Everyone is welcome at Riyadh’s newest, snazzy lounge and restaurant: Soho Club

The eatery's façade is reminiscent of a 1950s-style Broadway theatre. (Supplied)
Updated 08 November 2019

Everyone is welcome at Riyadh’s newest, snazzy lounge and restaurant: Soho Club

DHAHRAN: The word “Soho” likely conjures up images of fashionable districts in New York or London. Or, perhaps, Soho House & Co. — the exclusive, members-only chain of hotels and restaurants popular with the creative community. But Soho Club on Tahliya Street in Riyadh is the Saudi capital’s newest lounge and restaurant — where everyone is welcome — and it’s one of a kind.

On a street that is inundated by dining establishments, Soho Club stands out from the crowd. Its façade is reminiscent of a 1950s-style Broadway theatre — bold lettering, marquee lights, art deco arches, and revolving doors. Past the revolving doors, a bouncer leads you through thick, velvet curtains and upbeat jazz music welcomes you inside.


Candelabras on rustic, communal tables lend the right amount of allure and mystery. Masquerade masks (depicting a range of emotions), paintings, and vanity mirrors adorn the walls. Luxurious leather lounge chairs dot the premises. Golden scaffolding pipes run along the ceiling and the waitstaff dress in vintage overalls. It feels clandestine, exclusive, and, yes, grandiose.  

But that’s where any association with its namesake ends. Soho Club is frequented by young urbanities and families who come for its relaxed ambience, novel theme, international cuisine, and — of course — the club’s popularity on social media. Popular Insta-spots in the venue include the “Smoking Dog” (an eccentric painting of a dog in a top hat) and the ladies room (decorated like a powder room with plush settees, wall-to-wall mirrors, industrial pipe faucets, and Edison light bulbs hanging from the ceiling).


Our hosts for the evening, manager Francis Pascua and chef Zakhia Bilen tell us about the food. “It can best be described as contemporary fusion,” says Bilen. “The menu has dishes that customers know, but in a form that is new to their taste buds.” Having worked in the Lebanese culinary industry for 15 years, Bilen brings his expertise in globally-focused cuisine to Soho Club.

Take the extensive appetizers menu: The Cappuccino Soup is a flavorful tomato soup with foam served in a coffee mug, along with a baguette crisp that resembles a sugar biscuit. Superfood like kale and Medjool dates are dressed up with bitter-sweet pomegranate molasses and aromatic truffle oil in the Truffle Salad. Prawns are served in a Chinese cabbage, with two sauces; one sharp, with a wasabi base and the other sweet, with a chilli base.


Chicken bites glazed in a buffalo sauce are served in a waffle cone and drizzled with buttermilk ranch — chicken wings in maple-soy glaze may not sound original, but they pack a punch that you’ll remember.

The burgers and sliders menu has plenty to choose from. We opt for the Angus ribeye slider with classic accompaniments including fresh onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, cheddar cheese, and chipotle ranch sauce; and the crispy chicken slider with coleslaw, jalapenos, and buttermilk ranch. Bilen’s take on the Mexican-style, El Pollo Loco chicken features a barbequed chicken breast, parmesan aioli, kale leaves, and mango pickles. As a nod to local tastes, the kibdeh roll is served in a buttery, hot dog bun with chimichurri sauce and tahini truffle sauce.


Although finger food and burgers seem to be crowd favorites, they may fill you up before you get to the mains. And it’s worth saving some space for the house specials. The black Angus short rib is braised in Coca Cola for four hours and served on a bed of celery-root puree; the neutral and earthy tones of the celery offset the sweetness of the tender meat. The baby barbeque chicken dish is served with spicy, herbed potatoes, and an avocado salad.

The dessert and shakes menu is relatively limited, but more than makes up for it with its extravagance. True to its name, The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ice-cream shake has an assortment of toppings including chocolate chips, cake, and jelly beans.

You might first be tempted to Soho Club for the Insta-worthy photo ops, but you’ll return for the food.

‘Leaving is not always the answer:’ Lebanese director Ely Dagher confronts disillusionment

Amid protests in Beirut, the award-winning filmmaker discusses his debut feature and his relationship with his home city. (Supplied)
Updated 26 sec ago

‘Leaving is not always the answer:’ Lebanese director Ely Dagher confronts disillusionment

BEIRUT: The Lebanese director and visual artist Ely Dagher is walking through the streets of Beirut. They are relatively quiet compared with the previous few days and his voice is a little hoarse from days of protesting.

“Whatever happens with this revolution, we achieved a big victory in the sense of giving each other some hope and coming together on the streets,” says Dagher of the country’s demonstrations against political corruption, sectarianism and economic crisis. “Because the turnout out at the last parliamentary elections was less than 50 percent, so besides the fact that there were a lot of issues with the elections themselves, a lot of people didn’t even vote because they didn’t believe anything could change. So the sheer fact of this many people mobilizing and going on the streets gives a sense that we do have power and we can change things.

“I am hopeful that more people will go and vote in the next election and vote for alternatives and for independents outside of the political parties that have been ruling the country since the civil war,” he continues. “I think that’s the main victory. People see the possibility of change when they didn’t before.”

The film is centered on a young woman’s return to Beirut after a number of years living abroad. (Supplied)

For a man who has spent much of his artistic career dealing with the theme of disillusionment, these are memorable days. His animated short “Waves ’98,” which won the short film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. Part narrative short, part visual essay, “Waves ’98” was the first Lebanese film to compete in the festival’s official competition since Maroun Baghdadi’s “Hors La Vie” in 1991. It was an artistic exploration of the director’s relationship with a religiously and culturally divided Beirut. It was also the end result of two years of hard graft and contemplation and a surrealist blend of multiple styles of animation.

Now he’s preparing to shoot his debut feature, “Harvest.” It deals with similar themes, particularly immigration and identity, and is due to begin production early next year. The film is centered on a young woman’s return to Beirut after a number of years living abroad and Dagher has spent the past 18 months attempting to finance it. The final slice of funding — $30,000 in film grants from the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt — was secured in September.

“It’s the story of a young woman who left Beirut at the age of 21 to study in Paris, without the financial or emotional support of her parents,” explains Dagher, who began writing the script in 2015. “She cut ties with her friends, her family, but things didn’t really turn out so well. She learned the hard way that the grass is not always greener and got to a point where she had no choice but to come back.

His animated short “Waves ’98” won the short film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. (Supplied)

“The film starts at the airport on her return. She goes back to her parents’ house in the middle of the night completely unannounced and, bit by bit, her parents start to pressure her. They try to figure out what happened to her, why she left, what happened in Paris. And the more pressure weighs heavy on her she ends up escaping again, which is a pattern that she always had. She escaped when she went to Paris, she escaped when she came back, and she escapes again by reconnecting to the life that she had in Beirut.”

In some ways the film mirrors aspects of Dagher’s own life. He too has spent years abroad, living in Belgium and Berlin and studying for his masters in contemporary art theory and new media at Goldsmiths in London. Reconnecting to Beirut and attempting to understand it is therefore something that Dagher has experienced throughout much of his life. 

“Not just me, but my brother, my sister, my uncles, my aunts, my grandparents, lots of my friends too,” he says. “I feel like there’s a sense of disillusionment in Lebanon. This general feeling of numbness. You feel like you have no hope, in a way, except for just leaving. But that’s not always the answer.”

Disillusionment is “a disease that’s spread across Lebanon and makes people unwilling to take any action or change things”, says Dagher, whose work also deals with migration and a sense of hopelessness — a feeling that has been echoed by protestors during the recent demonstrations in Lebanon. Hence his excitement at the prospect of change. “People haven’t been discouraged like they were in 2015,” he says.

In some ways the film mirrors aspects of Dagher’s own life. (Supplied)

“In 2007 I moved to Berlin for a few months. I think that was the first time I left Lebanon and I saw how Lebanese, or even Arab, communities lived abroad and what they chose to keep from their identity,” he adds. “How they identified as Arabs or as Lebanese. But I also saw my cousins that had moved to Canada in the Nineties, or in the Eighties, during the war, so I did my thesis at Goldsmiths on the correlation between history, memory and the archive and the construction of identity. And I feel that “Waves,” but also the feature, have all these elements, but in a more narrative and less conceptual form. But I had to go through that process of travelling and asking questions about these things and being interested in that topic to actually come back and make films about it.”

Without choosing to broaden his life experience, he suggests, he probably wouldn’t be a filmmaker. Or at least, not the filmmaker he is.

“It’s important to live and to learn about life before making films,” says Dagher, who has also worked in the fields of advertising, illustration and design and edited music videos for the likes of Mashrou’ Leila and Yasmine Hamdan.

“I don’t regret not going to film school, because at 18 I wouldn’t have been ready to make films. I wouldn’t have had anything to talk about.”