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 A faux-floral arrangement in the center is gathering dust and the furniture looks outdated.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.

Farm to table: Lebanese initiative ‘From the Villages’ celebrates local talent 

Updated 20 October 2020

Farm to table: Lebanese initiative ‘From the Villages’ celebrates local talent 

DUBAI: In an act of solidarity with Lebanon’s villagers, farmers and local artisans, a group of innovative Lebanese graduates are operating an online platform that provides a wide array of their homemade products and crafts to those residing mainly in Beirut, as well as other cities across the country. 

At a time when a number of businesses were closing down, “From the Villages” was born from the COVID-19 lockdown in May. It all started through a fateful conversation between a few individuals who wanted to share good quality produce and foods from their southern, fertile village of Deir Mimas with others.

“Because people in their villages don’t find markets to sell (at), we thought why don’t we sell this food online?” the e-platform’s managing partner Hani Touma told Arab News. “By using technology and having a platform, they can sell their products and reach a wider range of customers.” 

The team designed their website and launched a couple of days later, with a few available items. Today, its offerings have expanded and clients can access a variety of 25 product categories, which include herbs, dairies, jams, olives, syrups, distillates, soaps and pottery. An eco-friendly project, all of the products are minimally packaged and locally made by nearly 50 artisans and farmers, living in 20 villages, mostly from the south.  

“We’re working with real household people,” said Touma. “Some of the ladies that we work with are 60, 70 years old and this is their only job. It started as a fun project and now it’s growing. We’re helping a lot of the suppliers and they’re having regular income, although it’s going up and down because of the economic situation in Lebanon.” 

Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Lebanon was already suffering from decades-long mismanagement and a financial crisis, in which citizens couldn’t access their bank savings, unemployment and inflation spiked and the Lebanese Lira devalued exponentially. 

In addition, Lebanon stands far from its full potential when it comes to local agricultural production as it imports more than 80 percent of its food items. The efforts of Touma, his business partner Sari Hawa, along with their tightly knit team of experts, are amongst the latest aiming to cultivate a culture of homegrown food concepts through grassroots initiatives.  

“Now, even the products imported have started to be missing from the supermarkets,” explained Touma. “I think this was why ‘From the Villages’ grew very fast, because people were not able to find some of their food – like jams, for example. They were all imported from outside. But now, you have a local product available directly at your doorstep.”

Following the deadly Beirut port explosion on Aug. 4, the “From the Villages” team suspended operations for a month and is currently slowly picking up again by carrying out deliveries twice per week. “Everything is working against us,” said Touma, “but we’re trying to stay on the ground and fix everything.”