For residents of Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai, a venue such as The Park has been a long time coming. But for EATX founder Tom Arnel, it’s been even longer.
Five years after he initially pitched the idea, the three-storey, multi-venue (licensed) restaurant concept in the heart of JLT is ready to open its doors, starting with ground-floor cafe Splendour Fields on Monday.
The Australian-style deli plays into EATX’s forte, as Arnel puts it. The company, which is behind the likes of Tom & Serg, Common Grounds and The Sum of Us, has consistently excelled at casual dining in the city, and Splendour Fields is an extension of that winning formula.
“We wanted Splendour Fields to blend seamlessly with the environment around it,” Arnel says. “It has a kids’ playground, it’s pet friendly, it’s green, lush and very relaxing. It’s there to serve the community and work around people’s daily routines.”
The open space has a sprawling terrace that overlooks the park from which the venue gets its name. It is open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner, serving up all-day dining classics like avocado toast, eggs and acai bowls.
“The space feels inviting and happy,” Arnel says. "That’s what I wanted to feel when I walked into the venue, an uplifting, positive energy. I feel like we’ve really nailed that. It’s a little haven in a busy part of the city.”
Following in February will be two new openings on the upper floors — Hawkerboi on the first floor and Franky in Florence on the rooftop.
The city’s foodies will be familiar with Hawkerboi, which has been operating as a wildly popular and equally mysterious underground supper club for several years. The chef’s identity has remained a closely guarded secret, although Arnel has long been rumoured to be involved.
The permanent spot in The Park came about, according to Arnel, when he attended a supper club, loved it and “approached Hawkerboi” to run a restaurant together.
So, it’s not Arnel then? “I’m not going to comment on that,” he laughs. “I have heard that rumour. That’s not for me to comment — Hawkerboi will come out when he’s ready.”
Still, the restaurant has naturally garnered plenty of excitement. “Let’s just say the DMs that Hawkerboi is getting are out of control,” says Arnel. “There’s a chance he’ll be starting up the supper club again very soon ahead of the restaurant opening, so keep an eye out for that.”
For those unacquainted with the supper club, dishes are inspired by Singapore’s hawker culture, which champions street food from across South-East Asia. Inside, the restaurant will have a backstreet, grungy feel, designed to offer a “fast-paced, inner-city” vibe with “casual, energetic food that pops off the plate", Arnel says.
The menu will stay true to Hawkerboi’s style of cooking on charcoal, and the menu will feature street food staples, noodles and dim-sum. There’s also an open kitchen and a large Peking duck selection, two terraces and a DJ booth, where there will be nightly music.
On the rooftop will be Franky in Florence, a Neapolitan pizza and antipasti spot with a big mission. “Our aim there is to create the best Neapolitan pizza in the city,” Arnel says. “It’s the perfect sunset aperitivo spot. We have an open kitchen with a huge woodfire oven — one of the largest in the city.”
Hawkerboi and Franky in Florence are licensed and will operate on a no-reservations policy — something Arnel says was crucial for him with The Park.
“I want people to just be able to come when they fancy a spontaneous dinner and not have to worry about calling up in advance; I think there’s too much of that in the city,” he says. “I love the idea that people can go out for dinner at Hawkerboi, pop up to Franky's first to have a drink at the bar, come down when their table is ready, then pop back up for a rooftop drink after dinner — vice versa. The Park is about spontaneity.
“The whole reservation system that we have across the city at the moment is quite restricting and it’s all very formal,” he adds. “We want to have fun with this place and give the city something that feels like what Londoners get in Shoreditch, for example.”
And The Park is only the start of what EATX has planned for 2023, with Arnel’s most ambitious project to date — The Guild — set to open later this year.
The DIFC dining room, which is big enough to fit a plane inside, will be split into several areas. From welcome drinks in ornate bars, enjoying small seafood plates around a living rock pool and dinner at the chef’s table while watching the kitchen staff at work, to after-dinner drinks in an intimate piano bar until the early hours, The Guild aims to provide an experience for its guests that will last the whole night.
While Arnel won’t reveal an exact opening date, he confirms the construction is about “90 per cent complete” and says The Guild is his dream project.
“I don’t think the people of Dubai have a good understanding of what’s coming. What we are doing in there is truly world-class and unique on a global level. I am extremely excited about it, it’s been my life’s mission to get that place open.”
Splendour Fields opens at The Park, JLT, on Monday