Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera

Alexander & Co, a multidisciplinary design firm based in New South Wales, Australia, recently captured our attention for its work on the iconic Imperial Hotel Erskineville. That project carried significant gravity for the city of Sydney, as the combined restaurant, bar, and event space represents a cultural landmark of historical significance for the LGBTQI community. (It was, in fact, a prominent filming location for the seminal film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.) Alexander & Co. has a unique flair for shaping cultural institutions around the globe, and their latest project on our radar is Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera, a 350-person restaurant, bar, and courtyard located in the heart of the architecturally advanced United Arab Emirates city.

The Dubai Opera was designed by Janus Rostock during the architect’s 12-year tenure at Atkins, a global firm considered to be one of the top 100 architecture firms in the world. The task of creating a restaurant for this iconic structure would be no small feat, but Alexander & Co. took its inspiration from the highly irregular shape and scale of the existing structure, a landmark of Downtown Dubai’s opera district. This unique aesthetic was then married with Alexander & Co’s specialization in 20th century classic design and architecture.

For further inspiration, the firm looked to the restaurant’s namesake chef. Sean Connolly is a UK-born celebrity chef and host of the Australian television program My Family Feast. Alexander & Co. drew from the oceanic Australian and New Zealand influences of Connolly’s cooking to inform the visual identity of the restaurant. Each design element is accordingly a nod to the sea, from the overall colour palette of oceanic tones, corals, and pearlescent hues to its textures inspired by the roughness and smoothness of oysters.

Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera features a raw bar, fire bar, brasserie, main bar, dining areas, private dining, chef’s tables, and an external bar with courtyard and dining areas. The restaurant features direct views of the Burj Khalifa, a skyscraper that currently holds the record as the tallest building in the world.

As per Alexander & Co.’s flair for 20th century design, the classic Serge Mouille lighting chosen for the space has been custom-made in curving white enamel steel and brass finishes. When it came to the furniture, the firm opted for 20th century cult favourites that feature a mixture of greens, greys, blues, whites, and natural walnut timbers.

The oyster motif is carried through the highly reflective, almost jewel-like vaulted ceiling tiles, which represent both the inside of the coveted mollusc and the iconic silhouette of the Sydney Opera House.

The central cocktail bar is aptly named the Pearl Bar and is constructed from grey leather, walnut timber, and yellow marble.

The grey marble banquettes feature pink leather, a dark-and-light juxtaposition reminiscent of the contrast between pale corals and the darker bodies of sea creatures. The raw bar and fire bars are modelled after the outer edges of blackened seashells.

This eye-catching underwater aesthetic is carried throughout artwork specifically commissioned for the space. Jacqui Fink, known as an international pioneer of “extreme knitting,” created a custom 6m high merino wool hanging piece. This dramatic artwork calls to mind the tentacles of deep-sea creatures.

Sydney-based artist Tracey Deep, who has made a reputation for herself with her found flora installations, was brought onboard to create three hanging sculptures in this oceanic, Antipodean theme.

Lastly, Alexander & Co. also offered up a custom creation for the project; the woollen carpet is handmade, featuring a variety of blue shades that create the sensation that one is wading through shallow, sun-dappled water.


Hungry for more underwater motifs? Check out the award-winning Whale Bar in the Maldives, which made our list of favourite 2017 interiors.