Paradise right next door

Paradise right next door

Walid El Sheikh has shaped the city's gastronomy like no other in recent years. His establishments, such as Sir Walter, the Elephant Bar, the Boston Bar, and Oh Baby Anna! have been stylistically refined down to the smallest detail and are attracting a new clientele to the old town. And the restaurateur is still bubbling over with ideas and already has two new irons in the fire following the opening of The Paradise Now, a triad of bistro, bar and club in the MedienHafen in 2021. 

What inspires El Sheikh to constantly come up with new concepts? How does he sense the zeitgeist? Does he perhaps even shape it? Which of his gastronomic concepts most strongly reflects his own preferences? We talked to the 43-year-old about longings and self-reflection, about arriving and coming down in his own city, about rethinking after the pandemic - and about his plans for the future.  

You have now realized a whole series of spectacular gastronomy projects. Which of your establishments do you feel most at home in?  

I feel very comfortable in all of them. But in fact, the most recent concept, The Paradise Now, satisfies my holistic need the most. After all, I'm developing myself and the new gastronomies out of a personal concern. And out of the conviction that something is missing in my city. We have an incredible amount of excellent gastronomy that is characteristic of Düsseldorf. That's good, because such establishments are identity-forming. However, I was missing a place of longing in my hometown. That's what I've created here together with my partners(Moritz von Schrötter and Charles Bals, editor's note).  

Your output of new gastro concepts is remarkable. You've opened five restaurants in six years. What drives you? 

My driving force is precisely the desire. In the early stages, I don't even judge whether a concept would work economically. It's more about: Is the idea useful or not? And if I determine that yes, it could add value to the city, then I start to look more intensively at that longing. What do I need to satisfy it? With this in mind, I set out to find the right space. If I think I have found it, I feel into the room, and from then on it becomes sensual. What look, what feel would fit here? How can I touch the guest visually and emotionally in this place? With the right employees, an idea then becomes a holistic, coherent concept.  

You call The Paradise Now a place of longing. How do you translate an elusive, diffuse sensation and a very personal feeling into a gastronomic experience? Have your longings changed over the years?  

In the past, my longings were satisfied by travel. Today, the definition of the place of longing has changed, through social media above all. At the end of the day, the place of longing is just an image, it stands for a feeling I have, for a desire, which is to escape my everyday life. So my idea was to depict the faraway, to create an authentic setting that takes me away from the here and now.  

You bring the distance into the neighborhood ...  

Yes, we all realize that we can't always have Mexico when we feel like Mexico. But I can immerse myself in the feeling that Mexico triggers in me. The light, the surfaces, the colors, the smells and sounds, even the humidity - the interplay of it all can make me forget that I'm in Düsseldorf. This paradise is right next door.  

Your venues are very different in their concepts and décor. What inspires you?  

There is no blueprint. I get inspired by movies, by art, in the theater. When I travel, more pieces of the puzzle add up. Smells, materials and colors. That's how a big whole is created in my head.   

Do you have ideals as a host? What is important to you? 

My very great need is diversity, tolerance and social breadth. I want to create spaces where people from different backgrounds, with diverse professions, lifestyles and convictions can get into conversation. Guests often tell me they expected to have to come to my bars in evening dress. Just the way I appear, in jeans and sneakers, should disprove this prejudice.  

When you're not taking care of your guests, where and how do you refuel?  

By turning off the phone and knowing: My employees will get it done. I also like to go skiing in the mountains for a few days or take a week's vacation by the sea. Not feeling pressure, just being a father for 24 hours - that's how I recharge.  

And in Düsseldorf?  

I do one hour of Crossfit training a week. It's so insanely physically demanding that I'm fully focused on my body and my mind frees up in an instant.   

And when you want to take it a little easier? Which is your favorite beach in Düsseldorf?  

I like to walk along the Rhine, but my favorite place to swim is at the Rochusclub. There's a tiny outdoor pool there. When the kids are splashing around and I can eat my ice cream - that's my favorite beach situation in Düsseldorf.  

Where do you go when you want to go out?  

There are so many wonderful places. I love going to Saitta and Brasserie Hülsmann. Or to Em Brasse on Moltkestraße to feel a Berlin vibe.  

Will you tell us your favorite food? 

I'm crazy about our Pasta Vongole at The Paradise Now. One fork of that and you're on the Amalfi Coast. It's really great. 

You have new projects in the works again. Will you tell us about them?   

I can't reveal everything yet, but this much: there will be two more pubs in the old town. You may be familiar with the concept of easy drinking, the uncomplicated enjoyment of wine and spirits. I want to develop an easy-eating gastronomy. The whole thing has nothing to do with fast food. Rather, it will be a place where you focus on one specialty, devoting all your attention to one thing. Just as we might know it from a Portuguese cevicheria. All this will take place in a special place, where you would not expect to find such a specialty. I do not want to say more about it yet.  

When will you reveal the secret?  

I'll give you details in two months. 

Thank you very much! We are very excited and see you again.

Our author

Art, fashion, design, architecture, gastronomy - Ilona Marx, a Düsseldorf resident by choice for 25 years, has many passions. In her constant search for new inspiration, she has created city guides for 50 metropolises, from Helsinki to Hong Kong, for the fashion trade magazine J'N'C, which she co-founded. After almost two decades as editor-in-chief, she now freelances for Konfekt, Monocle, Vogue, GEO Saison, DB mobil, Wallpaper, The Weekender, Architektur & Wohnen and the NZZ, among others. 

Cover & Gallery: Düsseldorf Tourism
Portrait Ilona Marx: Maria Gibert

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