Founded by Buthaina Al Mazrui and Alamira Noor Bani Hashim, The Dinner Club by No. 57 is an invite-only, once-a-month event that gathers the U.A.E.’s premiere luminaries for a unique dining experience.
The location is secret, and it changes every month, with previous Dinner Clubs held at such far-flung locations as a construction site, an empty swimming pool, and a public bus – all transformed into picturesque settings, the stunning décor of which is the brainchild of Noor. Buthaina, meanwhile, is the culinary head, whose delicious starters, mains, and desserts form the core of a beautiful evening. Her signature No. 57 dessert, the heavenly, mini-marshmallow-topped dish, is a particular favorite, named ermahgerds by the founders after the sound a mouth full of it makes when saying ‘oh my God’.
Noor and Buthaina, two longtime friends, decided to open a café, No. 57, in the capital several years ago. When plans stalled, they looked for a distraction, and The Dinner Club was born. It is an ingenious way to build buzz while simultaneously developing their brand. The most exciting aspect to The Dinner Club is, once you’ve been, you can’t come again. It’s a one-time thing, and it has the top personalities in town beating down their door. This month’s invitees included our very own editor-in-chief, Haleh Nia, and was held at 8th Street Studios in Dubai. Click through the photo gallery for our exclusive photos of the evening and find out more about this exciting new entrepreneurial venture in our interview with Buthaina and Noor below.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves. What are your respective education backgrounds?
Noor: I studied urban planning at Berkeley University, and then went to Harvard for my masters. I graduated from the School of Design with a focus on urban design. By day, I am an urban planner, and, by night, I am a supper clubber.
Buthaina: I am a wise economist. I went to university in London and, at the moment, I work in strategy and investments.
How did the idea of the Dinner Club come about?
Buthaina: Noor and I have been planning to open our café, No. 57, for over two years now. One day, Noor calls me up and says, “It’s going to be a while until our café opens. What are we going to do in the meantime?” She came up with the idea of starting a supper club in the U.A.E.
Noor: It made perfect sense because she’s obsessed with food and I’m obsessed with décor and setups. We thought about it and realized that it is actually done all over the world. Supper clubs are normally hosted in homes or restaurants, but that wouldn’t work for us because, first of all, hosting dinners full of strangers in our homes is not part of our culture, and, secondly, it didn’t make sense to promote our café in another restaurant. So we added a very unique element to the Dinner Club, which is the fact that it’s hosted in very random, crazy locations that you would never expect to dine in. We ran with the idea and, three weeks later, we hosted our first dinner.
Tell us about No. 57. What is the idea behind it?
Buthaina: It’s a boutique café, so it’s a little bit more than a typical everyday café; the food is more gourmet. The idea is to target people on their lunch break, people who are looking for a quick, delicious, and healthy bite. It is also for people who just want to sit and enjoy a good meal for an hour or two. It’s really important to us that, when people walk into No. 57, they actually know exactly who Noor and I are as individuals. As we said, Noor and I both studied abroad, so we wanted to bring that cosmopolitan feel to the café. Being Emiratis, we also wanted to add an Emirati touch. It’s not actually an Emirati café, but we will be using some Emirati ingredients or ingredients grown locally. For example, our salads will be made using Emirati-grown plants.
Noor: We’ll also be including Emirati desserts. When you go to a restaurant or café in the U.A.E., you’ll find chocolate cake and cheesecake on the menu. We will offer those, but we will also offer traditional desserts such as Lgeimat.We want to make Emirati food accessible.
When it comes to the Dinner Club, how do you divide the tasks between the two of you?
Noor: It works perfectly for the Dinner Club and the café because Buthaina is completely the food person and I am completely the design person. People say don’t work with a friend because it is going to be a disaster and you are going to be competing with each other, but we each have our role. We trust each other completely and I’ll take her advice and make sure that she is okay with everything. She does the same with me.
Buthaina: Our personalities are also so different. Noor is so organized. She likes to plan things in advance.
Noor: There is a good balance.
What inspires each dinner? Do you work based on a theme?
Noor: We don’t really like themes. It’s not like a Hawaiian theme or anything; it’s just a setup. It all starts the moment we have the location. Once the location is set, I can envision the whole setting.
Buthaina: When it comes to food, I always try to think about seasonal ingredients. That plays a bigger role than a theme.
Noor: She also needs to think about what travels well! Because we cook everything at our homes and then transport the food. Getting back to design – when I see the location, I try to go in the completely opposite direction to create something that you would never imagine. For the dinner held on a construction site, we went really fancy with china and furs. We also turned a school bus into a garden with grass on the floor and flowers hanging from the ceiling.
Buthaina: I don’t think people would expect dinner in a bus anyway.
Noor: When we come up with an idea, a location, that’s it. Nothing is impossible. Dinner bus? Okay, we’ll find a way to make it happen.
Tell us about your funniest Dinner Club memory.
Buthaina: For the first dinner, Noor had this idea of creating something really fancy and dreamy. I said: “Listen, I think I know what you’re looking for! You need plates? I have plates. Come to my house because my mum has so many.” When my mother found us snooping around the house, we told her very innocently that we were just looking for candles. We went into the formal dining room and she could hear cupboards opening and closing and Noor and I ooh-ing and aah-ing. We took pictures of everything we needed and left. Minutes later, my sister calls me and says, “Mum knows something is up and she wants you to tell me exactly what are you taking.” [Laughs] We still went ahead and smuggled them out of the house; it was our first dinner and we wanted everything to be perfect. I then realized that I couldn’t post pictures of our first-ever supper club because my mother is on Instagram! I waited until very early in the morning to post the photos, when I knew she would be sleeping. I still got into so much trouble.
Noor: By the third dinner, her mum was giving us plates to use!
What about your most disastrous memory?
Buthaina: Thank God, nothing terrible has ever happened. The worst thing actually turned out to be the best thing! Before our first dinner, I had prepared sticky date cakes and our signature desert, ‘Ermahgerds’. Both of them require toffee sauce. I asked my housekeeper to pour a little bit of that sauce on the Ermahgerds and most of it on the date cakes. She ended up pouring all of the toffee on the Ermahgerds. I thought it would be a disaster but it was actually a hit!
Noor: So many things could go wrong because the setup is very last minute. But somehow, thankfully, everything works.
Buthaina: It really works because of people’s reaction and energy when they first walk in and see the setup.
If there were no limits, what would your dream location be for the Dinner Club by No. 57?
Buthaina: One a plane! It’s cheesy but who knows…
Noor: On a plane to the Maldives, because we really need a break.
If you could pick anyone in the history to be your ten guests at the Dinner Club, who would you pick?
Buthaina: Oh my God, yes!
Noor: Karl Lagerfeld, Barack Obama!
Buthaina: Leandra Medine.
Noor: Sheikh Zayed.
Buthaina: David Blaine – that would be so fun! Lenny Kravitz?
Noor: Frank Sinatra. And Lana Del Rey!
Buthaina: Ashton Kutcher.
Noor: Adam Levine! [Laughs]
What’s on the horizon for the Dinner Club?
Noor: When we started, we had no idea it would be such a hit. We didn’t realize it would really catch on. We thought we would stop it as soon as the café opened, but, given its success, the café is now sort of supporting the Dinner Club as opposed to it being the other way around. I don’t think we are going to expand in terms of the number of guests because ten is just right. We are very careful about how we seat them. If the dinners get too big, they will lose this intimate, exclusive aspect.
Buthaina: We’re also in talks about organizing a dinner for charity and one in support of the Developing Child Center. Watch this space.
Now for a series of quick-fire questions. Pizza or pasta?
Noor: Red velvet.
Salted popcorn or caramel popcorn?
Noor: Definitely salted!
Buthaina: Both – salted at the top and caramel at the bottom.
Noor: French fries. A mountain of French fries.
Buthaina: This is torture for a foodie! I can’t answer that… Okay, a burger.
Your favorite ingredient?
Buthaina: I’m obsessed with truffle. I could have truffle with anything at this point.
Noor: I’m indifferent.
Abu Dhabi or Dubai?
Buthaina: Abu Dhabi.
Peonies or roses?
Vintage or modern?
Buthaina: Vintagely modern.
Noor: Is that even a thing?
Noor: Popping bubble wrap.
Buthaina: The sound of rain on a window when you’re warm and dry inside.
Coffee or tea?
Buthaina: Definitely coffee.
Noor: Toffee nut latte.
Favorite Emirati dish?
Noor: Which is the same thing.
Buthaina: No, it’s not.
Noor: That’s why you’re the foodie!