Outlet 360: Pi.Dubai

The design details of this Dubai Mall eatery were inspired by New York and Los Angeles
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CENTRAL: Main dining room area.
CENTRAL: Main dining room area.
TEAM: The back-of-house has 15 team members.
TEAM: The back-of-house has 15 team members.

Front of House

Restaurateurs Amber Haque and Rami Badawi, who co-founded casual dining restaurant The Pizza Guys (TPG) in 2013, return with their second venture Pi.Dubai, located on the lower ground floor of The Dubai Mall.

The venue, which opened in August 2015, was designed by Los Angeles’ Folklor creative director David Irvin, who worked closely with local interior designer Atefeh Bashir of Ruiz Velasquez Design to realise his vision. The 3089ft2 interior has been designed with materials such as statuario marble flooring, brass finishing, and genuine Italian leather seats.

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In an attempt to “bring the outdoors in”, an indoor greenhouse was created, using artificial “natural light”, and the restaurant also has a 1000ft2 outdoor terrace facing the Dubai Fountains. The space can fit 88 diners inside, and 50 outside.

Badawi says that after operating TPG for a while, the team realised “there were some things that we wanted to do that our space wasn’t enabling us to do”. Cue the search for a larger space to work with.

The home-grown ethos is emphasised. Haque says: “We’re proudly home-grown and we’re claiming that space as Dubai’s own Neapolitan-inspired pizza, not something that’s come from abroad. We moved the chef here, to be a resident of the city, creating the dishes here.”

Explaining the design brief, Haque says: “We wanted a space that was more upscale than The Pizza Guys. It was not going to be a pizzeria, but a restaurant that served pizza. We told David we wanted an elevated space in terms of the feel, but not formal. Not stuffy, but upscale to reflect the high quality ingredients that we’re using.”

Irvin visited Dubai and decided to give it a New York bowery/Los Angeles feel with the greenhouse. Haque continues: “Nothing in this space is fake. It’s real teak wood on the floor, it’s real statuario marble. That was important to us, and to David.”

Guests enter the space into what is termed the alfresco area, which is connected with the main dining room under an arch ceiling designed with subway tiles reminiscent of old underground stations in New York. Two pizza ovens from Forni Valoriani in Reggelo, Florence, Italy are visible to diners in the alfresco area as well as in the main dining area. The kitchen is in the middle of the restaurant, with chicken-wire glass to allow the chefs’ silhouettes to be seen.

Haque adds: “My personal goal is for Dubai residents of the city to feel so proud that there’s a space here that can compete with wherever they’re from. I hear ‘this is good for Dubai’. I feel like Dubai doesn’t have to prove itself anymore, we’ve achieved a lot.

“We put everything that we could into this project. Of course we’d like to take this to other cities. But you’re not going to see 12 branches of Pi in Dubai. We’re going to do one in a city, and carefully select another city.”

Back of House

Pi.Dubai’s menu offers authentic Italian dishes and signature Neapolitan-inspired pizzas. Co-founder Haque has previously participated in an intensive course at the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (Association of True Neapolitan Pizza), which protects and promotes the original methods of traditional pizza making. Months of research and testing enabled the founding team to create their own artisanal dough recipe for the venue.

The menu was created by Joe Truex, who brings more than 27 years of international culinary experience, starting from his hometown in Louisiana and across multiple restaurants in New York and Europe.

The ingredient sourcing follows the same ethos as TPG, with fresh, organic, seasonal vegetables, wild harvested seafood, and humanely raised antibiotic-free and hormone-free meats.

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Ingredients are sourced from various European markets, including Rungis in Paris, Australia and Canada, whilst poultry is from a local UAE farm. The tomatoes come from Italy, and some of the cheese is made locally by Italian Dairy Products.

The team takes pride that all ingredients are fresh and no frozen foods are used, as the restaurant will not have a freezer.

The flour comes from a 13th century mill in Italy, and the dough is hand-made and proofed for two to three days before it is ready for consumption. The pastas are made by Truex from scratch, and are a recent addition to the menu.

The chef arrived in Dubai in January 2015, and Truex says: “I was looking for my next level in my career and the timing worked out.”

He describes the dishes as “comfort food”, and adds: “We are working with the Italian theme, and it’s beautiful because Italian is simple, it’s regional and ingredient-driven. However, we’re not in Italy, I’m not Italian. So we’re going to use this concept of what makes Italian food great and we’re going to adapt it to this region.”

Truex is realistic when it comes to sourcing ingredients, especially in a market new to him. “Sourcing is pretty challenging. However when you do find that source, it’s a lifelong commitment. I know they’re out there, it’s just a matter of finding those connections.”

“Sourcing is something that’s going to evolve. It’s about finding the right people, and it takes time to develop these kind of connections. We’re keeping the sourcing simple, and we have also to respect that we’re in Dubai Mall, where we get 80 million visitors a year. So if we find the place that makes the most beautiful eggplant in the world, but they can only make one case when I need two cases, then it’s not going to work for me.”

Truex says one of the challenges he’s faced is getting used to a new market. “It’s a different operating system here in the Middle East… like Mac and PC! It’s challenging but what’s good about it is, it gets you out of what you’re used to.”

Having worked in a lot of different venues like Le Cirque in Manhattan in the 80s, and mom-and-pop diners to big splashy restaurants, Truex says he loves restaurants which are efficient, yet fun and fresh. “And that’s what I think we’re going to have. High-quality food in a fast-paced professional environment. This is what we want to create.”

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