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Thai pad

Dubai's latest Thai restaurant combines contemporary style with tradition.

Mango Tree restaurant, ANALYSIS, Design

Dubai's latest Thai restaurant combines contemporary style with tradition.

Mango Tree, an old Thai name recognised in major cities across the globe, such as Tokyo and London, recently had its soft opening at the Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Burj Dubai - its first outlet in the region.

Operated by the Landmark Group, Mango Tree restaurant has a history going back 20 years, and so incorporates themes found in traditional Thai ethnic designs, touched with its own contemporary spin.

The interior design, done in collaboration with designer Steve Leung, and lighting consultant Tino Kwan, Mango Tree is the first project the pair have completed in Dubai. "They always partner together to do restaurants," said Paul Kwok, general manager, food division, Landmark Group.

"Because they were aware that all eyes are on this part of the world, and with the Mango Tree being a big name in Asia, they both put a lot of effort into this restaurant.

The key theme running throughout the restaurant is the concept of nature, evident through the continuous use of natural materials such as wood, granite, marble and travertine. Glass and leather are also used - a combination of materials all meshed together in one space.

Following themes of a traditional Thai home, the restaurant is divided into four areas - each with its own name - and each with its own unique atmosphere, and focal point. Starting from the outside, in, the customers are faced with a glass mural corridor, running right the way through the entrance of the restaurant, and lounge/bar area.

"Here the designer really looked at the alignment of the restaurant. Etched using acid to create a checkered effect, the lines on the glass run all the way across to the bar area, but ultimately a corridor feature consisting of a mirror, covered with two pieces of glass," said Steven James Swindells, operations and training manager, food division of the Landmark group.

As Swindells went on to explain, this concept of alignment is consistent throughout the entire restaurant.

"When you go to Thailand, everything is done intentionally - there's always some kind of consistency there," he said. "One thing that was very, very good, and at times challenging was making the coordination work. Every piece of work came with a different drawing, but each one was made to fit with the other, right the way through to the Travertine floors.

"If you go to an old Thai house for example, they will also have patterns on the walls - and weaving to make partitions and/or stop the rain from coming in. We have even incorporated this theme onto one of our walls - the wall looks like Thai silk; Steve interlocked the Italian material, and used them as a panel to section the living room area of the restaurant."

Following the corridor is the main restaurant area. Referred to as the 'living room', the space encompasses three seating booths topped with golden silk pillows to create elements of luxury, individual dining tables, and a large communal table.

"The communal dining, or what we call 'family dining', is a concept very rarely seen before in commercial settings, it works very well in a restaurant environment. People like their own space, but the population density aspect in Asian cities is also incorporated," said Swindells.

Taking advantage of the size of the family dining table, Kwan and Leung turn the concept of dining into a feature through a large wooden chandelier overlooking the table's wood and marble surface.

"The chandelier in the living room, is handmade piece-by-piece with antique wood - the designer doesn't buy things from magazines, he makes everything himself, from chairs, to tables, to chandeliers - it's all unique to the concept," said Kwok.

"Leung is renowned for his tailor made products. The chairs for example, have been drawn and built - even the leather is specifically made for us from a company in the states, the leather has been sprinkled with handmade gold dust.

"He is an artist who definitely understands the commercial use of the place," he added.

Like many other projects, creating a space such as the Mango Tree, presented a number of challenges for the design team as well as the contractors. Intricate detailing meant that although the designing of the restaurant only took six weeks, four months was spent on the fit out of the 4000 ft2 area.

"Making the mirror on the ceilings, and the glass work was difficult. Particularly, when having to cut the mirrors to fit the lights - it was supposed to be four panels, but it had to be changed.

Trying to cut a hole in glass to fit the lights, around 50 pieces of glass were broken; so this design had to be altered slightly in order to fit the lighting. Local contractors really couldn't make this work," said Kwok.

The huge metal stand, soon to hold over 1000 bottles of wine, a feature in the restaurants wine library, is another dining space that also posed some design challenges.

"Cutting each piece of that rod iron, that space had to be measured to precision, cut, and welded together in order to fit correctly - if it was one millimetre too big or too small, it would not have worked - a lot of coordination was involved. One piece alone was three metres long, and it was even a major challenge to deliver.

"The funny thing is, when I was first told that a rod iron screen was going to be made, and saw the Iron Work Factory in Sharjah, my first impression was 'what is that?' That panel has cost me 150000 dirhams, the restaurant fit out in total cost us almost US $2 million, fixtures, equipment, contractors time, fit out, everything. It's fairly reasonable when you look at the final outcome."

With the construction boom that's taking place in Dubai at present, sustainable design is at the forefront of many architects and interior designers. With this in mind, each piece of furniture, and decor was carefully calculated to ensure sustainability measures were adopted throughout the Mango Tree.

"I didn't want the design to be too trendy. For example, marble will always be used - ten years ago, or ten years from now. This same idea goes with leather, and wood too. Some designers use acrylic chairs, this may be the fashion for two years, and then you'll be outdated.

Our chairs are created in a way that look antique, and will only look better with time, when the leather soaks up oil, when the wood ages a bit - this furniture will last for years," said Kwok.

Panga Panga, sourced from Asia, was used on the floors of the pavilion dining area. "No matter how you grind it; it will not wear down like other parquet floors. Usually, MDF and a veneer on top is what's used, this is not the case here. We've used solid wood in one of the rooms to really add that sustainable luxury.

"In addition, stainless steel finishing was used to edge the wooden tables, to match the mirrors, as well as make it that little bit more sustainable. All this colour coordination, subtle and not too heavy - it's nice to add a little extra detail, differentiating from standard wooden tables," said Kwok.

The key aim of the restaurant was to provide traditional Thai home cooking, within a modern atmosphere. With the advantage of facing the Burj tower, each of the four rooms, including the outdoor dining area, soon-to-be filled with teak wood tables, and sofas - do just that.

"We wanted to create a home feeling, warm, and homely in a contemporary design. We want our customers to feel chic, yet cool. In some places you can often feel intimidated - we wanted a luxury, fine dining but comfortable experience for our customers. Lighting wise, we didn't want anything too bright, or too dark - it was all about finding the right balance.

Each light works through a percentage setting to hit or focus on our desired area of the restaurant. Which one will highlight the floor, or the table for example. When the lights and dimming sets in, in the evening, this is when you really get a feel for the restaurant," Kwok concluded.

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