INKED founders Kenza and Patrick Jarjour. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Imagine walking into a room with oodles of character — high ceilings, long tables and lights dimmed to perfection — on Valentine’s Day. Now say hello to your dinner partner: You.

At Inked, a concept pop-up venue located at Alserkal Avenue, strangers may become friends and someone you’ve known forever — you — may seem a bit alien.

Husband-wife duo Kenza and Patrick Jarjour, whose brainchild it is, say they want their latest offering to spark conversation about society and self.

The pop-up offers a person — you can only book one seat at a time — the opportunity to enjoy a four-course meal, with a mirror and strangers for company.

“The idea was to reflect a little bit on our society and how we became really self-obsessed with our image,” says Kenza.

“After the tastings, we realised we listen more, because there is the mirror that is placed on opposite sides so you don’t see the person next to you, but the person is talking so you have to pay more attention. And you almost forget about the mirror. The idea is to listen to the person seated in front of you.”

Getting to the venue can be a bit challenging. On a recent bright morning, the usually teeming Alserkal Avenue was yawning under the weight of the sun. Besides a couple of people walking the lanes, the warehouse complex seemed deserted. We came across a nondescript black building with a small door and the number 57 embossed on the side. And beyond the small door was the Jarjour’s playground.

Soft-spoken but passionate about both food and their idea — unusual pop-ups that turn a routine activity into an adventure — the Inked owners said its quiet blink-and-you-miss-it presence is part of their strategy to keep the focus on food.

The Jarjours spent their early days in Montreal, Canada, where they met in school and formed a bond that would last past school crushes and college courses, and culminate in a business venture that brings together both their expertise. “Patrick has an events background... I have a food background [an MBA in hospitality]. So we decided that we should join forces and create something that will have both elements of what we love doing and at the same time we saw that there was a big gap in the market for places where you can express your creativity through food, where there are no limits,” explains Kenza.

And thus the idea of Inked came about, around two-and-a-half years ago. While the couple is quick to rebuff the notion that it was a concept born out of a moment of inspiration, they said, in an emailed reply: “It wasn’t an incident per se, the idea had been on our minds for a while, but our trip to Berlin was definitely a trigger. While in Berlin, we discovered alternative ways of dining, freedom of expression through food, and a willingness for experimentation, which we found very inspiring.”

Subsequently, it seems the couple’s holidays have all revolved around food. “We did a road trip in Italy where the map was based on the ice cream places,” says Patrick, while Kenza calls herself “a food addict.”

When the venue isn’t being used to create one-of-a-kind dining experiences “kind of like a social experiment”, it is lent out for private events. “Also our kitchens are available for rent... We are the official laboratory of Valrhona chocolate in the region [too].”

When the pop-ups are on the menu, “at the moment, [we try to do one] once a month,” says Kenza, the focus is on experiences. “I think that conversation element is something we like to bring over and over again. That’s why we make sure that all our events have that element of sensory — it’s not just about the food.”

One of their events — they’ve held two so far — was called This Is Not A Restaurant. “There were sequences where guests were entering and we were not talking to them so they were handed a card. We gave them a tray with various elements that they didn’t know — shovel, gloves — without guiding them at all. So everyone was actually having his own experience… At a certain point we shut down the lights completely, so this is where they realised it was time to eat and get the torch out... And the shovel was for the dessert that was sitting the whole time on the table — it was in the flower pot [part of the centrepiece].”

The couple is all about taking people out of their comfort zone and sparking debates and discussions. And this is where their latest offering — eating while in front of a mirror — comes in.

The Jarjours have been in the UAE for about ten years and say Dubai is ready to experiment, and embraces new home-grown concepts, and they want to make it a culinary hub.

For now, I guess it’s time to break out the make-up box and get ready for a date with yourself at Valentine’s.


Don’t miss it!

The Tete-a-tete pop-up runs between February 12-14 at Inked at Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, and costs Dh300 per person for a four-course dinner and soft drinks. Visit inked.ae to book your spot.