Project focus: Oak restaurant, Dubai, UAE

When Ben Gregoire FCSI of Malaysia-based consultancy Levels was asked to deliver an ambitious restaurant, he started from scratch, reports Helen Roxburgh 

When the creators of Oak, a new Asian-inspired restaurant in Dubai, first came to consult Ben Gregoire FCSI on their new concept, they only had a name and an idea. 

“We initially met in July 2022, and really they came to me with the bare bones,” says Gregoire, who is based in Malaysia. “They had the vision to create a new wood-fired restaurant with a bit of an Asian influence, and they had a name in mind – Oak.” 

After ruling out the London market, Oak’s creators, Mohammad Zehri and Basil Hamshari of Standout Holdings worked with Gregoire’s company Levels to flesh out all the details for their vision, deciding on Dubai for the location. 

They found a three-storey villa near Jumeirah beach, converting a former residence into a sleek and sophisticated restaurant designed around a a bincho-tan grill with a large shisha terrace. The woodfired restaurant serves up a creative mixture of modern Japanese-inspired cuisine, featuring elements of Korean, Thai and Chinese food. 

A good niche

The location is key for drawing in customers beyond Dubai’s steady flow of tourists. “From Dubai Mall to here, it’s only about a 15-minute drive, but locals, the people who are here as long-term expats, they don’t go to Dubai Mall. So, this has filled a really good niche in that area,” Gregoire explains. “And you have that fabulous view from the terrace.” 

But the project involved more logistical challenges than the team originally envisaged, mostly due to converting a residential villa into a 290-seat restaurant with a large open grill. 

“When we started this project, they didn’t have a location, then they found this beautiful villa – but they had to gut the whole thing,” says Gregoire. “They had to deal with civil engineers, reinforce the floor for the kitchen, deal with fire regulations.” 

“There was a lot of challenges. But now they’ve done it, they’ve launched very successfully, and they’re getting a lot of great feedback.” 

Glitz and glamour

To meet the demands of Dubai’s more nocturnal customers – who generally prefer to eat late when temperatures drop – the restaurant stays open until 3am. Built next to a mosque, Oak is alcohol-free and has put a lot of focus on imaginative drink concepts, as well as high quality shisha with branded shisha towers. 

Levels handled all the branding down to staff uniforms, for which they collaborated with a Jordanian fashion designer. 

“It really adds a nice bespoke touch. A lot of restaurants will just go to a uniform vendor; we really try and drive a lot more of the look and feel,” says Gregoire. 

The restaurant launched in January 2024 with a glittering theme party with plenty 
of pazazz, including geisha performers and magicians. “In Dubai, everything has to be done with glitz and glamour,” says Gregoire. 

Levels is now working with the creators of Oak on a new restaurant, which they are hoping will open at the end of this year. “When we do a concept, we really try and think about every single guest touch point, from the music, the seating, everything. Our job is to really make it come to life,” he concludes.

Helen Roxburgh