Interview: Folly by Nick and Scott

Nick Alvis, Viktorija Paplauskiene and Scott Price reveal the joys and challenges of opening their new concept, Folly by Nick & Scott, in partnership with Gates Hospitality
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Nick Alvis, Viktorija Paplauskiene and Scott Price on Folly's terrace, overlooking the Burj Al Arab.
Nick Alvis, Viktorija Paplauskiene and Scott Price on Folly's terrace, overlooking the Burj Al Arab.

Offering views over Madinat Jumeirah and of the Burj Al Arab that couldn’t fail to impress even the most seasoned Dubai resident, a new concept has taken up residence.

Madinat Jumeirah’s newest addition has taken over the huge space vacated by the much-loved Rivington Bar & Grill last summer and it’s safe to say people are keen to peek behind the door and see what this newcomer is bringing to the table.

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Perhaps newcomer isn’t the right word, however. It’s more of a welcome return, seeing as it’s Nick Alvis and Scott Price back in the kitchen. Only this time, they’re at the helm of their own concept, with business partner Viktorija Paplauskiene in tow.

Previously they worked together at Table 9 at Hilton Dubai Creek before all three joined Albwardy Investment’s F&B arm to launch Taste Kitchen in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

“It’s an evolution of what Table 9 was and the three of us, together, have been talking about this for three years," Price says, referring to Folly by Nick & Scott, the trio’s new 120-cover restaurant. The venture is their first with Dubai-founded Gates Hospitality, which has developed concepts such as Reform Social & Grill and The Black Lion.

Price tells Caterer that Folly — as the name suggests — will offer a relaxed environment for guests, but adds that its food will be “high-end”.

“There is still going to be a lot of skill in the execution and the methods, using all of the experience we have gained over the last 20 years of cooking, to create something fresh and tasty, and to keep the standards high,” Price shares.

Alvis says their focus is also on keeping things simple.

“We’re not overcomplicated dishes; we’re just using three or four ingredients, so they stand out. Focusing on fresh and flavours is one of our mantras, and we are working with local suppliers — opening in January means it’s peak season for anything that grows out here. We’re talking a lot with Ripe Organic at the moment, as well as a few local farms.”

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Price comments: “It’s important to use local produce but, at the same time, the quality has got to be there and there is an expectation of standards. We go out and talk to local suppliers a lot, and we have even found local flowers and herbs. When we started here four or five years ago, this wasn’t possible, so Dubai has moved on a lot — there is more consistency and quality because there’s a lot more demand for it.”

Some of the fresh, locally sourced flowers and herbs will be used in Folly’s extensive beverage menu, which is something former Table 9 restaurant manager Paplauskiene was comfortable with, yet was somewhat unchartered territory for Alvis and Scott.

Alvis explains: “There is a lot of bar space in Folly, which is not something that we’ve had much experience with in the past. Obviously wine and other drinks came into it, but the food was the focus, especially for us two. Viktorija focuses on the wine and we focus on the food. But we’ve all had to get involved in the drinks side of things as cocktails are a big thing in town now — far bigger than before. We have an experienced barman, Raven Rudolph [to help with this].

“We didn’t really realise how involved we could be with tasting the drinks and putting them together. We have done a lot of cocktail tasting over the last few months and our influence has really changed where it started. With Raven’s experience, Viktorija’s knowledge and us as well, it’s been really good.”

Price is quick to point out that they “haven’t revolutionised cocktails”, merely employed little tricks they, as chefs, have learned over the years about “how to get better flavours out of things”.

Aside from cocktails, Paplauskiene points out that “the wine list is very reasonably priced, and about 35% of the wines are organic and biodynamic wines”.

She also says that the drinks they have created have “carried through with the same simple presentation” as with the food. She explains further: “Food wise, we focus on fresh ingredients, so the same is reflected in the drinks — loads of herbs, fresh fruit and fresh juices instead of the standard syrupy stuff.”

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Elaborating on the food at Folly, Price reveals that everyone involved has spent a long time considering what they think Dubai wants now, balanced with what they want to do. The result is “modern, European-based cuisine”.

Continuing, he adds: “We have created our own way of doing things with food; people try to pigeonhole what we’re doing but it’s difficult as we’re trying to create our own brand here. We’re not copying anyone else. We’re trying to do what we think is right and what nobody else is doing in town.”

As such, Folly by Nick and Scott has “no particular theme” when it comes to its décor, with the trio veering towards a timeless, classic look instead.

“There’s nothing loud in there that’s going to jump out — there are no features that are either ‘wow’ or ‘what the…’ because it’s just very nice,” Alvis explains. The outside terrace will no doubt ‘wow’ guests however, as it’s a very large area and has a lot of greenery, and the inside offers an interesting twist in the ubiquitous open kitchen.

Setting the scene, Price tells Caterer: “Right from the entrance we have an unusual entrance — a bricked alleyway that you walk into from the door and then it brings you up almost in the centre of the restaurant where there’s so much going on. Inside is quite small, which will give it a bustling atmosphere.”

The centre of the restaurant is where the open kitchen is located, as Alvis explains: “We have a Charvet island suite in the middle and us two will be on the front. We have four seats on one corner and four on another, so it’s like sitting at a bar but you’re in the kitchen. It’s a bit different. We’re not the first people in the world to do it but we saw the space and saw potential for a point of difference. We’ve always found that people love talking to the chefs and ask loads of questions. People are so interested in what chefs do these days and it was never like that when we got into the trade.”

Agreeing, Price adds: “We’re lucky — it’s a good time to be doing what we’re doing. People are genuinely interested; everyone is into food and Instagram. It’s part of the experience,” referring to the popularity of food photography and posting videos of interesting scenes in restaurants.

Aside from sitting in the ‘front row’, as it were, or on the terrace, which seats 40-50 guests, there is also a small upstairs area with views over the Palm and a cocktail bar, which Paplauskiene describes as the perfect place for people to visit for sundowners.

Upstairs there will also be a chef’s table concept, with Alvis explaining it’s ideal for eight to 10 people, who can have their own terrace, waiter and sommelier for the night.

In addition to all of that, Folly is creating an even more secluded dining area.

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“We have a table for two upstairs as well, which Viktorija said will be the most romantic table in town. We’re going to block it off and have the table on its own so you won’t be able to see it, but it will give the two people complete views of the Palm and the Burj Al Arab. It’s amazing; great for proposals or romantic meals, and we can do a bespoke menu. We have a lot of things going on to keep people interested,” Price reveals.

Folly, which was supposed to open last month but is now set to open in February, doesn't have an official launch date yet, and - when Caterer met with Avis, Price and Paplauskiene, there was still a minor amount of recruitment to take care of.

Asked about who they have on-board working with them in the kitchen, Alvis says: “We’ve got all our main guys — we have our senior sous chef who’s been with us since we opened Table 9 and was a head chef at Taste Kitchen. We’re going to be in the kitchen for quite a while ourselves; the plan is for us to be there everyday for at least 18 months to get Folly exactly how we want it. It’s going to take a lot of effort — we want it up there with the best. And you need to be in the kitchen to get it right; you can’t just write a menu for someone and then go in one day [to show them how to do it], and expect them to do it how you want. They can do it their way, of course, but it’s our menu and our food and we’ve got to be there to make sure it happens [how we want it to].”

An experience that helped Alvis and Price get plenty of practice was a short stint at Oman’s Six Senses Zighy Bay a few months ago — a Gates Hospitality property. “Doing the first 14-hour day in the kitchen I’d done in a while wasn’t easy — I really felt it. But it was great because we started with the menu and it developed and improved. It’s a good feeling,” says Alvis.

Price agrees, adding: “It was great to be able to go to Zighy Bay and do a pop-up because it’s really one of the best places in the Middle East.”

On the subject of Gates Hospitality, the chefs revealed that they, together with Paplauskiene, had been talking to the company for about 18 months, and that the Gates team understands what the trio wants to do.

“They believe in young local talent and bringing out local brands, and it’s really good because there’s not a lot of people in town who are really comfortable doing that. It’s easier to bring in a brand from London or New York. Gates has a great track record and they really support us with everything that we need. We have signed a long-term partnership with them to work with them exclusively,” says Alvis.

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Price says he is pleased to see a lot more emphasis on home-grown concepts, compared to a few years ago, commenting: “There are lots of entrepreneurs here and people who believe in local talent. People give you a chance to create over here; one of the best things about being here is having a lot of opportunity to try different things and people are really interested in F&B over here.Being able to be create is something the trio have relished and they have all involved themselves in every aspect of opening Folly, from the ground up.

“Years ago we never thought we would be designing cocktails and working on the menus and designing the room itself but now it’s such a natural process for us. It’s crazy how you evolve as you go along and the beauty of the job is the opportunity to be creative because I don’t think many professions offer that,” Paplauskiene reveals.

Alvis adds: “We work with Gates but it’s all our ideas and thoughts. I don’t know if we can call ourselves restaurateurs but we’re on the right path. When it comes to what our main jobs are, Scott and I are chefs, and Victorija is a manager and sommelier but we do so much more now.”

Discussing how Alvis and himself have been working together for 12 years and with Paplauskiene for about five, Price reiterates how much teamwork is involved in bringing their first concept to life, especially when they are all making the choice to be hands-on in every area of the venture.

He says: “We’re partners in our own company, the three of us, so we’re all in it together. There’s a lot of respect there, we say what we want to say and we don’t get upset by it. You can’t have hurt feelings; we shake hands in the morning and that’s just how it is — business.”

And when it comes to the three of them collectively making decisions on design, furnishings or even music, it all comes down to democracy, with Alvis saying: “Two votes wins.”

It seems inevitable that the three of them will work together on another new concept in the future and, when asked about the possibility, they confirm that they would consider all opportunities, in time. For now, they are solely focused on the task in hand.

“We’re working with Gates long-term and we want to get Folly up and running. From there, we’ll see how it goes. We have plans for the future but at the moment Folly has to be a success — that’s all we’re focused on at the moment; getting back to where we want to be in the industry. We’re hoping that people remember who we are — it’s been a long time — and we’re really excited. Not many people get the chance to bring their idea to life and it’s amazingly exciting to have something in your head and then see bit more come to life every day. We’ve picked everything ourselves — it’s our house, our baby, our dream – whatever you want to call it. It’s something we’ve been waiting a long time for.”

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