Tom Arnel has been at the forefront of Dubai’s casual dining scene for more than seven years, since his Al Quoz cafe Tom and Serg became an instant favourite. But with his latest venture, it’s time to take things up a notch – with The Guild, a concept born in Dubai, for Dubai.
Arnel’s company Bull and Roo, which is also responsible for Common Grounds and The Sum of Us, is set to launch the eight-brand dining room experience next year, in the Dubai International Financial Centre’s recently opened 53-storey ICD Brookfield Place building.
“Dubai’s restaurant scene is absolutely amazing. It really is world class, but the big and obvious elephant in the room is that they’re all concepts that have been created somewhere else and have been brought into the city and forced into places, sometimes unnaturally. So we’re trying to make the most of this space and give Dubai what we think it needs,” he says.
He promises The Guild will be unlike anything Dubai has seen before. "My number-one goal is to create the most electric dining room in this city," Arnel tells The National.
The Guild has been four years in the making. Arnel was first approached about the 15,000-square-foot licensed space on the ground floor of the commercial centre in 2016, and it was an offer he couldn’t refuse to at least pitch for. “I put a pitch together within a couple of weeks, a high-level idea,” he says. “The guys loved it and the rest is history.”
The Guild will be an amalgamation of Arnel’s years of work within Dubai’s culinary scene, he says, bringing together the people he has looked up to and been influenced by over the years to help create the “best team possible”.
“It’s literally a dream project, a dream come true for a chef and an entrepreneur, and someone who has multiple brands,” he says. “I feel like there are no rules in a space like this and I have an opportunity to customise a concept for the people of Dubai, whether that’s locals or expats.
“I feel an amazing responsibility to get this right because it’s not going to be something that’s imported. It’s something that’s being created here with me and my team. And we feel a sense of pride to be given the opportunity, literally on the doorstep of the DIFC and on the world stage.
“I honestly don’t think there is any better restaurant location than this in this city. It’s probably one of the most fabulous feelings I think I’ve ever had in my career.”
Arnel is, at least for now, keeping details of the eight concepts that will make up The Guild close to his chest, but each will have a talented chef at the helm, and, like his other Bull and Roo brands, the food will have quality and sustainability at its forefront.
"The cooking will be theatrical, it'll be powerful and it will be memorable," he says. "It's going to be robust as well. We're trying not to be too fancy with anything, we're trying to cook with our hands, cook with passion, use the best ingredients and not overdo them. I can't say too much yet, but we are going to let the cooking methods do the talking."
The food, Arnel says, will be elevated by a programme of curated entertainment such as live music, which will adapt with the mood of the venue as it evolves from a casual breakfast spot to a buzzing dinner setting through the day.
“From celebrations to just coming on a whim, you’ll be walking into an electric dining room. My goal, to get people’s heart rates going by experiencing the dining room in its full flight, which means music, entertainment and dining all under one roof.”
What Arnel is very clear about, however, is that The Guild will not be a food hall. “I’m not saying it’s casual. I’m not saying it’s fine dining ... but it’s definitely not a dining hall and it’s not a food hall. It’s a collective of ideas all amalgamated into one massive room.”
"I hope that this venue puts Dubai on the map as a home-grown concept. Something of this scale is pretty hard to find."