We really set out to create something different,” says Molecule founder Shahryar Sheibani, who admits that while there may be influences from other design outlets lingering in his subconscious, none had a home in Dubai. The first of its kind, Molecule may be a casual, fun and colourful outlet in Dubai Design District (d3) – but it was carefully planned. “I became aware of the project at d3 and it was exciting to potentially be a part of it, especially given the concept of a design district was different,” he recalls. Having lived in Dubai for the brunt of his life, Sheibani, alongside select collaborators, set the goal to establish an entirely new and fresh venue that would inspire awe from the first step onto the premises. “I was always trying to think beyond just another restaurant – d3 was always going to be full of F&B options, so we thought, let’s try to create the design restaurant in d3.”
For an outlet that reflected the goings on in the community around it, as well as acting as a source of inspiration, Sheibani recounts how the initial “legend” involved drawing on a napkin the ideal scenario of creative people sharing a drink or meal at the restaurant, and through that conversation, the birth of a new project. “Creativity, inspiration, a space that reflects the community,” he details of Molecule’s core philosophy. “There are incredible fashion designers, graphic designers, architects and more all around us, and we wanted this to feel like home for them, something they could relate to and be inspired by.” Part of this desire to drive innovation included a dramatic, cavernous and unmistakably design-oriented space reading as both novel and refined. This loosely structured broad concept invited mostly Dubai-based designers to submit their interpretations and ideas for what he calls a “collaborative space.”
Shahryar Sheibani at Molecule in Dubai Design District
From the iconic Gubi Beetle chairs in the restaurant and Light Func lighting, to the service stations and the Architettura Senora sound system, Molecule is rife with unique design. Incorporating elements that are not often seen includes bread plates by DRAK, the sleek woodwork of the bar and bathrooms created by Fadi Sarieddine, and the undulating ceiling and 3D walls by Nomad Inception, “who have done amazing work in terms of reinterpreting Arab geometry,” adds Sheibani. “They did an incredible thing with the geometrics of the walls and floors, juxtaposed against this very flowy ceiling.” To maintain a balance, one wall remains bare concrete, but Sheibani, an art collector as well as entrepreneur, regularly fosters relationships with art galleries to showcase and sell artworks. “There’s a lot of personal involvement in selecting the artworks for the art wall, it’s something that I love to come look at everyday,” he says. There is also another element with his fingerprint on it – the bar, which incorporates a discreet purposeful design considerate of cultural sensitivities.
“Design is a very practical application,” says Sheibani. “Beautiful, but is pointless if it’s not practical.” While engaging multiple senses with thoughtful touches to give diners what they want, as well as offer continuous surprises, considerable attention has been given to all the details. “A pet peeve has always been relative height of chairs or benches to the table,” he laments. “I hate when I feel like a child because the table is so high – it’s one of the first things we thought about.” The experience was also considered in relation to music, or even in facilitating conversation: the recent addition of design quotes around the venue serves as Insta-worthy snaps, as well as debate for the bar. “We want to keep innovating,” he says, “and of course, let’s not forget part of that creativity is the food and drinks.”
Interior view of the vibrant restaurant at a glance
With a seasonal and broadly Mediterranean menu, “We don’t just mean southern European, you’ll find Levantine elements,” he clarifies, citing “the aubergine labneh with pomengranate, labneh cheesecake, or elements of North Africa, so a broad journey across the region.” Affordable and casual, the creative menu under the helm of chef Mauro Cereda includes signature hits such as the Molecule Burger, which “I’d put it up there with the best in town,” Sheibani quips. “It’s really exciting with our new chef, and because he’s Italian, he lives and dies by his pasta, so he makes an incredible Fettuccine Piemontesi with Porchini Mushroom and Truffle Oil. I love to indulge in that.” Cereda also introduced a tapas menu in the lounge, where Sheibani cites the Patatas Bravas and Bresaola with Goat Cheese and Aubergine as personal and crowd favourites.
Though Sheibani’s first venture into F&B, he is committed and takes pleasure in finding new ways to delight people. This includes tweaking Molecule’s business plan, adding a side business to allow it to function as a multifaceted event space as well as restaurant. “Hosting product launches, networking meetings, presentations, business councils… We’ve hosted 300-person events for the likes of Jimmy Choo or Benefit San Francisco,” he outlines. “They use the foundation of the space but transforming it for their brands. It makes for an interesting experience.” Opting not to rest on its laurels as a frontrunner of a new kind of design restaurant outlet, Molecule shows it’s ready to keep its edge, but its design and innovation roots will always remain at its heart. “It’s been through just about every rollercoaster,” shares Sheibani. “About 10 days before opening, there was a fire drill on a Friday and a valve had been left open, so the sprinklers went off for eight hours before anyone noticed! You cannot imagine the emotions!” Assuming the worst, the careful and informed design choices proved from day one that it is what would keep the restaurant literally and metaphorically afloat. “Credit to incredible wood floors, there wasn’t any damage or warping and we were able to steam ahead as planned,” he chuckles. “It was a good sign, getting last of bad luck out of the way!”
Molecule is located on the Ground Floor, Building 6, R08 in Dubai Design District.