TABŪ is here to break the paradigm
The culinary scene of Dubai in the early 2000s was very different from the one we enjoy today. Largely dominated by American franchises, choices were limited. Today the city has become an F&B powerhouse with multiple homegrown brands, even exporting these to the world.
The story of Infini Concepts is a shining example of what Dubai has achieved. Having created many renowned venues in the city, Economy Middle East spoke to David Lescarret, the man who put it all together, at his new restaurant TABŪ located at St Regis, Downtown Dubai.
David is Founder and Managing Director at Infini Concepts.
Tell us more about Infini Concepts and Restaurants
Infini Concept was created back in 2006 in Dubai while the city was shifting to a trend of more homegrown concepts. Proprietors saw that a fantastic new restaurant could be created without necessarily importing these from abroad. We initially wanted to bring something different to the city. A combination of using our experience with previous venues and brands, to help international names come into the country and adapt their concept to the local market.
Do you create the concepts, and run them? What is the business model?
Every setup is different. In some cases, we simply assist brands and operators to come into the city, provide them with services, such as sourcing a location and recruitment, etc. Sometimes it’s project management, including fit-out, procurement, and company set-up. Sometimes our clients are investors and we run the show for them, A to Z. One thing we haven’t ventured into is owning our own restaurant, but something tells me it’s going to come very soon.
You have quite an international resume. How did that help when creating Infini Concepts?
I’m French-born, and in Europe in general, you grow up surrounded by great food. London is one place that is a fantastic school to start working with people within the hotel and restaurant industry. That was a good start for me. Then I moved to the Caribbean, a very different scenario, island life different mindset. Then came French Polynesia, even more extreme, because you are miles from everything. For example, we were obliged to have a certain ratio of Polynesian employees and I recall the opening of InterContinental Resort in Bora Bora, we had applicants who used to be a butcher applying for a waiter position. This is where you must teach them everything from scratch. Each country is a different culture, cuisine, and way of thinking. You develop people management skills. That multicultural resume helped me when I moved to Dubai.
Where did the idea of setting up in Dubai come from?
At the time I was in Bora Bora when the Jumeirah Group approached me for a project, the iconic 360, which is no more. I believe they wanted a Polynesian concept.
TABŪ is your newest restaurant, what sets it apart from the rest?
The idea behind TABŪ was not to just open another Japanese restaurant. For many what comes to mind when you say Japan is sumo, geisha, yakuza, and ninja. We wanted to take these icons and showcase them from a different angle. Us them as entertainment but in the utmost respectful way.
Entertaining dining is very much in demand. When we opened Billionaire in 2016, the stage was half the size of what it is today. At TABŪ we didn’t want to be another show-driven venue, but we wanted to offer a different sort of entertainment, what we call passive entertainment. The icons of Japanese culture. Our stage is more of a catwalk than a stage, which helps us link each side of the venue.
Our concept is full of surprises, something different every night. One night you might come across a real sumo wrestler another night something else. There are set times for shows, costumes change, and choreography changes. Waiters, runners, bartenders, hostesses, managers, even the chef, everyone might get involved. You have to experience it in person.
What are some of the must-try dishes and cocktails?
We really cover pretty much anything you could expect from modern Japanese cuisine. Let’s start with the infamous black cod, which is extremely popular in Dubai. At TABŪ we have the ‘Double Black Cod’. Also, an extensive selection of signature sushi, for example, Viking Tempura. The dishes we create respect the flavors by using traditional techniques but are all prepared in a modern way. The menu is pretty extensive, and I am happy to say we are consistent with the outcome. We have some TABŪ dishes, which you will have to come here to try.
For the cocktails, other than the usual suspects, we have the ‘Rituals’, which are very entertaining. The preparation is a show on its own. At TABŪ we’re not pretentious but like to get inspired by what has worked in our previous venues.
‘The Other Side’, which is open on Fridays and Saturdays, is our in-house nightclub. Not a member’s club, but priority is given to TABŪ diners. I’m glad to say we already have regulars at TABŪ.
What is the role of social media in a modern restaurant?
We use social media actively, not just with TABŪ, but even with our existing brands. It’s a very effective way to reach clientele, and keep them up-to-date. We even have one or two, Instagrammable spots and dishes. It’s crazy actually when we all talk about ‘Instagrammable’ but it is now in the dictionary. For example, we installed the famous swing chair on the terrace of Cé La Vi, it is one of the Instagramable shots in Dubai.
Apart from Social Media, in September we’ll launch sales of NFTs, we have a massive screen here at TABŪ, that will serve as the gallery.
The Michelin Guide is coming to Dubai. How will it affect the Restaurant business?
I’ll answer that as a consumer rather than an operator. I’m very glad for the introduction of the Michelin Guide, it will most likely rebalance the dining scene, and allow people to have access to the same quality, at a more reasonable price.
Today, many Michelin-starred chefs have partnerships or restaurants here. However, let’s not forget, a Michelin star is not given to a chef. Michelin star is given to a specific restaurant. The introduction of the guide is a sign that the industry has evolved in Dubai. When I first came here in 2003 it was all about franchise restaurants. Then when I came back in 2007/2008 it was all about bling-bling, the most expensive. I remember clients walking into the restaurant and simply picking the wine at the bottom of the list, the priciest of course.
Today it is much more sophisticated and professional, but it’s still very expensive. Again, I am speaking as a consumer. When I tell my friends in France that we sometimes pay €200 euros per person, they are uncertainly shocked. The introduction of the Michelin guide will re-balance that to a certain extent.