This is not your typical restaurant. Here, creativity is in the limelight. INKED is a concept pop-up venue that focuses on unconventional dining experiences in Dubai, UAE. As one treads inside for a moment they probably won’t even realize that they are in a place that primarily serves food. The main space has a large snaking table in the center surrounded with chairs and during the day a beam of direct sunlight floods the venue with light.
Showcasing an industrial and rustic look, even those who have visited the place frequently will be in for a surprise every time they visit. This is largely because it’s not your regular neighborhood food joint, but rather, it is a place that can transform into anything as long as it has some relation to good food.
Founded by Kenza and Patrick Jarjour, the idea of INKED actually sprung up when the couple was 15 years old and dreamt of opening a restaurant. Fast forward to 2016 and Kenza, 37, with her understanding of the culinary arts, and Patrick, 38, with his background in events and production, decided to set up INKED. When it came to choosing a place to set up their business, what better place than Dubai? After all, the city’s vibrant gastronomic culture and ease of doing business is hard to match.
“What inspired us to start INKED was the desire to create a platform that would allow us to have the freedom to create, to offer alternative experiences and ways of dining, and to collaborate with other like-minded individuals” said Kenza. “Our medium is food because that is our passion, but it is the invention of ideas and experiences that is at the root of what we do.”
At the heart of INKED are culinary-led experiences. “We host private dinners, corporate private dinners, brand launches, workshops, chef collaborations, our own pop-up dinners, talks, and so much more,” said Kenza. “We have several varying food-centered occasions but sometimes the focus can be more on the event creation and production.”
INKED doesn’t cater to a specific set of clientele as a lot of personalization is done in the dinner concepts that they hold every now and then. From corporate dinners to cooking aficionados or general creativity lovers, there’s something for everyone here as long as the common theme revolves around food.
One of INKED’s most unique pop-ups called Tête-a-Tête was more like a social experiment; the concept had each guest seated opposite a mirror placed in the center of each table. During the remainder of the dinner, each guest was asked to rotate from table to table in intervals.
The idea behind the concept, Kenza said, was that, “We as a society have become so fixated on ourselves as evidenced by the infamous selfie.” She added, “We thought, ‘What better way to confront this self obsession by having our guests literally look at themselves for an entire meal?’”
One of its other innovative pop-ups, Kenza fondly recalled, was called Grey Area. It was launched during Dubai Design Week and was held in collaboration with local design firm Tinkah.
“We created an immersive dining experience that 40 guests per evening got to enjoy” said Kenza. “Through a series of achromatic courses served on custom designed tableware pieces, guests were taken through a journey where pure colors from their surroundings, plating, and food have been vacuumed, starting from white [and] reaching black by the end of their meal.”
One of its most recent pop-ups was held in Ramadan, called Tawlet Souk El Tayeb. “Tawlet is a ‘mom’s kitchen and table’ where cooks from different regions of Lebanon have shared dishes drawing from their own history, traditions, and hometown flavors,” said Kenza. “Tawlet is both a celebration of food and tradition that unites communities and the culture of sustainable agriculture, as well as a social business where profit is generated to support farmers, cooks, and producers. It tells a story about Lebanon; of a land, of people, and of their roots and origins through the one expression that travels through time and space: food.”
The inspiration for each pop-up is varied but they all aim at giving a novel experience to visitors. Speaking of the inspiration behind the pop-ups Kenza said, “It always depends on the project, challenge, or concept that we are given, or the idea that we have in mind and would like to materialize. We are a people’s collective; from creators, chefs, party hosts, event designers, and curators, we work and think collaboratively to create experiences that are indelible.”
When asked about the kind of projects to expect from INKED in the future, Kenza said, “We would like to continue to offer experiences that tell a story, create emotions, and share a passion. This is the foundation of what we do and who we collaborate with.” She added, “We want them to always be generous, playful, and poetic. Even push boundaries by blending the worlds of food and art as a tribute to our presence in Alserkal Avenue.”
Words by Mohammed Mirza
Images by INKED