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Bahrain regularly attracts more than three million visitors each year. That’s more than four times the country’s population!
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A world of great taste
By Roy Kietzman   »   Where in the world can you stroll down a lane and have the choice of continental, Far Eastern, Indian, Irish, Japanese or Thai cooking? Amble farther into the area, and all sorts of restaurants and cafés are founds in the back streets.

Adliya, the gastronomic capital of Bahrain, is a precinct where Manama is said to end, with its Arabic and Italian restaurants, too, as well as a very Norman-looking castle. Of course, the whole country is noted for its cornucopia of places to eat: coffee shops, modest or grand restaurants, Internet cafés and fast-food outlets.

Dining in the courtyard of an old villa, at seaside in an imposing village atmosphere like in rural Thailand, in cosy old homes or at an idyllic, high-peaked Polynesian spa on a duck and flamingo pond – these are just a few of the options. For many visitors to the Gulf, however, it’s the opportunity to go to Arabic restaurants and sample the legendary mezze, shish kebabs and other renowned specialties from across the Middle East, from North Africa to Iran.

Watch the breadmaker at work at the Sheraton Hotel’s Golestan restaurant and take in a bit of the ambience of Iran. Even the coffee and tea are authentically Persian. On the northern corniche of Manama is Gulafshan, another Iranian restaurant, with classic styling and statues and reliefs of the ancient kings of Persia. Two dining rooms and garden seating make it a pleasant place to be on cool evenings.

Arguably the most popular Arab restaurant is Al Abraaj, which has five outlets across the country. However Tarbouche in City Centre Hotel, Al Berdaouni at the Regency InterContinental and Zahle in Gulf Hotel might contest that claim – they provide excellent food, too, along with endearing melodies from Arabia and perhaps the scintillating performance of a belly dancer. Anatolia, off Budaiya Highway, has authentic Turkish specialties in a bistro-like atmosphere.

Going from oriental to the Orient, Far Eastern restaurants proliferate in Bahrain with a fusion of cuisines from that region. For breathtaking atmosphere, Blue Elephant can’t be beat (don’t miss the stir-fried crocodile); gourmet Thai dining is also on the menu at the Gulf Hotel’s Royal Thai.
Chinese cuisine is served up at more than a score of restaurants, including Adliya’s First Chinese restaurant which has been making spring rolls for over 30 years. The most popular spot for Chinese cooking is doubtless Hong Kong in Umm Al Hassam while Fol Li in the same precinct gets an appreciative crowd.

For sushi and teppanyaki fans, Sato (Gulf Hotel) and Kei (Hilton Hotel) have a regular following while Mirai has its enthusiastic fans. But for a less formal Japanese bistro-like spot, try Sushi-ko. Foods of several Far Eastern countries feature at Gulf Hotel’s Fusions as well as, notably, at Monsoon, which resembles a Buddhist temple.

BamBu! Is the newest restaurant serving several kinds of Far Eastern specialties. The concept is that you pay one price, order whatever you want from the menu and have as much ale or vino as you’d like. The dishes are prepared in a gourmet fashion, and you’re encouraged to order more.

With hundreds of restaurants ranging from the very modest to the really stylish, Indian cuisine is doubtless the single most popular type on the island. The most unusual of the restaurants is Lanterns, off Budaiya Highway, which recreates the atmosphere of dining by a village street with tiny shops, a craftsman’s workshop and a truck by the side. A duo performs classical and Bollywood melodies, while you enjoy the feast. The curries are served with hotness adjusted to suit any palate. For a lovely end to your meal, ask for serpentine coffee.

The red-velvet elegance of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s Nirvana can’t be beaten with its dining room resembling a maharaja’s salon and its food quite royally prepared. Experts in the cuisine of the subcontinent claim that Clay Oven, with its totally New Delhi staff, serves the most authentic tandoori food in the kingdom. Caesar’s, set incongruously in a Louis XIV salon, also has the specialties of India on its menu.

If you’re hankering for kebabs and biryani in the wee hours, Paradise is a 24-hour restaurant specialising in Pakistani and other regional foods.

Among the classier eating houses, Italian certainly takes the prize with about a dozen quality restaurants.

Oliveto has the affable Chef Paolo Orca creating gourmet specialties in a neo-Italian atmosphere. Of course, everyone likes pasta but don’t miss the risotto al funghi porcini. Mammamia’s has a genuine Italian mama in the kitchen and pastas so good that she even sells them to five-star hotels.

A trendy, new restaurant is the Diplomat Radisson SAS Hotel’s Mondo which it styles itself as on the “cutting edge” among Italian restaurants. Primavera at the Ritz-Carlton is a fine-dining class act with a vista of the Manama skyline and superb Italian specialties served up. Arias can be heard in the background.

Cico’s and La Taverna are well-established ristoranti with a loyal following. Roma, with its grotto atmosphere, is a busy place. In both Roma and La Taverna, I like to order a trio of pasta as an appetiser, and that responds to my pasta fix for a week.

Inns next door to each other are Krumz and Jim’s which serve up specialties of the British Isles and Ireland. Bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and fish and chips are part of the Krumz menu but continental favourites are there, too.

The talented James Bill, perhaps the country’s most high-profile chef, has taken over the kitchen at Jim’s, and is adding some of his own dishes to the menu, particularly at the upstairs fine-dining lounge.

For a unique setting, try the Mezzaluna, where you can sit in the fibreglass-covered courtyard of an old courtyard and see the sky. The menu largely features Mediterranean specialties.

Upstairs Downstairs, started in the early 1970s, is the oldest independent restaurant. Though rebuilt on the same site, the signature dish created in 1981, smoked hamour paté, is still on the menu.

It’s definitely a jazz and blues spot where Jojo’s piano plays endearing melodies and golden oldies. Among dignitaries and local personalities to have dined at Upstairs Downstairs is Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern, who arrived unannounced in autumn 2004 to tuck into the food and bevs and meet the genial host, George Cherian.

Around the corner is Vins, which has a cellar and mezzanine lounge for pre- or postprandial beverages, a snack or a full meal. The dining room itself is charmingly rustic with a classic continental menu. Dennis and Sudarka are the hosts who’ll see that you’re well taken care of.
The finest restaurant for French cuisine is certainly the Regency’s Versailles which has a ringside seat to the construction of Bahrain Financial Harbour. Mono too has been an exquisite hideaway with an excellent menu. Mushrooms is an oasis for fine dining for those who want to stay away from the hustle-bustle of Manama and Adliya.

Zöe’s has a menu of international specialties with a New York loft-style dining room and chillout area. For succulent steaks, however, Plums can’t be beat in an arty setting straight out of New York. For a country surrounded by water, fish and seafood are important fixtures on menus with hamour (grouper) the most commonly found fish on menus.

The Mövenpick Hotel’s Silks is a cool dining room serving international cuisine. Though we’ve had Geschnelzeltes many times in its native Switzerland, the Silks version is a welcome, updated gourmet preparation called more simply veal, Zurich style. The beef tartar is another option, also prepared the Swiss way.

Those with a hankering for barbecued ribs, cornbread and hashed-brown spuds will certainly like Ric’s Kountry Kitchen with its down-home foods, particularly from down Texas way. They’ve got Tex-Mex dishes, of course, but the real favourite in the Tex-Mex category is Senor Paco’s, with Casa Mexicana another top contender.

The Crowne Plaza’s Waves has an excellent choice of food from the deep, served up in an exquisite atmosphere. Other restaurants with fruits de mer are Seafood Market down the road or Al Bander Hotel and Resort’s Fish Market at seaside.

For those who want to get away from it all, a trip to Trader Vic’s has no equal. Feed the hungry carp in the lagoon, watch the ducks slithering across the pond and the flamingoes standing at water’s edge with a nearby waterfall splashing.

You’ll get a mai tai and lots of other exotic island cocktails as well as the conventional G&Ts, manhattans et al. The food is wonderfully Polynesian or similar island dishes, some cooked ancient style in a Chinese oven.

The views, the great high-ceilinged dining room, reminiscent of an imposing rural home, the Cuban ensemble – it all adds up to a memorable lunch or dinner that gives you the feeling or being elsewhere.

The Diplomat’s Kontiki is another that has an exotic-island feel about it.

Bahrain is home to a dozen internationally branded restaurants that underscore fast food or casual dining, from Bennigan’s, Chili’s and Ponderosa to McDonald’s and Dairy Queen (with its new Chill and Grill concept) along with a made-in-Bahrain Jasmi’s.

The café society is burgeoning with dozens of coffee shops across the country, a lot of them offering hubbly-bubbly, called shisha locally. You’ll certainly get espresso, cappuccino and a wide choice of coffee creations as well as lots of teas and infusions.

These shops are usually noted for their unusual salads, well-filled sandwiches and gooey desserts. Three cafes located one next to the other are Ventana (a Soho-type spot), Lilou (right out of Gay Paree) and Coco’s (like a living room with lots of books and magazines as well as an outdoor garden with a mannequin pisse).

Veranda, Chaise and international chains Costa, Seattle’s Best, New York Coffee and Starbucks are among other places where comfy seating is usually de rigueur. Some of the coffee shops have long menus detailing the dozens of ways they can make coffee.

The Conservatory is the oldest teashop in Bahrain and has the classic coffee and tea service as well as wonderful scones with the trimmings, delish quiches, irresistible cakes and pastries; indulge, indulge. The upstairs café at Ashraf’s is the place to go after a hard morning’s shopping, and you’re likely to find some discerning customers there.

Dining out is obviously an important pursuit in Bahrain as clubs, corporations, institutions and companies organise luncheons and dinners for dozens of guests. Plays, concerts and shows often have dinner as part of the evening. The local chapter of the august Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs meets monthly where a chef creates menus that soar the gastronomic heights.

If you wish to resist sitting in breathtaking dining rooms, you can have your meal delivered by Gourmet Express which links up with 70 outlets to bring you soup or a complete meal along with the newspaper, cigarettes or chocolates. The restaurants of Gulf, Mövenpick and City Centre hotels are prime sources on the Gourmet Express menu but you can choose just about any of your favourite restaurants, fast-food outlets and cafés and let them do the rest.


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