Why d3 is Dubai's slickest new dining and design hotspot

How Dubai Design District is becoming a hub for good food and new designers

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With panoramic views of the Burj Khalifa, the fast-growing d3 (Dubai Design District) is just 3km from Downtown Dubai, yet seems a world away from the massive shopping malls and tourist attractions of the surrounding area.

All lifestyle boutiques, art events and top dining spots, d3 is, all in all, very trendy. It’s arty, it’s creative, and despite the concrete facades and roads (meaning it’s also very grey), hidden away here are top-quality eateries from Michelin-starred chefs and contemporary, unique fashion stores.
The area prides itself on innovative pop-ups and bespoke outlets, rather than run-of-the-mill food chains and high street labels you’ll find most places, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Time Out Dubai takes a tour around the area to find out more about the under-the-mainstream-radar art epicentre that is d3.

The history
Back in June 2013, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, revealed the city’s aims for d3, to create an area to support the region’s emerging talent. The masterplan was announced the following September, with the official launch taking place in April 2015, when more than 220 companies had signed up.

D3 was designed to steer clear of “generic franchises” forming a “creative community” of shops, restaurants and galleries. “In order to achieve our vision for d3 to become a global meeting point, it was essential to offer a bespoke retail experience, lifestyle outlets, plus satisfying dining options for its residents and visitors, to propel Dubai’s position as the emerging design capital of the world,” Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi, COO of d3 said back in 2016.

Now, more than 10,000 people currently work in the area, which covers 200,000 sq ft.

Dining in d3
Dubai Design District is rapidly becoming a hotspot for exciting new eateries, whether you’re after coffee and a cake, or a swanky French three-course meal. It’s an area that houses restaurants from Michelin-starred chefs, but hasn’t yet seen the exposure that these deserve. Being predominantly a business area, most restaurants are busiest at breakfast and lunch, with a noticeable lull after dark. However, as d3 grows in popularity we’re positive the buzz around the eateries will, too.

Chez Charles

The first restaurant venture from upmarket catering company Chez Charles, the d3 eatery is headed up by chef Jeremy Degras, formerly of Michelin-starred restaurant Le Quartier Gourmand. And the food, as expected, is excellent. Its business lunch is popular and good value, with all the crisp-white clothed tables packed out most days, providing a buzzy yet relaxed vibe. The brasserie-style décor and snappily dressed diners single Chez Charles out as the classiest eatery in the area, and the cuisine matches. Seasonally changing ingredients highlight its dedication to food and flavours, and dishes included are given a modern twist, such as a traditional avocado and shrimp cocktail with the addition of a tangy mango salsa. And what’s a French restaurant without snails?
Open Sat-Wed 9am-1am; Thu-Fri 9am-2am. Building 11 (04 512 2444).

Craft Café
With massive windows and high ceilings, Craft Café is another popular daytime spot to chill out at. Best known for its coffee (don’t miss it) the stark interior is arty-cool. The venue is hipster, but not in an overtly naff way. The décor is slightly quirky (birds – not real ones – in little cages, which hang above the dining room) and the menu is strewn with quinoa, kale and açai (which can arguably be a good or bad thing, depending on your taste).
If, however, you fall into the former camp, Craft Café is one to visit.
Open daily 8am-6pm. Building 10 (04 514 9032).

Harper’s Bazaar Café

One of two cafés opened by the world-famous magazine (the other is in City Walk), d3 is the perfect spot for Harper’s Bazaar Café, and was the first food outlet for the brand. Designed to be a “living embodiment of the iconic fashion magazine”, the café is billed as a “sophisticated and immersive experience”. The fact it’s not open weekends, and boasts an all-day breakfast menu during the week, once again highlights when this area comes into its own. Trendy dishes including avocado toast and truffled eggs adorn the morning list, and there’s a “healthy lifestyle” section, too, boasting gluten-free dishes coming in at under 500 calories. Items include vegan low-carb curried coconut quinoa and a paleo-friendly courgette noodles with grilled chicken. On trend, and good for you, too.
Open Sun-Thu 7.30am-6.30pm. Building 9 (04 557 8009).

Molecule
Billed as “French bistronomy” (the idea of combining “bold and rich flavours in a casual-dining setting”), Molecule is as trendy as the food is good. Inside the vibe is creative and laid-back. The narrow space has eclectic, arty décor with brightly coloured chairs and funky design work adorning the walls. And if that wasn’t enough to impress you, dishes from Michelin-star-wielding chef Udo Moreau, will. They range from the simple, such as tuna tartare, to the more interesting flavour combination of goat’s cheese ravioli with lemongrass and prawn foam. It sounds zany, and it is, but it’s also creative – as befits the location – and, more importantly, delicious.
Open daily noon-2am. Building 6 (04 245 4700).

One Life Kitchen and Café

This organic hotspot is popular with the designers and office workers in the area, and we can see why. Casual, communal tables are ideal for kicking back with a coffee and colleagues, or grabbing a healthy and tasty lunch, as plenty of salads and sandwiches are on offer. Looking for a place to set up an office away from an office? Grab your laptop and head here for a comfy alternative to your desk, and don’t miss the shakshouka if you’re here for brekkie, it’s top.
Open daily 8am-10pm. Building 5 (04 245 4700).

The Lighthouse

This bright and airy spot is one of the easier locations to find, being on the main road into d3. The Lighthouse is many things in one. Order a coffee and croissant at the deli. Sit and have lunch in the restaurant. Peruse the arty books and quirky home décor items for sale on stands in the middle of the space. The food’s not to be sniffed at either, alongside the aforementioned breakfast (granola, eggs Florentine et al), the lunch and dinner menu is also worth trying with a perfectly crispy calamari and a sweet-yet-tart passion fruit cheesecake among the dishes praised by the team here at Time Out Dubai.
Open Sat-Wed 8am-11pm; Thu-Fri 8am-midnight. Building 6 (04 422 6024).

Vicolo Italian Street Food
Street food is very much the order of the day in Dubai, whether from a sit-down eatery or via a food truck, so where else would you expect an on-trend dining spot to be? This eatery promises “authentic regional recipes in a detailed rustic setting”. Vicolo, meaning “narrow city street”, may be a far cry from the cobbles and culture of Italy, in its d3 incarnation, but the dishes nod to the heritage. Dig into a large slice of tray pizza, nibble on arancini or treat yourself with burratina.
Open Sun-Thu 7.30am-9pm; Fri 10am-5pm; Sat 10am-6pm. Building 4 (04 557 3211).

A burgeoning nightspot
Base

Not to be left behind when it comes to nightlife, d3’s huge new mega-club Base opened in April this year. Although it shut in May for the summer, being an open-air venue, it will re-open in September when temperatures cool. Launched by Bulldozer Group, it’s designed to be a “fusion of an open-air concert hall, mixed with the intimacy of a lounge club”. The venue itself is impressive – amphitheatre-style with a big central bar that wraps around a stage – but expect sky-high prices, queues and tight crowds, especially on nights when A-list acts are booked in to perform. With such artists as 50 Cent and Axwell headlining the club’s opening weekend, we’re sure we can expect some massive names at the venue when doors open again later this year.
Free entry. Open Thu-Sat 10pm-3am. Dubai Design District, www.basedubai.com (055 313 4999).

Major events
Dubai Design Week

This six-day celebration of design last year saw exhibitions including a global grad show, a typographic exploration and talks from speakers including architect Santiago Calatrava and designer David Trubridge, all held in the district. This year, it will take place from Monday November 13 to Saturday 18, and we can’t wait to hear what talks and exhibitions are in store.
www.dubaidesignweek.ae.

Sole DXB

When it started back in 2010, Sole DXB was all about the “sneakers,” but it has since expanded to celebrate all aspects of hip-hop culture. Last November the festival was hosted in d3 for the first time, with talks hosted by designers, DJs and more, about everything from sports shoes to starting a street culture blog, plus a basketball tournament. This year’s dates are pencilled in for Tuesday December 7 to Saturday 9 and we’re sure it will be even bigger.
www.soledxb.com.

Galleries
Being a design district the area is, of course, packed with galleries, mostly from designers in clothing and furniture. Highlights include AR Gallery (www.dubaidesigndistrict.com), a design gallery with its origins in India, which focuses on gifts and home décor. There’s also Art Hub (www.arthubdubai.com), a platform gallery for national, regional and international artists, and East Wing (www.east-wing.org), a space for photography installations. Gallery Ward (www.galleryward.com) originated in Cairo and shows work from up-and-coming Egyptian artists. Nakkash Gallery
(www.nakkashgallery.com) offers a diverse range of styles and designs for both indoor and outdoor living, while Superstudio houses cutting-edge brands such as Tom Dixon.

Education
DIDI – Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation
The area is also a hub for producing talent. Aiming to educate emerging designers in the region, DIDI (Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation) will open in d3 late next year and will be laid out as a ‘mega studio’ within d3. It will offer the region’s first Bachelor of Design degree, and will collaborate with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and The New School’s Parsons School of Design (Parsons). Applications will be accepted from later this year and there will be space at the school for 550 students. Meanwhile, the Dubai Design & Fashion Council is also on site, which was set up to raise the profile of the emirate as a destination for design and helps support and promote local artists and designers.
www.didi.ae, www.ddfc.ae.

Charitable initiatives

When wandering around d3 you won’t fail to notice the flock of sheep chilling out next to One Life Kitchen and Café. These Chic Sheep are from Nakkash Gallery and d3 as part of a public art installation. In total 100 of the sheep were displayed around the area during the three-day Meet d3 in December 2016. During that time more than 120 installations and performances were held with more than 50,000 visitors to the area. The “chic sheep” were installed as “a symbol of new beginnings and promise of the future”. Art pieces designed by d3 partners will also be auctioned to the public to benefit the Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children. D3 recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the centre to join forces and collaborate on projects promoting art to the UAE’s younger generation. Meanwhile a pop-up store, under the label “Enable Community Space”, is also in the area, working with people with special needs. Not only does it sell gifts and plants, there a workshops including recycle and re-use, DIY fountain making, pottery painting and more.

Also housed in d3 is FBMI, Fatima Bint Mohamed Bin Zayed Initiative, a ground-breaking carpet production and community development programme set up in 2010 by Sheikha Fatima Bint Mohamed Bin Zayed to help Afghanistan’s women and children. It empowers them through education and also to produce hand-woven carpets, which are sold at the project’s retail store, Zuleya, housed in Building 2 at d3. So far the initiative has helped more than 3,000 Afghan artisans, 70 percent of whom are women.

The future
The design industry in the MENA region has been growing steadily since 2010 and is expected to continue growing at twice the pace of the global design sector, according to Dubai Design & Fashion Council’s MENA Design Outlook report 2015. So it’s apt that further to phase one of d3, two more phases are in the pipeline, due for completion in 2018 and 2019. These include a new creative community space for emerging and established designers, and a Waterfront complex housing hotels and serviced apartments, with plans for leisure facilities and a sports park and marina, too. Watch this space, there’s sure to be more to come…

More in store at d3
If you’re looking for something a bit different, there are plenty of quirky shops in the district to keep you occupied

Adore Boutique
This women’s multi-brand boutique stocks clothes and accessories from a host of local and international designers.
www.houseofadore.ae (no number).

Amato Couture
Celebrity fans of this store include Heidi Klum, JLo and Katy Perry.
www.amatocouture.com (04 442 6263).

Closet Case
This international menswear store carries exclusive pieces from more than 100 designers.
www.closetcase.eu (04 442 6263).

Corcel
In essence a trendy bike shop, Corcel sells fixed-gear bicycles as well as a wide range of accessories, footwear and apparel from new-to-market brands.
www.thecorcelcollective.com (04 422 6707).

Frame
This is the first Japanese lifestyle/culture shop in the region. It includes a ramen and gyoza restaurant alongside men’s and women’s apparel and home essentials.
www.selectshopframe.com (04 243 4217).

Montroi
Focusing on nomadism, this shop stocks hand-crafted leather travel accessories, city guides and all manner of unique scents.
www.montroi.com (04 331 6449).

The cARTel
This alternative shopping experience offers mens’ and women’s wear by talented designers from Tokyo to Bogota.
www.thecartel.me (04 243 2200).

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