Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Dine with a mirror in front of you: Unconventional dining concept Tête-à-Tête comes to Inked at Dubai

Enjoy a Valentine’s meal with a difference at a pop-up restaurant that forces diners to confront our 
growing self-obsession in the social-media age by looking in a mirror while they eat. We talk to the founders to find out what inspired the idea.
Kenza and Patrick Jarjour, the co-founders of Inked, first tested their new pop-up series Tête-à-Tête on themselves. Victor Besa for The National
Kenza and Patrick Jarjour, the co-founders of Inked, first tested their new pop-up series Tête-à-Tête on themselves. Victor Besa for The National

An experimental culinary space in Dubai is throwing out the rule book to create an unusual dining experience for Valentine’s Day.

Inked, in Alserkal Avenue, will be transformed into a pop-up restaurant for three days, starting on Sunday, February 12, to coax diners out of their comfort zone by having them look at their own reflection in a mirror while eating, instead of at a companion across the table.

The experience, called Tête-à-Tête, is the third unconventional dining concept organised by husband-and-wife duo Kenza and Patrick Jarjour, who founded Inked last year. The Dubai arts hub combines her culinary expertise, developed working in the food and beverage industry in the region, with his background in events management.

“The concept of putting diners in this position is inspired by how our society has evolved,” says Kenza, a 36-year-old ­Moroccan-born Canadian.

“We can’t ignore how social media is impacting us. We are obsessed with how we look, constantly taking selfies. You enter the elevator and the first thing people do is take a picture of themselves. People use their phone to look at themselves ­continuously – you don’t even need a mirror.”

After brainstorming with her husband and their team, they decided to incorporate that obsession into a social experiment to see how people would react when they are forced to look at themselves at the dinner table.

At the same time, they wanted the dinner to be an opportunity for residents to meet new people and experience something a ­little out of the ordinary.

When guests arrive at the pop-up restaurant for the start of the meal, at 9pm, they will be shown to the juice bar and paired up with a random partner with whom they will create a mocktail. After breaking the ice over drinks, the couples are seated at tables with a mirror between them and served a three-course meal.

They will be able to hear but not see each other. When the sharing plates arrive, they have to pass food to one another under the table. During the meal, ­diners also switch partners.

“It’s this idea of what it is like to dine with someone today when you go to a restaurant and you are on your phone all the time, not conversing with each other,” says Kenza. “We want to provoke thoughts and bring this realisation about how self-obsessed we are and have forgotten to take an interest in the person sitting in front of us.”

Kenza and Patrick tested the proceedings on themselves and were surprised at their own reactions.

“It was funny how I constantly tried to avoid looking at myself in the mirror,” says Kenza.

Patrick reveals that he became more attentive.

“You start listening more,” he says. “We try to listen for cues to understand what the person is thinking or what he is talking about.”

There will also be an element of surprise for guests.

“This will be a first time for all parties involved,” says the 36-year-old Lebanese-born Canadian.

“People are out of their comfort zone and not in a regular ­restaurant setting. But those who sign up for this are the kind who are looking for that uniqueness and fun of the unknown.”

It was food, however, which defined the two pop-ups that Inked hosted last year. In the This is Not a Restaurant series, they deconstructed the fine-dining experience by laying out communal tables with innovative food pairings and presentation.

This time, they wanted the ­demands of the experience to dictate the menu.

“It’s going to be a three-course meal, with two sharing plates,” says Kenza. “Because we have decided to make them sharing plates, we won’t be catering to vegetarians or people with ­specific dietary restrictions.”

Dishes include slow-cooked salmon with a pea, ginger, chive and shallot emulsion, and ­cocoa-glazed beef fillet, potato galette and truffle cream.

The couple say they want people to make new memories. “We want our guests to be inked – an experience marked in their memory,” says Kenza.

“We like to work a lot on ­emotions and an immersive ­environment. It’s not only about the food or the set up but a holistic perspective.”

• Tête-à-Tête will be hosted at Inked from Sunday until Tuesday from 9pm. Tickets for a single ­seating is Dh300 from www.inked.ae