Radisson Blu: Old-school charm in Riyadh’s center

Radisson Blu on King Abdulaziz Street is known for its Arabesque-style arches and bulky architecture. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 February 2020

Radisson Blu: Old-school charm in Riyadh’s center

  • What this hotel lacks in aesthetic appeal, it makes up for with hospitality and great food 

DAMMAM: In sharp contrast to the Radisson group’s other properties in Riyadh, the Radisson Blu Hotel on King Abdulaziz Street in the heart of the city is one of the oldest hotels in Saudi Arabia’s capital. The 40-year old building in Al-Mubarakiah Plaza was taken over by Radisson in 2002 and it’s a colossal property, with 314 rooms and suites.

With its Arabesque-style arches and bulky architecture, you could easily mistake the hotel for one of the many ministries in the area — a possibility exacerbated by the unfortunate fine mesh grill that runs over the façade, including the windows of the rooms, and doesn’t leave much by way of a view. (There are, we’re told a few rooms that have the luxury of an unobstructed view, albeit one of government buildings.)

Andalusian-style Junior Suite features Andalusian-style arches and wood frames that act as a partition between the hall and bedroom suit. (Supplied)

Walking into the lobby, the hotel seems to be stuck in a time warp. A faux-floral arrangement in the center is gathering dust and the furniture looks outdated. But what the hotel lacks in aesthetics and décor, it makes up for with its staff — from reception to housekeeping they are accommodating, quick to help, and hospitable. 

We are welcomed warmly and check in to the Andalusian-style Junior Suite on the top floor. True to its name, the room features Andalusian-style arches and wood frames that act as a partition between the hall and bedroom suite; alcoves; intricate headboards; and a settee. Again, the furniture is bulky and archaic, but combined with the aforementioned touches, it has a certain old-world charm reminiscent of Andalusia or Casablanca. 

Some areas of the hotel have been renovated and the most notable revamp is on the seventh floor. (Supplied)

The bathroom is large, at least, featuring a tub and vanity area and a separate shower. But its, let’s say, ‘basic’ amenities and old fixtures aren’t particularly appealing. If you have the opportunity to stay in some of the hotel’s newer rooms and suites — the Scandinavian- or Italian-style rooms, we highly recommend those. 

Some areas of the hotel have been renovated and the most notable revamp is on the seventh floor, which features spacious rooms and suites that allow for more sunlight and are more contemporary in style and amenities. 

Its location means the hotel is favored by business travellers and government personnel; as a bonus, guests staying on the seventh floor have all-day access to an Executive Lounge and a Business Center. The hotel is also a favorite for corporate events and banquets (it has 13 conference rooms and an extravagant ballroom). 

Shogun is an in-house Japanese restaurant. (Supplied)

Breakfast at any Radisson Blu property has always been a pleasant experience — it is refreshing to see inclusive options like gluten-free, dairy alternatives, and a large offering of healthy food alongside the usual Arabic and English breakfast fare, and a made-to-order breakfast station. Breakfast is served in the Olivio restaurant, which boasts charming faux-Italian windows and intimate dining areas. It makes for a good start to the day. 

There is also a small rooftop terrace where guests can take their breakfast — ideal on a winter morning.

For lunch, we visited the in-house Japanese restaurant, Shogun, which has a small fish pond, a sushi bar, and Teppanyaki-style seating (around a table with a long metal grill on it). The restaurant is one of Riyadh’s most-popular for Asian cuisine, and with good reason. 

Shogun is one of Riyadh’s most-popular for Asian cuisine. (Supplied)

We started off with miso soup and moved on to a selection of meats — salmon, shrimp, chicken and beef — all prepared fresh at the table, and cooked according to our individual preferences. Shogun is well worth a visit — and we didn’t even try the ever-popular sushi bar.

The hotel’s other in-house restaurant is Brasserie on Four, which serves Pan-Arabian and global fusion.

If you are looking for a hotel that is accessible, affordable, and offers some historic charm — however you define that — then the Radisson Blu in Al Mubarakiah Plaza is certainly worth considering.

Saudi designer and musician: ‘You don’t need an excuse to fail’

Updated 26 February 2020

Saudi designer and musician: ‘You don’t need an excuse to fail’

  • An accomplished pianist, composer and artist Labeed Assidmi is known for his passion and hard work

DAMMAM: Saudi graphic designer, artist, musician and entrepreneur Labeed Assidmi is known for his passion and hard work.

Assidmi is a designer and art director for corporate events at Saudi Aramco. However, it’s not all he’s known for. An accomplished pianist and composer, he has been playing piano since he was a child and is often asked to perform at events. He also owns and operates the company Pinnizer, where he sells retro and Saudi-centric lapel pins.

He wants people to know that there are different levels to what he does and how he wants to be perceived. “I want to be known as a designer first, a musician second and a pin maker last,” he said.

His passion for design began with a trip to Disneyland, where he saw how effectively a logo could be used with the iconic image of Mickey Mouse. “They were so creative with it. It was everywhere; the hats, the shirts, the buses, the tickets and the food. It was never boring. I started to think about what kind of job a person could have that would allow them to create these things. I knew that that was what I wanted to do.”

After studying graphic design in the US, he returned to Saudi Arabia to pursue a career as a designer. He said that becoming a designer can unlock plenty of paths for aspiring creatives: “Design is like an airport, there are so many directions you can go in as long as you know the principles.”

His journey in music started in the fourth grade “on the half-functional keyboard that everyone had somewhere in their house during that era.” He tinkered around with it until he managed to teach himself a few simple tunes.

He started taking the piano more seriously in college, eventually composing songs.

“I always play my own songs, I don’t really like doing covers,” he said.

He finds composing and playing music cathartic, and an effective way of stretching his creative muscles without overexerting himself. “When I’m not making art, I’m making music, and vice versa. I love the piano, it’s my escape from everything,” he said.

He also supports local musicians and wants to see more people enter the field. “I do perform sometimes at my own events, but lately I’ve been trying to give local talent a chance. I know how many of them are out there that just need someone to take a chance on them and give them their big break.”

As for Pinnizer, he said that pin collecting had started growing in popularity as a pastime in the Kingdom, but he knew that there were few places to get pins with imagery familiar to his generation. “I found a gap in the market and decided to capitalize on it by creating designs with characters and symbols that were familiar to us,” he said.

Assidmi designs all the pins himself, and works with a company in China to produce molds for them, which he then sells on his website. He has created pins with iconic images of the past such as the old logos of Saudi TV and Saudi Airlines, as well as anime characters like Grendizer and Maroko.

“When people see my pins, and their voice goes up an octave when they give that nostalgic little ‘oh my God!’, I know I’ve succeeded,” he said.

He admits that balancing the triple workload and still managing to make time for himself and family is tough, but he has ways of getting around it.

He believes that compartmentalizing different aspects of your life into “pillars” can help people see the bigger picture and avoid getting too caught up in one thing.

Assidmi hopes that he can be an inspiration to future generations of Saudis, especially people who want to enter a creative field but don’t believe in themselves.

“My purpose is to leave a legacy that inspires people, to have people see what I’ve done and realize that this is something that they can do to. That’s how I want to be remembered.”

Shop Pinnizer at https://salla.sa/pinnizer/ or follow Assidmi on Instagram @labeed and his work at @labeed.design and @pinnizer