Meet Ahmed Saleh, Co-Founder of 3Fils and Chief Executive of The Lab Holding

Lindsay Judge   |   14-05-2023

In 2022 homegrown Dubai restaurant 3Fils took the coveted top spot in the first MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants list, it may have been a surprise for many but not for those that were already in the know of this relatively unknown unique Japanese fusion concept in Jumeirah Fishing Harbour.


Beating some of the city’s most prestigious restaurants this boutique concept has seen a huge increase in popularity since the award and has even become a favourite of Dubai royalty. Founded in late November 2016, 3FILS is piloted by a team who live by a diehard daringness to be different. The menu puts a new twist on Japanese cuisine and the laidback environment invites guests to feel relaxed and comfortable as they dine on the finest dishes, made using the best ingredients. 3Fils has long been a hidden gem of the UAE, but its rise in attention has seen its profile grow in the past year.


With plenty more on the horizon, we talk to Ahmed Saleh, Co-Founder of 3Fils and Chief Executive of The Lab Holding to find out what’s the next step in sustaining the success. 



Congratulations on the success of 3Fils – tell us about the journey and how you got to where you are today. 

The idea started in 2013 when myself and my Co-Founders started our journey by travelling and exploring various cities, regions and different cultures to discover more about how they consumed food. We ate at so many restaurants we lost count! After three years of all that wonderful research, we founded 3Fils in November 2016, hard set on creating a casual, Japanese-inspired concept offering high-quality service and ingredients without breaking the bank. We travelled to over 50 countries, researching and eating our way around from the smallest street vendors to memorable fine dining restaurants, looking for the ideal direction to take. 



Tell us about the name and how it came about. 

3Fils is piloted by a team, not one person, who lives to be different, to offer a story akin to the ‘2 cents worth’ [cents equals to fils in UAE] of the opinion of dining in Dubai’ with every bite. 



What is the message you are trying to portray and how do you want people to feel when they visit the restaurant? 

We’re a casual concept yet use premium quality ingredients. Come visit us in your shirt, shorts and flip-flops but expect our best on the plate whenever you dine with us. 



You have some iconic dishes on the menu – tell us about the offering and what are the ultimate must-tries? 

We’re what you might call contemporary Asian with a big influence from Japan and Japanese ingredients and techniques. Our best-selling items such as the Dragon Roll, Otoro Nigiri, Wagyu Burger, and the Yokozuna (which is a special dish that uses 100% Japanese ingredients), have all been influenced by Japan but in our own 3Fils way. 



What do you think makes the restaurant different from anything else in the UAE? 

There’s a Japanese concept that our head chef, Chef Shun, taught us. It’s called “Omotenashi”, it means to wholeheartedly look after our guests. This is something we strive to do on a daily basis, whether it’s food, ambience or service, we’ve got this in everything we do. 



Tell us about the achievement of winning 50 Best Restaurants and what this meant for you as a business. 

It’s a bigger responsibility for all the winners, including us. Since we received the award we’ve seen an increase in new and returning customers, this support is most definitely humbling. Our goal is to ensure consistency in all that we do, from our service to the dishes we create, the entire 3Fils experience must be memorable. 



How do you think the arrival of platforms such as this and Michelin in the region has changed the industry? 

I think it’s great to have these platforms in the UAE to motivate chefs and restauranteurs to do better and to continually strive to improve and offer their very best to the region and their guests. It’s a fantastic initiative to create a destination based on well-trusted reviews and recommendations from publications and platforms such as the Michelin Guide and 50 Best. I believe that Michelin would also take into consideration all the unique cuisines, not just fine dining locations as Dubai is a very diverse and multicultural destination offering so much to so many. 



Fremantle Octopus


This issue is about success – what does success mean to you? 

The word ‘satisfaction’ comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be the most perfect outcome or return, however, for me, a sense of Satisfaction must be felt in a project or task to feel that it was a success. 



With so many restaurants opening (and closing) in the UAE what do you think is the secret to sustaining a business in today’s market?  

I believe our winning edge is our people and our food. We are people-centric placing a huge emphasis on our casual yet warm, friendly customer service and also our high-quality ingredients. Consistency is key. 



Kampachi Tataki


With any success comes setbacks, how do you deal with these and continue moving forward?  

Setbacks are a normal part of life, whether in business or our personal lives. I think it’s best to pause for a moment, breathe, analyse the situation then plan how you will move forward because this is how we take a positive step toward our future. If you jump without thinking, most of the time it will end in a negative moment and when you have multiple people involved especially our team and guests, it’s not a good thing. 



What are the plans for the future of 3Fils can we expect to see a second venue at any time? 

 We are looking into expanding the 3Fils brand, however, we must offer the same guest experience and high-quality food in any locations we consider. 



Salmon Nigiri


How do you plan to retain the “hidden gem” element associated with the restaurant but also meet the demands of a growing customer base? 

It’s not something we planned nor can you, especially when you’re among 20,000 restaurants in Dubai. You have to stand out, in everything that you do, because the smallest details and actions will have a ripple effect and you want this to be a positive one. 



What is the professional motto that you live by? 

Our slogan is “Making Complex Simple”. The effort and process behind 3Fils are multi-layered and branch out vastly, from the food in our kitchen to the marketing, to the on-ground customer service, the complexity behind each department is made simple for our guests. 


Otoro Nigiri


What else are you currently working on and what’s in the pipeline for the rest of the year? 

3Fils is part of The Lab Holding, a start-up studio in Dubai. Other than expanding 3Fils to other regions, we’ve launched a new ramen concept called SLRP, and we’re also building Cafe BRIX, a new cafe right on the harbour offering the finest coffee, desserts and all-day breakfast. Also attached to that, we are working on Bordo Mavi, a seafood-centric restaurant using the finest and freshest seafood with a Mediterranean BBQ twist. We’ve got quite a bit on our plate!