architecturally with the idea of a garden landscape, or the kind of implied spaces rather than complete finished buildings that one experiences passing through the storied architecture of ancient Rome are drawn in a Piranesi-esque perspective and can be found in the charm and individual character of the external rooms that comprise many English gardens. These design elements, inspirations, and attention to detail come together with the masterful menu and create a sensory experience for a memorable dining experience.
Tom: The Guild’s main dining hall, The Salon is a tribute to grand salons and brasseries of New York and Europe. The idea is to make people feel they are part of the kitchen, so we opted for a huge, red brick-built woodfire oven and grill that puts the diner in the heart of the action. In this space, the kitchen is basically the stage, and we have people watching the chefs doing their craft, cooking over open fire only. This adds to the feeling of camaraderie when guests are sitting around a campfire with what feels like a massive Chef’s table.
The Ritz Room, which is the last to join the party at The Guild, is a private dining room for 16 guests. Ricardo Bonfil's famous cement factory for the room’s design inspiration – mostly from the shape of the windows and the simplicity of the outside of the room.
As the piece de resistance, we’ve got our cocktail bar, whiskey bar, and cigar lounge, The Aviary. The space houses a grand piano. The interior is heavily inspired by the 70s retro vintage era with an impressive chandelier installation.
Images credit: The Guild