A whole galaxy of stars aligned when 21 Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse designed a restaurant with top Australian architect Koichi Takada for a new museum that has already won a host of awards and has just been nominated for several more.
“It’s been a wonderful end to an incredible 10-year journey,” said Mr Takada, who was first hired to design the interiors of the National Museum of Qatar, in Doha, in 2010 by the reigning royal family.
“The museum and the museum’s shop have now won a number of awards, so it’s proved very gratifying for everyone involved.”
The next, and last, phase of the $US434 million ($650 million) museum’s development in the world’s richest nation is about to unfold: the official opening of the restaurant atop the four-level Jean Nouvel-designed masterpiece, which is shaped like a desert rose, on the Doha waterfront.
Mr Takada took inspiration for the design of the interiors of the restaurant – called Jiwan, the Qatari word for “the perfect pearl” – from indigenous Bedouin heritage and traditions linked to the sea, such as fishing, pearl diving, trading and wooden sailing dhows, as well as the physical environment of the inland sea reaching into the desert.
The colours of the carpet fade from those of the desert sands to the light turquoise of the water until finishing in the middle in a deep aquamarine blue, while more than four million pearl-like crystal beads are suspended from the ceiling, which is itself shaped like an oyster shell.
It’s now tipped to be one of the world’s latest dining hotspots.
“I met Alain Ducasse a few times and we talked, and he loved my designs because they’re very organic and so different from the traditional rigid framework of French design,” said Sydney-based Mr Takada. “I wanted to keep it very fluid and beautiful to make it an experience.
“Alain invited me to Paris to his office and restaurant and his academy and to eat his food. Some of it is very experimental, but it always takes you on a culinary journey.
“And the design of this restaurant also takes you on a journey, just as the museum itself tells the story of the country, from nomadic Bedouin up to the current modern affluent state.”
The restaurant also has an outdoor terrace with stunning views over Doha Bay, and a series of small pods inspired by the sand dunes of Qatar, the country now in the spotlight again as the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
With a total of 260 seats, it offers a sharing menu using indigenous ingredients and ancient Bedouin cooking techniques. The two French chefs running the restaurant, who met while working at Mr Ducasse’s three-Michelin star Le Louis XV in Monaco, spent two years working with locals to find about the traditional Bedouin diet and local foods.
Executive chef Damien Leroux says the design of the restaurant really complements the dining experience, and food. “From every angle, it enables you to enjoy so many different feelings,” he said. At one point, you’ll enjoy the feeling of being on top of the sand dune, then go to the terrace, and you’ll enjoy breathing in the fresh sea air; the two extremes, the desert and the sea.
“We’ve also tried to do this with the menu. Through a balance with the spices and the cooking techniques, we take guests from the earthy warming spices of the land to flavours from the sea, so the dining experience also takes you on a journey.”
The reaction of the first customers to the restaurant, following the soft opening, has been enthusiastic. “Customers come to Jiwan at 2pm one day, then return three days later at 7pm with all the members of their family,” said head chef Jeremy Cheminade.
“Afterwards, they keep coming back.
“I’ve spoken a lot with them, to find out their feedback which is helping us to grow and develop. Sometimes they’ve given us compliments such as a dish is better than their grandmother’s.”
The museum as a whole has just been nominated in the top museum awards in the world, the Leading Cultural Destinations Awards, in three categories – for New Cultural Destination of the Year, Best Architecture of the Year and Best Shop of the Year.
Mr Takada, who has a number of residential buildings in Sydney to his name including Mastery by Crown, Infinity, Sky Trees, Arc and The Waterfall, designed all the national museum’s interiors, including the restaurant, museum shop which has been made to look like a glowing cave with 40,000 wooden pieces which form a 3D puzzle, and the children’s gift shop.
In addition, he created Cafe 875 on the mezzanine floor over the lobby, with its interior inspired by traditional Qatari gold jewellery, the Desert Rose Cafe on the ground floor, full of desert rose formations, and the VIP Lounge.
“We do want to encourage people to travel via Doha,” said Mr Takada, who is now working on three new projects in Tokyo, Shanghai and Mexico.
“There’s an incredible layer of cultural, artistic and architectural beauty in Doha, and this museum is like a condensed version of the country.
“Working on it has been a wonderful adventure and a celebration of tradition and modernity and the diversity of cultures and food.”
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