Why the new restaurant at the top of Burj Khalifa promises to offer far more than a great view.

At.mosphere. Burj Khalifa
At.mosphere. Burj Khalifa

As with anything linked to the Burj Khalifa, the opening of its restaurant, At.mosphere on the 122nd floor, was surrounded by media attention.

But where there is hype, there is also criticism. Billed as the highest restaurant in the world at 442 metres (although this accolade is debated by some), the restaurant soon came under fire for its “equally steep prices” thanks to a controversial minimum charge.

Notwithstanding, the restaurant has been fully booked for its dinner service and during my visit, members of the team received calls from various clients all vying for a table.

So, aside from the view — which is undeniably fabulous — what else does this restaurant offer? And is the interior as spectacular as the view from 442 metres up the world’s tallest tower?

Considering the intimidating exterior, At.mosphere is actually a rather cosy outlet, with an intimate setting for the main grill restaurant and a cool, more spacious lounge area.

As At.mosphere interior designer Adam Tihany says, with the great height in mind, achieving a feeling of comfort and security was a key consideration.

“The brief was to create a world class, memorable and unique restaurant and lounge. Exuding elegance and ensuring a comfortable environment, the plan was to leverage the full advantage of the altitude, views and at the same time offer a warm and soothing ambience, suitable for day and night,” says Tihany.

Easier said than done, however, considering the Burj Khalifa’s centre core of structure, elevators and stairs.

“[These] represented a planning challenge, which we have overcome by designing all the public spaces around the perimeter of the floor, taking advantage of the spectacular 360º,” says Tihany.

“Being situated on the 122nd floor is exhilarating, and my design concept ensures everyone is comfortable. The restaurant and lounge are very intimate and warm,” he adds.

This is enhanced by muted, calming shades of purple and brown, and a combination of textures such as silk, velvet and leather.

The aim was to create a relaxed place rather than an “ultra-fine dining” experience, says executive chef Dwayne Cheer, and this theme runs from the décor through to the kitchen.

“We want people to feel at home and feel comfortable, not with food that’s over complicated or molecular — something that’s honest and tastes how it should,” says Cheer.

“It’s all about the product and evolving it into something that’s sublime or to make it taste like it should. So a celeriac puree tastes like celeriac.

[The goal is] to be able to transform it from something raw to something velvety and sublime that tastes like ‘wow this is celeriac’.”

As a result, the quality of raw ingredients used at At.mosphere is vital — and it is the quality of produce that is reflected in the menu prices, not the height of the building in which the restaurant is situated. Cheer is adamant that quality makes a difference, such as sourcing a fresh diver scallop from Norway rather using frozen.

“Some chefs will tell you that you cook it and you can’t taste the difference, I’m telling you that you can and it’s important,” says Cheer.

“I buy scallops that work out to be AED 255 per kilo whereas scallops down the road cost AED 65 a kilo. Down the road you [the guest] pay AED 100, here you pay AED 140, so I’m not making a lot of money as we don’t want to freak people out by how much it costs, so at the moment our profit margins are very low because of the quality that we use.”

Profits across At.mosphere will be boosted ultimately by The Lounge, which enables people to come to At.mosphere for a few drinks, afternoon tea or light dinner.

“For any chef that works in this environment it’s the perfect harmony between quality products and getting the money for them. If we sell 10 burgers in the Lounge or 10 ‘AFC’ (At.mosphere Fried Chicken), then I can buy a kilo of truffles, so eventually we will make more money in The Lounge and that will help the restaurant.”

The Grill at At.mosphere
The undulating wood panels and glass railings are one of the signature pieces of the design, according to Tihany, who says they create softness and pay homage “to the ‘curvy’ architecture of the building itself”.

Hand-polished mahogany panels clad the walls and arch up across the ceiling, leading the eye to the ubiquitous floor-to-ceiling windows.

The Grill has a capacity for 68 seated, although exec chef Dwayne Cheer says that on the busiest evening so far, they did 90 in The Grill and 270 in The Lounge.

The entrance
The entrance to the restaurant is through Burj Khalifa’s Corporate Suites lobby with guests exiting the express elevator on Level 123 to face a two-storey glass atrium.

The sculpture hanging from the ceiling was created by Carol Bove and is constructed from hundreds of bronze rods. A flight of cantilevered staircases leads guests to the arrival lobby, which of course, has panoramic views of the city.

The Lounge
Opposite the restaurant is a separate doorway leading to At.mosphere Lounge, which can seat 135 people in addition to a private area for 35 people.

Deeper shades of amethyst in a rich combination of patterned velvets, natural woven textiles and leathers create what Tihany terms “an effervescent setting for a fashionable and trendy crowd”.

Here, the polished wood beams and panelled walls and ceilings gently undulate upward, suggesting a lighter, more animated atmosphere.

The lounge and its surroundings rest on a marble-clad, elevated platform overlooking the sunken and lushly textured lounge furnishings, where each seat affords an incomparable view. Within the area is a VIP section.

At night, the DJ transforms the windows into canvases onto which contemporary images are projected from concealed video projections — all while overlooking the Dubai skyline.

In private
The private dining room features unique art and lighting and can seat 12 people. The custom-designed chandelier was supplied by Lasvit, while the ‘Width of Circle’ artwork was by Corey McCorkle.

Interior designer Adam Tihany asserts that these pieces “contribute to the bespoke nature of the project and highlight its elegance and uniqueness”.

The Lounge bar
In place of the traditional lounge design is a round “conversation table” created by Tihany, anchored by a glass-enclosed back room, discretely displaying the beverage selection through etched and backlit glass walls.

Show kitchen
Composed of marble and surrounded by glass, a sleek exhibition grill at the back of the room separates the main dining area from a private dining room and offers guests a discrete glimpse into the art of culinary creations.

The show kitchen features a Josper charcoal oven, which uses a very traditional method of cooking with a cast iron door and charcoal only — like “a closed barbecue” according to Rashid B. Bahar, business development manager at Technical Supplies & Services Company L.L.C. (TSSC), which supplied At.mosphere.

“This gives a number of advantages when cooking but most importantly for the guest, a true barbecue taste!  This all happens front of house without any possibility of the guest smelling any of the exhaust from the oven due to this unique system,” explains Bahar.

Menu Highlights
The Grill – meaty treats include a 300g Aged Prime Angus Sirloin (priced at AED 270), 150g Japanese Kobe fillet (AED 440) and 250g Grade 7 Australia Wagu Sirloin (AED 450).

The Lounge – a martini menu created by executive chef Dwayne Cheer and the mixologist at Armani Dubai includes Blue Cheese, Tomato, Beetroot and Espresso Martinis with accompanying food item, e.g salmon and a beetroot sorbet with the Beetroot Martini.

Signature dish – At.mosphere ‘surf and turf’, which is a beef tartare with caviar. Cheer says this is one dish that will definitely stay on the menu, which he plans to change with the seasons.

Minimum spend: to reserve a table in The Lounge, guests must commit to a minimum spend of AED 200 per person; in The Grill for lunch it is AED 300 per person; and for dinner in The Grill there is a minimum spend of AED 450 per person.

Food service equipment: TSSC including MKN (Germany) cooking equipment, Hoshizaki (Japan) ice makers, Follett (United States) Ice Bins and a Meiko (Germany) Conveyor Type Dishwasher.
Show kitchen: Josper (Spain) charcoal oven supplied by TSSC
Lighting: Lasvit
Flatware: Sambonet
Tableware: Raynaud Limoges Porcelain
Artists: Yoshiaki Yuki, Carol Bove and Corey McCorkle
Beverages: TSSC supplied the Vin au Verre system from EuroCave (France).