Japanese luxury restaurant Nozomi to open in Doha
After successfully establishing the Nozomi brand in London over the last 10 years, founder Marios George is now introducing the same fine dining Japanese concept to the Middle East. In an exclusive interview with The Edge’s Syed Ameen Kader, he shares why he thinks this region has huge potential for luxury hospitality brands to grow.
What are the unique selling points of Nozomi restaurant?
Nozomi is a contemporary Japanese lifestyle restaurant and celebrity hotspot. We are launching the restaurant at Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl-Qatar. The best way to describe Nozomi is that it is an entire lifestyle experience. It provides contemporary Japanese cuisine, which has been adapted very subtly to appeal to Western palates and in turn, to Middle Eastern palates, with the variations that we will be bringing here.
It is a restaurant that also seeks to entertain you in so far as we have a DJ playing music every night. We use a selection of world music choices as a medium to relax the individual, to make the person feel a lot better about things, and as the evening progresses, so the tempo of the music increases.
It is not just a place you come simply to eat. It is a place where you come to – just like our London model which we are looking to replicate here – be seen and to see people, not just celebrities, but people in finance, in the property world and different walks of life. It is for a whole cosmopolitan mix of people.
Tell us more about your Doha outlet.
We will have 130 to 150 covers downstairs, with the sushi chefs on display. Upstairs, we have a lounge bar, which will offer the same music. The only variation here is that we will also have 120 covers outside with a specifically adapted cuisine. The menu has been designed to work with the fluctuating temperatures we have here.
So while the favourites – the tender Kobe beef, the Chilean seabass, the various tempuras, the lobsters and the seabass – will be on offer as the main cuisine, we are also looking to offer something slightly different on the terrace, just to appeal to sitting outside, enjoying the mild breeze.
How many restaurants do you have as of now?
In this region, we opened our first Nozomi restaurant in Riyadh in September 2014. We have signed other branches in Kuwait, Dubai, Oman and Bahrain. We have also started working in Jeddah. What we are looking to bring to the restaurants there is slightly different as the geography of the restaurant is different.
Besides this region, we are already present in Cyprus and London. Another new European property will also be opening later this year in Monaco.
The plan is to get to about 20 over the next three to five years. We do not envisage having more than one restaurant in one city. In Doha, for example, we would not launch more than one, but the emphasis will be on growing the brand in the Gulf region.
What variation will you offer to cater to local taste?
What we do is we recognise local produce. We recognise that there is a whole range of fish and crustacean available in the Gulf. So there is nothing wrong in adapting and using local produce to accentuate or compliment what we already offer. We did the same in Saudi, where 80 to 85 percent of the menu features our established dishes that we have developed over the years and people know and love. But we allow that 10 to 15 percent of gambling. We find produce people have never even heard of. And we just pay tribute to the country that we are in and trading with. We adapt to it and it does not alter or change the dynamics of what we actually do.
You are already a known brand in the European market. Do you think it will help you attract many expatriate customers who are from that region?
We are not looking to target only the expats. We are looking to appeal to people who live here, work here and raise their families here. Clearly, the expats may or may not have heard of us, but we see it as bringing something new to the region.
Do you think this is the right time to launch the restaurant as The Pearl-Qatar project is yet to be completed?
The Pearl-Qatar is under construction, the hotel is still finishing, and so is Doha. The entire country is going through massive changes. The amount of construction that is going on – the infrastructure, in terms of roads, metros and hotels – is endemic to the region. I think it is fabulous. I think the region is ready to welcome us.
How confident are you about attracting a reasonable number of guests?
I do not think anybody knows before they start a project, a hotel or restaurant. You kind of believe and you know everything is a risk but I think the way Doha is advancing, it is looking to welcome the world to its country. Look at the steps it has taken with the securing of the 2022 World Cup. Clearly, the government and the royal family want to encourage visitors to come to Doha and I think it is only right when they visit Doha that there are fantastic projects to experience.
What has the response to your first regional restaurant in Riyadh been?
Incredible, it exceeded all our expectations. We have been there for a year now, and it has already established itself. I think the real success of a restaurant is not that it is always full and not that it has a good reputation, but that people come back to you again and again. If people come to you once a month, or once every two months, or they come once a week, or once every couple of weeks, it shows that you have actually penetrated. You have got into the market and they like you and they welcome you.
I have been in the restaurant business for 33 years and have dealt with many people from the Middle East, particularly in London in the last 20 years. They always ask, “Why don’t you come open in our country?”
What is your observation about the nature of this market?
I think you have wonderful emerging markets here. People are being more receptive, they are saying, they do not just want to have local cuisine. There are all these wonderful cuisines coming from various parts of the world. This is the time when all is going to start happening. And for those reasons, it is more exciting to be part of something that is new than to go and compete against a million other restaurants in New York. I just think it is all more rewarding.