ON the GO
Paul Bishop has turned a tiny surface area into a bustling contemporary Japanese-inspired sushi bar in Dubai’s Fairmont Hotel

Following on from the successful transformation of the quiet business lounge on the first floor of the Fairmont into the popular wine bar Cin Cin designer Paul Bishop was commissioned to work a similar magic on the ground floor. The existing Café Pronto nestled in the back lobby of the hotel, with independent outlets lining the walls. A small crystal shop with a surface area of just 45 sq.m. was one of these outlets, until the hotel decided to create a sushi bar to cater for the busy business professionals who pass through the lobby every day. The idea was to be part of the café, whilst carving out a separate identity.
Bishop explains: “The Fairmont didn’t give specific guidelines for the design apart from to keep the original line of the external façade. My own aim was to create a very modern funky space that had hints of the Japanese tradition of architecture and design.” It was agreed that the centre of the design would be a double looped conveyor belt where the sushi would be immediately accessible to diners. It had to have this double loop to allow chefs into the central island. He continues: “My main concern was would this space be big enough? A big prep area was needed, with maki-making machines etc. But we were lucky that there was no need for exhausts or ventilation for ovens as it was all cold food. Emirates kitchen did the main kitchen area minus the conveyor belt, which was custom-made in the UK.”
As the space was so limited the logistics of the seating arrangements were very important as around 35 covers were needed. To cater for a variety of dining uses, different seating arrangements were created including individual wooden bar stools at the belt for quick refueling and solitary diners; lower level tables that seat four people and high leather stools at a bar on the back wall, which are more conductive to groups and couples dining from the a la carte sushi menu rather than the belt.
Bishop explains that in order to add interest and subconsciously enlarge the space, he wanted to leave most of the ceiling exposed, he says: “But in order to make it more appealing and less industrial I installed black fretwork, so you get the feeling of depth without the ugliness of the pipes.” He also employed a variety of different wall coverings. Frosted glass panels from the GlassHouse flank the cafe’s opening; one partition wall is covered in a double shadow groove paneling in maple, with a metallic ‘birds nest’ effect on the adjacent pillar that breaks up the monotony of the plain wall from the Belgian company, Trislot. When light is projected onto it the refraction creates an interesting illumination. The opposite wall has reinforced concrete wall panels reminiscent of the types of industrial architecture used in Japan, which follow the basic philosophies of minimalism. The panels are attached to the wall with recessed pucks.

“I was inspired by the Japanese architects Toyo Ito and Tadao Ando, who embrace minimalism in their structures and I tried to incorporate their approach here.” In fact, the undulating wooden wall panels were adapted by Ito’s furniture line ‘Horm’. It is six layers of wood that can be carved away to make different patterns. “It was designed to be used as a table-top, but it makes a really interesting wall decoration. Layering materials like this is inherent in Japanese architecture,” Bishop explains.

To carry on the Japanese theme, the whole back wall is a magic mirror with LCD screens set behind introducing a visual interactive element to the design. The different sized screens show a mixture of black and white Japanese movies, Japanese cartoons and videos of the sushi moving on the conveyor belt. It introduces a kinetic element into the design with the moving images. When the images aren’t running the mirror is a smoked glass. “The clients wanted some form of TV screens, but in my opinion, TV screens are obsolete now, it is all about LCDs.” The screens are wafer thin and have magnetic fixings so they can just look reflective when switched off.

The original concept was to have LCD screens imbedded in the side of the conveyor belt with images of the food going the opposite way to the belts direction, but the budget restricted this. Instead, the conveyor belt bar is fronted with black-lit acrylic which gives the impression of a light-weight floating surface. The LED glass panel from GlasPlatz at the front of the outlet also has a duality; it is a lighting element and a partition. Pin light directional spotlights are triple layered and the chrome lighting is called ‘Ocular’ custom-made by Licht Im Raum. It is a magnified lens with filament lining.

The furniture is all custom-made. Calligaris manufactured the wooden stools under the tables, which have a subtle lip at the back of the seat. The other white leather stools that have raised fitted back are from Moroso.

For the flooring, Bishop chose a mixture of materials ranging from custom-made rusted steel sheets, which gives the space a raw edge synonymous with Japanese architecture, to wooden parquet to underlit acrylic strips around the perimeter. These strips are laminated reed beach grass from the Malaysian companies Lumicore and Rosele Montclare.

The complete fit out took 6-8 weeks and cost around AED900,000. Bishop says: “A substantial chunk of the budget was allocated to the technology, civil works and MEP. There were lots of health and hygiene considerations, but we were all happy with the outcome. Sushi is essentially a fast food option and the design concept matches this as it now has a fluidity and bustle that matches the dynamic of the space.”