Dinner Club – APRIL 2013

By Aysha Majid

The Dinner Club by No.57 creators Buthaina Al Mazrui and Alamira Noor Bani Hashim join us at their latest location, for an in-depth discussion and glimpse into a private world of likes, loves and inspirations…

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The dynamic Emirati pair, who kick-started the regions' underground dining scene, are a breath of fresh air. Gracious and charming, (but don't be fooled by their delicate demeanor) both are brimming with tenacity. The two seemingly incongruous in stature and personality— Noor; a petite and doll-like beauty with a cheeky twinkle in her eye, studied urban planning at Berkeley University and a Masters at Harvard. While Buthaina; the elegant and glamourous other half, went to university in London and works in strategy and investments. The long-time friends dreamed up a supper club, where they could play out their dinner fantasies. Lucky guests have included film directors, world famous designers, magazine editors and business moguls. Originally this invitation only, secret location venture was created when they faced frustration planning to open a café in Abu Dhabi. Thus, The Dinner Club No.57 was born. Now a name unto its own, the pair plan to take their whimsical soirees to the next level. Intrigued? Welcome to their world…


Have you always been passionate about entertaining?


N: Yes! We love hosting guests and Buthaina loves feeding everyone.
B: Noor is the Arab Martha Stewart, minus the cooking part.


How do you Cherry Pick your venues and setting?


N: It all starts with a strong idea of the type of place we would like to host (a bus, a construction site, etc). We really try to think outside the box (how far we can go). Like the bus we found was a functional school bus. We had less than 24 hours to completely transform it and at the end of the evening, return to its original state so the driver could pick the kids up the next morning!
B: Once we have our location set, Noor gets immediately inspired after our site visit. She usually goes for something that completely juxtaposes the place itself. Then I create a menu that compliments the design and atmosphere we want to create.


Are there any future plans for the café or is this currently on hold?


B: We are still working really hard on the café as well and searching for the perfect location. We started The Dinner Club as a guerrilla way of marketing our café, and planned to stop as soon as we opened. We never imagined it would become what it is today. We will definitely keep The Dinner Club going and the café will now reflect the personality of The Dinner Club.


Who taught Buthaina to cook?


N: Her mother is an amazing cook so during her student years in London, she tried and tested many of her recipes. She would come home during the holidays with her book in hand and note recipes from her mother's friends as well.


What is the inspiration behind your menu choices?


B: I always think about seasonal ingredients first and draw my inspiration from there. Once Noor has a certain design in mind, I start to get a feel of what I would like to serve. For example, in the empty swimming pool, we served sea bass with chilli, ginger and lime. The last dinner was very Emirati inspired, even the Dinner Box had a palm tree based fragrance.


Who is your culinary inspiration?


B: Ferran Adria for his extremely innovative style and Yotam Ottolenghi for the beauty and simplicity of his recipes and ingredients.


What drove you to the pop-up supper club concept?


N: The Dinner Club came as a result of us being antsy and impatient with the opening process of our café— we've been planning the opening for two years and wanted to start entertaining people. I called Buthaina up with an idea— a supper club. I had no idea they were held all around the world let alone on her “to-do” list.


How do your family feel about the concept and buzz you have created?


N: They have been so incredibly supportive. My parents have so kindly let us take over their dining room for test set-ups and they are usually always there to help us with crazy concepts. Buthaina’s mother is still waiting for an invitation and is trying to bribe us into hosting a private dinner for her and her friends! Most importantly, they have been so understanding with how busy our schedules have gotten and forgiven us for missing so many family lunches.


What do you feel has been most instrumental in your career and life choices— education or travel?


B: Both; our education and the experience that came along with it. Living alone in a foreign country and having to figure everything out on our own. Travelling helped make us more well-rounded and exposed us to different cultures, food and designs.


If you could choose anyone in the world who would you include on your ideal dinner guest list?


N: Karl Lagerfeld. But he probably wouldn't eat.
B: Anthony Bourdain would be a dream for me!


Which celebrity embodies your perfect dinner guest?


Both: Johnny Depp. In any of the characters he's played. We love outrageous guests with very strong personalities.


What is key to a successful dinner party?


N: Inviting the right people always comes first and that comes hand in hand with set up and food, and last but not least the music. The music just sets the mood of the dinner and is a great backdrop to the most interesting conversations.


Do you have any future plans to charge guests?


B: Not at all. The guests' experience is the most important part of The Dinner Club by No.57. The invitation process, receiving the directions to the mystery location, not knowing who else has been selected, being entertained and fed delicious food… We want the guests to appreciate the exclusivity of the entire experience. Once we charge them, that magic goes away. We also need to ensure that we have a good mix at every dinner, and we would not be able to be so selective if the guests become paying customers.


How would you describe Dubai?


N: The future! We love all the different personalities that live in Dubai and the serious art, fashion and food scene that has emerged.


What is your Cherrypicked Dubai?


N: I love eating at Smiling BKK. I love that the place mats are pages ripped out of magazines. Kite Beach in Dubai is great— not the busy one with all the kite surfers, but the one just before Sunset Mall. Slipping away for a few hours with a good book is almost crucial with our busy schedules. I love shopping at S*uce and Symphony. West L.A. and Spera are great for everyday clothes that are easy to run around in. N.Bar and JetSet are the best for getting nails and hair done.
B: I love Baker & Spice (top 3 picks would be Burrata with honey, the burger and their bannoffee pie) and Saladicious for their Nutella Pie! Hiring a yacht and going out with our girlfriends is so much fun. I'm a huge S*uce fan especially for my accessories fix. It's good to experience Dubai like a local; grabbing a cup of karak tea and taking an Abra on Dubai Creek is a must and you'll be able to take great shots!


Would you consider opening a café here?


N: Yes, and then slowly take over the world! No but really, our concept would work so well in Dubai, so it is definitely in the works.


What are your top three favourite places in the world?


N: The beach in LA… My bed… Anywhere in London.
B: Forte De Marmi for its charm and little beach town feel… London for being my home away from home… Paris for its beautiful architecture.


What's next for The Dinner Club No.57?


N: We have a few interesting ideas, including a Suhoor in Ramadan and a plan to take the supper club internationally, but we can't share them. The mystery is all part of the experience!

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