When I first visited The London Project in September, the restaurant – and indeed its mothership, Bluewaters island – was only half-complete, but it was intriguing all the same. There I was, among the carpenters and electricians, head firmly ensconced in a hard hat, marvelling at the hand-chipped brick artwork, trellised ceiling and the fact that Ain Dubai is almost close enough to touch. The space, with its hardwood flooring, art installations and archways adorned with vines and creepers, promised to channel a vibe that was sassy yet sophisticated.
"The London Project revolves around art, fashion, food and music," co-founder Stephen Valentino tells me. "Located as we are under a new world icon, we want the design to create a welcoming space for the mix of tourists and residents coming to the island. We hope they'll treat it like their local venue, and find it accessible in terms of attire and price point. As to the style of food, think London eclectic – a term that's meant to cover all the boroughs of London we will borrow from."
I really couldn’t wait to experience the food, music, eclectic ambience et al. However, the purported launch date of November 1 rolled well into December before The London Project was finally complete. It was well worth the wait, though. Here’s why.
Whether you're looking outward or upward, The London Project offers two eye-pleasing sights. Located on the far end of the marina in Bluewaters, the multiple terraces of the restaurant look across the sweeping blue expanse of the Arabian Gulf, all the way to the twinkling lights of The Beach on JBR. Turn your gaze up, and you find yourself under the gigantic wheel of Ain Dubai, which is due to make its first revolution at the end of this year.
Industrial chic is commonplace these days, but what sets The London Project apart is the Secret Garden-style planting work done by Chantal Flores, a company that has worked with Coya and Gordon Ramsay's restaurants internationally, as well as the Winter Olympics in South Korea. In keeping with its surrounding lush green canopy, the dining bar on the ground floor takes the form of a living tree. The view as you ascend the glass staircase, meanwhile, is reminiscent of an ocean bed, dense with colourful shrubbery.
Each nook of the duplex venue has a different decor style – from a gin-garden-style seating area and more formal chandelier room to outdoor seating, a private terrace for a party of 12, and various bar counters dedicated to coffee, craft brews and premium liqueurs. From the hand-painted wallpaper in the bathrooms to a soundproof podcast studio, the restaurant is full of unexpected design touches.
“In essence, the podcast studio would be managed as a community radio station, which creatives can take over by request to talk about the topics that most matter to them,” Valentino explains. “We want people to find little areas they like, yet be able to move between the sections seamlessly.”
From sculptures and 3D installations to wall murals and etchings, each of the dozen or so artworks here are linked to London. On the ground floor, handcrafted into a brick wall, is a portrait of Margaret Busby, Britain's youngest and first black female book publisher, who co-founded her publishing company in 1967.
"We also have a silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II with a garden crown, which integrates with the vast interior planting across the venue," Valentino says. Elsewhere, installations appear in the form of 3D pieces, enormous decorative planters and a wall with a rusted metallic finish. "Art as a whole has a tremendous power to unite people and encourage positivity, and this applies even more when you're sharing a meal with family and friends," Valentino says.
The London Project is currently awaiting the arrival of Queenie, a custom-made roaster machine that will occupy pride of place on a custom-built wooden platform at the entrance. The restaurant will also serve its own coffee brand, Queenie’s Estate, an idea that came to life on a trip to South America.
“I was heart-broken after visiting the Coroico community in Bolivia. I almost broke down when I learnt the El Dorado of coffee no longer existed and there were only two producers of coffee left in the whole town,” general manager Cesar Breton recalls. Breton made a few more trips to the danger-tinged interiors of Central America, which he said were “absolutely worth it in exchange for the honey Pacamara and natural red bourbon coffee beans. The idea now is to partner with these producers on our own brand, Queenie’s Estate, and help them grow as we grow.”
“With a twist” should be the motto of The London Project’s menu, which is curated by young chefs Christopher Walker and Robert Fairs, who have worked in London and New Zealand. The freshly shucked oysters, for instance, come with rhubarb granite or ponzu and lime caviar (Dh130 for six); the Wagyu is chocolate-fed (Dh520); the pulled-beef tacos are dressed with black garlic mayo and Red Leicester cheese (Dh70); while an egg cooked sous-vide transforms the wild mushroom and truffle gnocchi dish (Dh110) into a sinfully creamy mess.
“Our fish and chips [Dh95] is a great example of a classic British dish that has been given a respectful retrofit,” Valentino says. “We use line-caught fish battered in champagne, and served with hand-cut chips, a pea puree, sauce gribiche and malt vinegar.”
Desserts are a mix and match of innovative creations such as yoghurt crisps, aerated chocolate, burnt lime marshmallows and salted citrus oil, and cost from Dh40.