Yum's the word!
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 cafes are found 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 a very Normandy-looking castle. Of course, the whole country is noted for its cornucopia of places to eat: coffee shops, modest or grand restaurants, Internet cafes and fast-food outlets.

Dining in the courtyard of an old villa, 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 specialities 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. The Iranian restaurant at the third level of Al A’ali Shopping Complex serves up good skewered hamour as well as succulent kebabs.

Arguably the most popular Arab restaurant, however, is Al Abraaj which has five outlets across the country, but Tarbouche in City Centre Hotel, Al Berdaouni at the Regency InterContinental and Zahle in Gulf Hotel will provide excellent food, too, along with those endearing melodies from Arabia and perhaps the scintillating performance of a belly dancer.

Anatolia, off Budaiya Highway, has authentic Turkish specialities in a bistro-like atmosphere in a spot called Cyprus Gardens where other good restaurants are also located.

Going from oriental to the Orient, Far Eastern restaurants proliferate in Bahrain with a fusion of cuisines from that region. Thai dining is on the menu at the Gulf Hotel’s Royal Thai while Chinese cuisine is served up at scores 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 Um 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) are worth a visit while Mrai also has an enthusiastic following. For a less formal Japanese bistro-like spot, try Sushi-ko.

Foods of several Far Eastern countries feature at Gulf Hotel’s Fusions but notably, too, also at Monsoon which resembles a Buddhist temple. BamBu! serves several kinds of Far Eastern specialities. 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 gourmet fashion, and you’re encouraged to order more. From hundreds of modest eateries to a stylish restaurant in a village setting, Indian food is doubtless the single most popular type of cooking in Bahrain.

The most unusual is Lanterns, off Budaiya Highway, with a duo performing classical and Bollywood melodies, and the atmosphere created being that of a roadside with tiny shops, a craftsman’s workshop and a truck parked at the side. Go ahead and try the curries – the hotness can be 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 maharajah’s salon and its food quite royally prepared.

Experts in the cuisine of the subcontinent claim that Clay Oven, with its New Delhi staff, serves the most authentic tandoori food in the kingdom. Caesar’s, set incongruously in a Louis XIV salon, also has the specialities of India on its menu but has now added Chinese to the offer.

Paradise, which has been in Bahrain for nearly 30 years, specialises in Pakistani and other regional foods.

Among the styles of cooking of the Continent, Italian certainly takes the prize with a dozen restaurants. Oliveto has the affable Chef Paolo Orca creating gourmet specialities 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 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 specialities. Arias can be heard in the background.

Cico’s and La Taverna are well-established ristoranti with a loyal following. The stylish Roma is another deservedly 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. cafe Italia has fast become an ‘in’ and trendy place for the younger set.

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

Bohemia has a cosy atmosphere, continental selections and the warm welcome of Dennis Smolett. The genial Janet is the hostess at Jim’s with both pub grub and gourmet dines on the menu.

Diners at Mezzaluna sit in the clear fibreglass-covered courtyard of an old villa where you can see the daylight sky or stars at night. The menu largely reflects Mediterranean specialities in a truly unique setting. The country’s widest selection of vintages by the glass is available.

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 pâté, is still on the menu.

It’s definitely a jazz and blues spot where Jojo’s piano plays endearing melodies and golden oldies, and local musicians and entertainers from abroad make appearances. Even Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern slipped in for dinner during an official visit to the kingdom. George Cherian is the affable gentleman host.

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. The finest restaurant for French cuisine is certainly the Regency’s Versailles which has a ringside seat to the construction of Bahrain Financial Harbour but Mono, in the Diplomat SAS Radisson Hotel, is an exquisite hideaway with an excellent menu.

Zoe’s has a menu of international specialities with a New York loft-style dining room and chillout area. For succulent steaks, however, Plums – in an arty setting straight out of New York – can’t be beat.

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 foods, of course, but the real favourite in the Tex-Mex category is Sénor Paco’s though Casa Mexicana claims its own Mexican chef. Both have been visited by Michael Jackson in search of enchilladas and quesadillas.

The Crowne Plaza’s Waves has an excellent choice of food from the deep putting you 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. An unfussy option is the upstairs Jabreez in Jidhafs. 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 at Trader Vic’s, 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 fare, 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 of being elsewhere.

The Mai Tai Lounge, without walls, is a private club on an islet just steps away from Trader Vic’s.

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

The new cuisine to appear on the culinary horizon is Brazil with its own Brazilian chef and maitre d’. It’s a wonderful party spot, with soft décor, cha-cha-cha music, attractive waitresses and really fresh food; one price for all you can eat and drink.

The cafe 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 cafes 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. Their cake using local dates is a favourite but Coco’s may be the only restaurant serving Welsh rarebit.

Caramel in Cyprus Gardens is another select cafe noted for its pastries. On the other hand, Le Chocolat in Seef has irresistible pastries to go with coffee or tea but a chicken sandwich makes a fine between-meals snack. Veranda 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 detailling the dozens of ways they can make coffee. “Gutsy gourmets” will love The One cafe in Al A’ali mall where everything’s served with a certain flair in a neo-deco setting.

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 cafe 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 cafes and let them do the rest.