x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Bait Al Bahar: a different kind of restaurant and bar

Bait Al Bahar is a bar-cum-restaurant with a distinctly Emirati feel. It was born of an idea hatched by the childhood friends Luke Sellwood, a 32-year-old Briton, born and raised in the Gulf, and the Emirati Ahmed Al Hashimi, 33.

An exterior view of Bait Al Bahar. Satish Kumar / The National
An exterior view of Bait Al Bahar. Satish Kumar / The National

On a Saturday evening, as a breeze wafts in from the Arabian Gulf, a mixed crowd gathers at a rooftop bar to watch the setting sun while the music cranks up a notch.

The thumping pop tunes will keep going until 4am at Mazology in Dubai while waiters carry shisha pipes and trays laden with sushi to customers lounging on pristine white sofas scattered with brightly coloured cushions.

But this is no ordinary nightspot. It might draw a lively crowd of late-night revellers but there isn’t a drop of alcohol to be found on the menu.

Bait Al Bahar is a bar-cum-restaurant with a distinctly Emirati feel. It was born of an idea hatched by the childhood friends Luke Sellwood, a 32-year-old Briton born and raised in the Gulf, and the Emirati Ahmed Al Hashimi, 33.

Both had been coming to this pristine stretch of Jumeirah beach, within spitting distance of where they grew up, for more than 20 years. And it was while floating in the sea and gazing at the skyline they both knew so well that they concocted a plan to create a “man-cave”, somewhere they could play pool, go to the gym, have a beach hangout and their own private majlis.

Two years later, that notion has borne fruit with the opening of the 490-seat Bait Al Bahar. The three-storey beachfront venue offers an Emirati restaurant called Bait 1971, featuring home-style cuisine, a ground-floor casual diner with an outdoor sea-facing terrace, and the uber-cool Mazology lounge with a rooftop area, stunning views and a range of inventive cocktails such as the Dubai Millennium, a refreshing blend of lemon, mint, strawberry and energy drink.

“Some people cannot go to bars because of the risk to their reputations,” says Sellwood, who converted to Islam more than a decade ago.

“There is a market for families and people who want an environment without alcohol. This is a place you can come to and not have to worry about it.”

Despite opening just six weeks ago, Bait Al Bahar’s reputation has already reached the highest echelons.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the vice president of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was spotted driving past while construction was underway and, to the delight of startled staff, dropped in the day after the venue opened, lifting pot lids and inhaling the aromas of simmering stews on an impromptu tour of the kitchen.

At weekends, Sellwood, dressed in a tan-coloured kandura and red-and-white ghutra, circulates and greets his regulars, easily switching between English and Arabic.

Born in Kuwait, he moved to the UAE as a toddler when his father Peter, an advertising executive, secured a job in Dubai.

As children, he and Al Hashimi were constantly in and out of each other’s homes.

“In my house, he is considered as one of my brothers and when I go to his house, I do not even have to knock,” says Al Hashimi.

From their early days as mutual pranksters at Rashid School for Boys, Sellwood and Al Hashimi’s relationship has grown into an enduring friendship and professional partnership.

Their first entrepreneurial scheme was supplying toiletries to supermarket chains. They now have a portfolio including trade, manufacturing, sports recreation and the catering industry.

Sellwood, who previously worked as the co-founder and chief executive of Manazel Specialists, an Abu Dhabi-based property development company, stepped down in 2009 and sold his stake in the company two years ago to focus full-time on the businesses.

Meanwhile, Al Hashimi juggles three jobs – as well as a restaurateur, he works as a branch manager at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and hosts Daleelok, a Dubai TV show promoting local tourism.

He spends the journey time to Abu Dhabi every morning publicising Bait Al Bahar via social media and personal contacts while the evening commute is used to prepare for the TV show, which shoots at weekends. Nights are spent at the restaurant, where he stays until 2am, then sleeps for four hours before repeating the process.

“We balance each other out,” he says. “I take risks, Luke does not. He is very conservative and I am a bit more crazy, so it is a nice partnership.

“The most important thing is the trust we have.”

It was a desire to recreate the sense of familial hospitality they share that inspired them. In the traditional Bait 1971, the chefs have been trained in the kitchens of relatives while the menu includes dishes found in Emirati homes such as biryani maleh, rice with dried fish, and quozi, a whole baby goat stuffed with rice, raisins, nuts and lentils and prepared a day in advance.

“A lot of tourists go to a Lebanese restaurant and think they have eaten local food,” says Sellwood.

“It is such a shame because Emirati cuisine is very tasty, unique and different to anything they could experience but it has not been pushed.”

In future, there will be an option to dine with a guide who can talk about the provenance of the menu.

“We have tried to make this a family business,” says Sellwood. “Anyone who comes in here should feel it is theirs.”

 

• Bait Al Bahar is off Jumeirah Beach Road, near Dubai Offshore Sailing Club. Call 04 394 4441 for reservations

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