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 A faux-floral arrangement in the center is gathering dust and the furniture looks outdated.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