Good food, great art come together at this gallery-café in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar

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The Pentagon and Hexagon chairs are Fantastic’s signature design. (Photos supplied)
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A cross between a muffin, a pancake and a soufflé, this dessert is delicious.
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Breaded chicken breast with marinara sauce.
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A large painting of the legendary Lebanese singer Fairuz by Wijdan Al Jahwari takes center stage in the café.
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The 'Tolerance Chair' is inspired by the work of renowned artist Jaume Plensa.
Updated 13 January 2018

Good food, great art come together at this gallery-café in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar

DAMMAM: The finer things in life — art and epicurean dining — come together in Fantastic, an art gallery-café combo in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar.
Fantastic is a new concept from young, enterprising Saudis, Ahmed Al-Ghunaim, Mohammed Al-Rasheed and artist Rawan Al-Dulaijan.
As you walk into the gallery, you are welcomed by asymmetrical light fixtures playing off artwork displayed on wall-to-ceiling shelves.
Immediately, a silhouette of the Saudi king in his majestic thawb, bisht and ghutra, fashioned out of Arabic letters, catches the eye.
“Our national dress is a source of pride and what better way to showcase our pride than through our art,” Al-Ghunaim explained.
He pointed out the hexagon and pentagon chairs — Fantastic’s signature design. Using elements including stainless steel, calligraphy, graphics, wood, natural leather and high-end fabric, Fantastic’s furniture is designed to make us rethink the way we look at ordinary things.
Upstairs, you can find some of the gallery’s bigger pieces, including a console table constructed from copper, glass and wood.
Al-Ghunaim pointed out a chair inspired by the Dubai Metro — a digital image of the UAE city’s transport system makes up the back of the chair, which has black arches for armrests.
The “Tolerance Chair,” meanwhile — inspired by the work of renowned Spanish artist Jaume Plensa — incorporates words from various languages to emphasize that diversity inspires us to live together in harmony. “Languages can be a common medium that bridge cultures and differences,” Al-Ghunaim said.
The gallery is currently displaying paintings by young artist Wijdan Al-Jahwary, who uses saffron and coffee powders to paint portraits. His large, distinctive portrait of the legendary Lebanese singer Fayrouz takes center stage at the café and has visitors posing for a coveted selfie.
The café retains Fantastic’s aesthetic — geometric planters and light fixtures with golden accents, calligraphy-imprinted chairs and lightweight marble and wood cutlery. Each piece of furniture or décor is available for purchase and can be customized to individual preferences — for example, a planter can be converted to a table if a customer desires, Al-Ghunaim explained.
Epicurean dining
Fantastic’s menu is innovative and indulgent. For starters, we tried the Fushi salad — a platter of toasted bread and feta cheese on a bed of lolla rossa lettuce, cherry tomatoes, beetroot, pine nuts and pistachios.
All of the ingredients for the salads are sourced locally, Al-Ghunaim said.
A favorite with regulars is the baked chicken kunaffa — marinated chicken wrapped in kunaffa dough and served with a sticky plum sauce.
For our main courses, the fresh shrimp and penne pasta tossed in a creamy saffron sauce hit the right spot.
Mom’s Chicken Parmigiana — breaded chicken breast with marinara sauce — and the Taouk pizza — pizza with a special mix of BBQ and tahini sauce rolled up and served taouk style — are innovative takes on home-made dishes.
“We aspire to provide food that cannot be found elsewhere.” Al-Ghunaim said.
For dessert, we tried the Lotus Volcano. An explosion of textures and flavors, it is a cross between a muffin, a pancake and a soufflé, soaked in Lotus biscoff spread and salted caramel sauce.
Another best-seller is classic waffles served with Swiss chocolate. What makes these special is the distinctive crunch that you can hear right from the first bite.
We ended the meal with a rose latte, its milky smoothness perfectly complemented the fragrant and nutty flavor of Turkish rose buds.
Nurturing a community of artists
The inspiration for Fantastic came from Saudi Design Week in 2015. Al-Ghunaim attended, but saw that Saudi talent was seriously under-represented.
“I established Fantastic with the concept of promoting young artists; to give them more visibility, without them having to incur the high expenses associated with displaying work in art galleries or art shows,” he explained.
“On display is artwork that people don’t often get to see. These are not mainstream, popular or established artists. On the contrary, they are young, talented, visionary artists who need exposure in their early days.”
Al-Ghunaim said he is inspired by the talent and collaborative art community in Kuwait and Dubai and hopes his gallery-café can provide the impetus to build something similar in Al-Khobar.
“Fantastic wants to provide a platform for artists in and around Saudi Arabia, and serve as a collaborative and encouraging space for young talent,” he said.

Egyptian start-up Shamseya empowers people with medical information

Updated 13 December 2019

Egyptian start-up Shamseya empowers people with medical information

  • Online portal helps citizens find health services and hospitals suited to their needs
  • Aim is to develop new service to allow patients to locate exact services by phone

DUBAI: Cairo-born entrepreneur Ayman Sabae had long wanted to tackle the inadequacies of the Egyptian health care system. But it took the historic events of the Arab Spring to spark his eureka moment.

“It was a very vivid time in my life. For over two weeks, the protesters were put in a position where they had to function as a community to meet their daily needs,” Sabae said of the 2011 Egyptian uprising.

“I saw first-hand how people had to tackle everything from scratch without government help; they came together and created makeshift health clinics to address their own needs.

“It showed me that people are capable of self-organizing based on what people want — not simply because faceless executives decide what is best for them.”

Soon after the Egyptian revolution began, Sabae launched Shamseya, a health startup that puts people at its core.

“I founded my startup with the intention of creating tools that give power to the people,” he said. “Shamseya seeks the creation of a dynamic, community-based health care system.”

Egyptian entrepreneur 

According to Sabae, most Egyptians are eligible for social health insurance but much of the population misses out on quality health care due to national inaccessibility of information.

“A lot of people don’t get access to what’s best for them because they don’t know what’s available, they get lost in bureaucracy, or they are worried about the poor quality of services,” he said.

Shamseya, which runs on both grants and private consulting fees, has launched an online portal to help Egyptian patients find the health services and hospitals that are suited to their needs.

The Eghospitals platform is populated with data inputted by NGO or community members who conduct “mystery patient” tests at hospitals.

The results are collated into a comprehensive nationwide portal, which ranks and rates hospitals based on their specialities.

“The idea behind Eghospitals is to hold hospitals accountable with ad-hoc inspections,” said Sabae.

Each hospital receives an online rating, as well as physical signs that can be placed at the hospital premises as badges of trust.

The organization is also working on adding niche ratings, such as youth, women and disability-friendly facilities.

“Historically, there has hardly been any accurate or credible information in Egypt that enables people to make informed decisions about their treatment,” Sabae said.

“In Egypt, people tend to use word-of-mouth for health recommendations but this only reflects subjective experiences; it’s not sufficient for specific treatments. This is why we designed a patient-centric tool for the quality of hospitals.”

Shamseya, which describes itself broadly as a health solutions company, has also developed a platform that allows patient grievances to be flowed through the correct channels.

The platform, Melior, delivers valuable information about complaints to stakeholders across the health care system.

According to Sabae, the organization also has plans in the offing to develop a personalized citizen’s support program that guides people on how best to benefit from the Egyptian health care system.

Dubbed “El Naseh,” the initiative is designed to allow Egyptians to pick the phone and locate the exact services they need.

“The aim is to avoid lots of parallel systems and to maximize the efficiency of the national health care system. It’s about maximizing what we already have in the country,” Sabae said.

“Ultimately, the entrepreneur believes that the sustainability of any meaningful health care reform relies on ensuring full community engagement in the design, implementation and monitoring of the programs.”

Looking to the future, Sabae said: “Ideally speaking, I would hope for the full implementation of a universal health care system that would provide quality health care for all, regardless of their income, gender, geography, or social background.

“The only way this is possible is with a system that listens to the people, gives them choices and allows for feedback. A futuristic health system needs to be patient-centric — this is the only way to build a sustainable health care system.”


• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.