As New York City seafood venture Catch opens its doors in Dubai, Penelope Walsh meets its co-founders, Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum, to find out how the Manhattan import will translate to diners in the UAE.
Despite their background in New York nightclubs, in 2011, Mark Birnbaum and Eugene Remm decided to open a two-storey seafood restaurant in the middle of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Since then, that restaurant, Catch, has made its way to Dubai, where it opened at the Fairmont Dubai at the end of April. Taking over the space that was once Spectrum on One, the restaurant promises the same mix of internationally inspired seafood dishes and upmarket, industrial design that characterises the original NYC spot. And there are further plans for expansion on the cards, with new outlets due to open in Mexico and Los Angeles later this year. Just ahead of the Dubai opening, we caught Catch’s founders Mark and Eugene during a trip to the UAE and asked them more about their venture.
What’s the concept behind Catch?
Eugene Remm: It’s globally influenced. It has the base of a traditional seafood restaurant, with elements from all over the world added to it, as well as whatever myself and Mark like.
Mark Birnbaum: We would say we are a seafood house. However, there is something for everybody. The beauty of our menu here is that although it is seafood focused, if you are a non-seafood lover, we have plenty of things for you. And if you are, say, an ‘unhealthy’ seafood person (like, you want something fried as opposed to grilled) then we have something for you as well. And if you’re vegetarian we have something for you too. We really have to hit as many nails on the head so as many people can come here together as possible.
Why did you originally decide to open Catch in New York?
ER: It’s actually quite simple. We had a nightclub on West 12th Street and a nightclub on 14th Street. 13th Street [where Catch NYC is located] was right in the middle of them. We both lived two blocks away in the West Village, where there was this amazing, beautiful 12,000 sq ft space and we wanted to use it. We already had a steakhouse at the time, and there was another steakhouse coming up on the other side of the street. In the Meatpacking District, Jean-Georges Vongerichten was already across the street doing Spice Market. And Mario Batali, Morimoto, Tom Colicchio, were all within one block. We were certainly bold in what we did, and I don’t think anyone else at that time would have taken a second and third floor walk-up with no ground floor foot presence. That was unheard of in New York. At the time, some of our favourite restaurants were Blue Water Grill, which was a traditional seafood restaurant, and Nobu, because we really loved the sushi. We didn’t want to compete with Nobu because we weren’t Asian and it wasn’t who we are.
MB: We love the Nobu style and we will credit Nobu all day long. It has revolutionised Japanese food, made it a fun experience. You didn’t have to be a really serious sushi eater. No one had ‘funned-up’ seafood before.
Tell us about the décor and ambience you created at Catch in Manhattan.
MB: The original Catch is in an old refrigeration building in the Meatpacking District. It was a hollowed-out building, with no floors. It was all brick, with decades of wear and tear and it had this very authentic old industrial look and feel. We captured that and embraced it, adding things to it, like brass and copper. So that was the vibe; industrial, raw, still elegant and timeless. And [the dining room of Catch Dubai] has the DNA of Catch in New York.
ER: In our humble opinion, we feel that it is a new American classic. When someone asked us a few weeks ago ‘how many years before your renovate the place?’ we contemplated it, but I don’t think we’ll ever touch this place, ever.
MB: I’m not saying we invented the brick and industrial look. I’m just saying that this look works very well in the middle of the Meatpacking District, and it’s been there for 100 years. So when you walk in somewhere with four brick walls, you are not going to knock them down or wallpaper them.
Why did you decide to bring Catch to Dubai?
MB: In a way, Dubai chose us. But we were certainly looking to do Dubai. We just weren’t sure how. This is the first venture outside of New York. We had a Catch in Miami for a number of years, but the hotel it was in is no longer around. We were open to the idea of opening in Dubai because its market is extremely hot and I think it has everywhere to go.
What’s your impression of the dining scene in Dubai?
MB: Very international.
ER: London meets Las Vegas.
MB: I mean, look, it is a real city. Or, it’s becoming a real city.
So you wanted to open in Dubai because the market here is growing?
MB: Here’s the thing: we didn’t do Vegas ten years ago and I think this is another opportunity where it is not like, or the same as, Vegas, but it is another emerging market that is very international.
ER: With Las Vegas ten years ago, we were very focused on our nightclub business and we missed the Las Vegas gold rush. When I say that, I mean it was just at the beginning stages of what it is today. It has some similarities with Dubai, but Dubai is a much higher, more elevated version of what Vegas was like ten years ago. People working in different industries and going out at night, living the lifestyle; that is what we can see here. People love hip-hop, and American things. The world has got a lot smaller, so basically what’s cool elsewhere in the world is cool here. So it’s really not a far stretch for us.
MB: It is also the most fun place I have been to in a long time. People living here seem to enjoy eating out and are going out more than residents I’ve seen anywhere else.
ER: They are not spoilt yet, people here are still really having fun. They are not over it yet.
MB: They are not jaded. Every day seems like a weekend here.
Catch Dubai is now open at Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 357 1755).
Three more New York imports in Dubai
Burger Joint NY
This New York-born burger concept has a rough and ready looking décor and the tiniest menu in the city, written on a ropey piece of cardboard for added edginess.
City Walk, Al Wasl Road (04 344 4459).
Clinton Street Baking Company
Born in New York, where it is famous for brunch, here in Dubai you can sample American favourites such as pancakes, chicken and waffles and more.
Burj Views, Downtown Dubai (04 428 1331).
This restaurant originally opened in Manhattan, where Junoon has gained a Michelin star for its modern interpretation of Indian dining. Here in Dubai, the food and service make this import worth a try.
Shangri-La Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 405 2717).