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Leña Dubai is one of the most hotly anticipated steakhouses in the UAE with a unique aesthetic concept and dining experience. Image Credit: Supplied

Award winning studio Astet, founded in 2018 by Jordanian Ala Zreigat and Spaniard Oscar Engroba, is introducing its unique hospitality design in the UAE with the hotly anticipated steakhouse Leña, dubbed the world’s most beautiful restaurant.

The Kurator spoke exclusively to co-founder Ala Zreigat about design in the Middle East and what it takes to create unforgettable aesthetic experiences.

You won the AD Middle East’s Emerging Talents award last year - what do you think differentiates you from other studios in the region?

It felt like a home run! Above all, we are immensely grateful for this award, and we have always been interested in being part of the hospitality design industry in the Middle East, so this award was a firm step towards that direction. It gave us recognition, credibility, and confidence while we approach the region with our designs.

I believe what sets us apart from many other studios is that the way we kick off each project is unique, we do a lot of research upfront and our work is very narrative driven, we build a story around each project which makes every project look very different. We like to push the envelope and come up with boundary shifting outcomes and unfamiliar solutions to our clients’ needs. Our mission is to create a new way of experiencing hospitality venues - spaces that create emotions and connections… Clear connections between the concept and design and between the gastronomic offer. Which eventually produces spaces that are authentic and unique and that bring a new multi-sensory experience on all levels.

Why did you choose the Middle East for your latest Leña project, why does this region excite you in terms of the future?

The region is doing an amazing job when it comes to innovation and creating new hospitality experiences, I mean, who knows hospitality better than the Middle East? It’s in our DNA and it comes naturally to us. Pairing this passion and empathy with creative and authentic design solutions are the key ingredients to all successful current and future projects in the industry. Again, it’s about a general seamless experience where everything falls into place which is why good design alone isn’t enough, and vice versa. Leña offers an immersive and very sophisticated dining experience which only matches the high expectations of cosmopolitan restaurant goers and food lovers in the region.

And how did the Middle East inspire the development of this latest concept?

Obviously Dubai and Leña share a very cosmopolitan vibe. We aimed to combine the excitement and energy of Dubai with the sophisticated culinary experience that Leña offers. We followed the essence of Leña Marbella and Leña Madrid but adapting Leña Dubai to the new context and the high expectations of its future customers there.

Dubai is a city that has great weather, and the mood of Leña is more nocturnal in general. So for Leña Dubai we designed a very big outdoor terrace so that people can enjoy the great weather during the evening.

The main elements of Leña repeat in Leña Dubai, such as a smoked room with a big omakase section for 14 people, however there will be a dedicated dessert section for clients to enjoy after they finish their meal. We created a special space for a DJ booth and a double height beverage cellar.

We also developed new and special materials to align with the elevated dining experience and to create something special and different. Even though Leña has a very defined concept, it still varies slightly depending on the context and dining culture in each city, which makes each Leña special and authentic.

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For Astet Studio, the challenge was to exceed the high expectations of cosmopolitan restaurant goers and food lovers in the region. Image Credit: Supplied

How did you push the boundaries of traditional design conventions in this project and what part are you most proud of?

We do a lot of research when we develop any project and for Leña we developed a special material palette that is inspired by the gastronomic offer and the elevated dining scene in Dubai. We created a double bar that connected the interior to the exterior which also acted as an element that pulled the interior aesthetic from the inside to the exterior. In Leña Dubai we created an envelope and developed micro spaces within it that had different functions and aesthetics so people can enjoy different spaces and experiences every time they come back.

What lessons did you learn from this project and your past projects that you hope to apply in future in the Middle East or elsewhere?

Hospitality design is about creating emotional connections beyond just the physical. It’s the whole journey, from arrival to paying the check and waiting for your car. We must offer exciting solutions and create spaces that are diverse and flexible so that people want to come back and make different connections. We always want to create a space that would totally look different during the night, which is why lighting is super important.

In a few of our earlier projects we started the design process without having everyone on board, and by everyone I mean the chef, the graphic designers, kitchen designers… And we realised that the interior design was disconnected to a certain degree and the experience wasn’t holistic. Now and moving forward we always insist on having early conversations and getting aligned with all collaborators to ensure there is balance in the outcome and that the experience is seamless. We did this with Leña and we truly believe this is what sets it apart from other dining experiences and why it won best restaurant design worldwide in 2021.