Outlet 360: Belong
Front of house
Belong is a home-grown concept located in Dubai Design District [D3], and the menu concept is reflective of its name, reveals operations and culinary director Yasmine Attieh. “There’s a lot of influence from Levant and Mediterranean area whether it’s North Africa, Lebanon or Greece. There are some French dishes on the menu but we twisted them and this is to reflect the fact that we all belong somewhere. That’s why we named it ‘belong’,” she explains.
When one walk into the restaurant, eyes will inevitably search the details of the colourful mural spread across the entire wall. This immediately sets the tone and vibe of the restaurant. And this, Attieh says, was the intention. “It’s very eclectic and is very design oriented. It [D3] is a community that needs such places and the restaurant is young, funky and artistic and you can tell by the décor,” says Attieh, who previously opened and operated Em Sherif at Address Downtown Dubai.
The interior design was handled by Dubai-based Atlas Continent Contracting while the floor tiles were sourced from various areas of Morocco. The mural was commissioned to a Dubai-based Iranian artist, Mahnaz Kai.
The venue is split into a restaurant section which has a seating capacity of 25, a lounge area where indoor smoking is allowed seating up to 25, and a bar attached to the lounge with eight seats. The lounge will have live music hosted by DJ Electra. The restaurant also has a terrace which can accommodate up to 48 people.
It features high-set tables, which Attieh points out were intentionally chosen to make it easier for guests to dine, and chairs with blue or yellow cushions that complement the mural. The furniture was sourced from Turkey-based Sandalyeci. The glassware is sourced from Chef & Sommelier, plates are part of the Serax series by Everstyle Trading, while the cutlery is from Sola.
With a staff of 11 people working in the front of house, Attieh tells Caterer Middle East that there are definitely plans to open three more outlets in Dubai with the first scheduled to open sometime in 2019.
“Hospitality is my passion and I love to eat,I love to go out and I like to host. Before anything else, I put myself as a consumer before being an operator and if I succeeded, it’s because of that sense of ownership and passion,” she concludes.
Back of house
Belong’s head chef Julien Larre, with a background in French and Caribbean kitchens, says bringing good, fresh and nostalgic food with a “ personal twist” was at the heart of the menu concept for the restaurant. Larre, who previously worked as the sous chef at Molecule Restaurant, created the menu along with input from Attieh, who looked to her own Lebanese roots for inspiration. “I took the lamb shawarma and made them into sliders. I kept the recipe but I cooked it differently and it’s one of the best sellers already,” he explains. Larre says he looked at quite a few suppliers, but for the restaurant, since it’s Arabic-inspired, he tries to source a lot of the ingredients locally. However, for certains meats and fish, because quality takes precedence, he has to look to other suppliers.
Fresh Express supplies the fish, Promar the tuna and mascarpone, Barakat UAE the fruits and vegetables, and the chicken comes from the farms in Al Ain. Local Arabic spices such as sumac, Larre says, are sourced from his colleague’s mother who lives in Lebanon because that’s the only quality he prefers. Other suppliers include Classic Fine Foods and Country Hill.
For the kitchen equipment, the restaurant worked with Dubai-based kitchen supply store Sofia Refrigeration. The brands include MKN and Imperial. Among all the kitchen equipments, Larre says the grill is most useful in the kitchen. “We use it to grill the meat, the chicken, and it tastes very different from cooking in the pan or oven.” He also utilises sous-vide cooking method for some of the dishes as well.
With a compact kitchen to work with, Larre says that he collaborates heavily with his kitchen staff of 15 to pull through for a successful work day and for developing ideas for the menu.
“Without my team, I’m nothing. My team is part of the restaurant. They have ideas all the time and we exchange them, whether it’s about the dish or plating.” he relays.
“One of the chefs in the kitchen created the chickpea salad which we call the Mediterranean salad. It looked really beautiful and tasted great so I said, ‘ok great, go buy for it’. It’s really important for me to be teaching them; I am the head chef but I am really nothing without them,” he adds. Larre also points out the dessert menu which he is really proud of, and credits the pastry chef who brings his experience from having worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
As far as guest experience is concerned, he concurs with Attieh’s sentiments that he wants to “surprise people with the menu”. Belong is designed to stand out because of its offerings, he asserts, and concludes: “All the Mediterranean restaurants here focus on one or two countries. I think at Belong we take influences from everything — Lebanese, North Africa, Morocco and more.”