December 15 2011
Bizarrely, I awoke at the crack of dawn for the third morning in a row – honestly, this is so against my nature. Tomorrow I deserve a really big lie-in.
I left the house at 7.15am for Heathrow, to fly to Milan. I am a seasoned traveller and have visited almost every corner of the world. Despite this, at least once a year I pick up my son’s passport instead of my own or I chat to someone fascinating for too long and miss my train/plane. However, on this occasion, I was safely at the airport on time and used the waiting time to try to catch up on missed calls – clearly no one picked up that early, but at least I tried.
I am not really at ease on a planes so I used my two-hour flight to work a bit. I love preparing “to do” lists to try and focus my mind. I am so easily distracted – I attribute this to being interested in everything around me – and my mind works at 100 miles an hour at all times, like a rollercoaster. So I compiled lists for each country where I have businesses – Paris, London, Beirut, Dubai.
I was met off my flight by a potential associate who has approached me to create a restaurant, bar and club in collaboration with him in Milan. Milan is a city I visit regularly and know well, as I attend all the major design fairs for inspiration for my various projects. We dropped our bags off at hotel Rosa Grand and had lunch in a very average trattoria. In the early afternoon we visited the potential new site, which is currently still under construction. They showed me the full plans and explained all they had in mind for this massive project. We then walked outside to recce the area and to see how such a space would integrate in its environment. They intend to build shops and many different attractions around the restaurant; it all looks very exciting.
Over the past decade I think I may have been approached to open a project in every major city in the world; however, the majority I turned down. It is essential that I adore the city and believe in what I do, as well as being able to work with my partners in a creative and fulfilling way. I am not really a businessman – I think I may fall into the creative team. I am planning a project in Istanbul, which has to be one of the most inspirational cities on earth, and am slowly coming round to the idea of a New York opening – it’s tough there, but I think I could pull it off. I certainly wouldn’t conform, that’s for sure.
After that, I decided I would go back to the hotel for two hours to check my emails and make more calls.
I spent an hour on the phone with Rajaa, the manager for my restaurant Al’maz, in Dubai. Al’maz is a huge place so when we started trading there, we divided the restaurant into different entities to make the atmosphere more intimate. I am really glad that Al’maz has attracted the clients I originally intended it for – Dubaites (people living in Dubai). Oddly, when I first started researching this project, it struck me that nowhere in Dubai had been created for the locals, embracing their culture and traditions – everything was a western concept, a mini Vegas. At Al’maz we do not serve alcohol and we have a room exclusively for ladies, but the venue is extremely contemporary, stylish, colourful and high-end. My partners in Dubai have requested that I open a second Al’maz in Abu Dhabi next summer, once I have finished the Martin Creed project at Sketch.
My attitude to the projects I create is that one needs to nurture them and develop them constantly. In a sense, I think it is important to give something back for the pleasure and financial gain the venue has proffered. The greatest knowledge I can impart to a young restaurateur is never let the project stand still. Every night is a new performance; every night you must be the director of the show and note what needs to be tweaked the next day. It is so important to keep the restaurant relevant to the changing consumer requirements – I love and constantly crave to be the innovator, the pioneer, and I am never satisfied, so that really drives me.
So at Al’maz I have decided to extend the Sisha room and redesign the furniture. I have called upon my friends Annabel Karim Kassar and Violaine Jantet who designed the restaurant alongside me originally and who are very fine interior designers. To date we have created Al’maz and the new restaurant in Beirut, Momo at the Souks, together. I love their style of mixing contemporary almost futuristic design with the antique “Oriental” ( Middle Eastern) artefacts and architecture.
I digress (no change there). That evening, we had drinks at Nobu and dinner at Bistro Giacomo Milano. Two totally different atmospheres, but interesting to visit both and contrast. We concluded the night by dropping into the Armani Club Privé and to a second one, of which I have lost the name. Nightclubs – there have been so many late-night spots in my lifetime, they are all now a bit of a blur. I drink very little but I do enjoy staying out very, very late.
Exhausted but quite fulfilled, I went to bed in the early morning; this will be filled in tomorrow!