Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera

Words by Tess Glasson
Photography by Brooke Holm

Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera is a new 350 person restaurant, bar and courtyard in the heart of bustling Dubai. Designed by Sydney Architects and Interior Designers Alexander &CO. in collaboration with renowned Australian Chef Sean Connolly, the space has direct views of the Burj Khalifa and is the only restaurant in the newly opened Dubai Opera space.

Alexander& CO. have enjoyed a long standing relationship with Sean Connolly having designed three of his other restaurants including Sean’s Kitchen (Adelaide), Morrison Bar & Oyster Room (Sydney) and The Balcony Bar& Oyster Co (Byron Bay). On this project, Alexander and CO. invited Tribe Studio to be a Design Partner.

“Sean is amazing to work with, he is just so focused on trying to find the best of everything, including the value in the relationships around him. The project was very ambitious and quite large, and being in an Opera House felt very close to home as a Sydney sider. It was entirely natural to reach out to Hannah Tribe knowing her own architectural interests and shared love for our own Jorn Utzon designed Opera House. I have known Hannah for many years and have been fortunate enough to be her friend and knew she would bring a perfect compliment to our team,” Jeremy Bull, Principal of Alexander& CO. said.

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The restaurant was inspired by the highly irregular shape and scale of the building and tenancy and drew upon A&CO’s personal interest in 20th Century Classic design and architecture combined with the oceanic Australian/New Zealand influences of Sean Connolly’s cooking. Each design element within the venue explores ideas of the sea, from the oyster with its combination of smooth sensual surfaces and textured outer surfaces, to the oceanic tones and colours of corals and pearlescent hues.

Bull said, “The project’s design DNA developed from what was initially a coarse grained Tasman inspiration; rugged, worn, sun bleached. Realities of the many Dubai Opera stakeholders and their own ambitions shaped the restaurant to become more refined, perhaps a bit more delicate. Within our design process we explored the TWA Terminal at JFK airport by Eero Saarinen and also our own Sydney Opera House and its shell geometries, both of which find their way into the restaurant to become this oceanic salon.”

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Utilising vaulted ceiling tiles which reference both the inside of an oyster and the Sydney Opera House sails, the main spaces are focused upon the central cocktail Pearl Bar, constructed from grey leather, walnut timber and yellow marble. The grey marble banquettes with their pink leather are reminders of the delicate contrasts of the ocean corals and sea creatures while the raw and fire bars remind us of the outer edges of blackened seashells.

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In keeping with the Antipodean theme, Jacqui Fink, an international pioneer of ‘extreme knitting’ created a custom 6m high Merino Wool hanging artwork (one of her largest commissions to date) as a nod to the tentacles of sea creatures, delicate and mystical.

Similarly, local Sydney artist Tracey Deep, known for her floral installations using found and native flora created three hanging sculptures curated to the oceanic vision. The custom hand made woollen carpet with its blue dappled tones is a depiction of the ocean waters and was custom designed by Alexander &CO for this venue.

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In keeping with the 20th Century design inspirations, the classic Serge Mouille lighting has been custom made, in curving white enamel steel and brass finishes. Similarly, cult 20th Century furniture originals are combined in greens, greys, blues and whites with natural walnut timbers. They are sculptural and feminine and add significant value to the interest of the overall aesthetic.

Bull said, “We had the benefit of many artisan contributors, and a high degree of customisation. One of our favourites was the Serge Mouille lights manufactured specifically for our application, but still the highlight for our team was the tiled shell ceiling vaults. Manufactured from templated GRC and hand tiled in situ from Australian supplied ceramic tiles, the combination of matt and gloss tiles, in their own right both very inexpensive, become jewel like and reflective”.