Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?

Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?
The Japanese restaurant has won plenty of awards in its home city of London. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 October 2021

Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?

Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?
  • We see if the award-winning Japanese restaurant lives up to the hype

RIYADH: When ROKA opened its doors in downtown Riyadh at the end of July, it was an immediate hit with local food lovers. So much so that reservations needed to be made well in advance.

Now that the hullabaloo around the launch has died down a little, it’s easier to get a spot, but ROKA is proving to be more than a flash in the pan. The Japanese restaurant has won plenty of awards in its home city of London, and its first international branch — which opened in Dubai last year — demonstrated the chain’s eagerness to maintain those high standards. Its latest offering, located in the heart of the Saudi capital, is following suit.

First impressions are good. The interior’s upscale rustic Japanese style and classy lighting suggest an easy, unpretentious sophistication, while its scale — seating for up to 243 guests — shows a confident ambition.




The interior’s upscale rustic Japanese style and classy lighting suggest an easy, unpretentious sophistication, while its scale — seating for up to 243 guests — shows a confident ambition. (Supplied)

The serving staff were unfailingly excellent; clearly knowledgeable about the food and comfortable recommending a tailored selection based on individual preferences.

Great service and nice decor are all well and good, but the most important ingredient in ROKA’s success is, of course, the menu.

Starting with the mocktails, we sampled nearly every option. One highlight was the Green Yoda — a blend of matcha green tea, passion fruit and a bright burst of lemon; perfect as a palate refresher between courses.




The lamb cutlets with Korean spices and sesame cucumber is one of the stars of the grilled menu. (Supplied)

But matcha is an acquired taste. If you’ve yet to acquire it, we’d recommend the White Lotus, a tempting mix of dragon fruit, lychee, strawberry and yuzu that goes well with any meal. We didn’t enjoy the Yuzuki as much, even though it came highly recommended by the ROKA team. It tasted somehow watered down and was quite bland.

Any disappointment at the Yuzuki was quickly tempered by the yellowtail sashimi and yuzu-truffle dressing that got our dinner started with a bang. The earthy truffle flavors were the perfect complement to the subtle sweetness of the melt-in-your-mouth fish — amplifying its natural flavors while preserving the integrity of its cut.

The sweet potato tempura and truffle sauce was less of a hit. The presentation — as with every dish — was superb, but the taste was underwhelming and lacked the punch we were expecting.




ROKA opened its doors in downtown Riyadh at the end of July. (Supplied)

We were on safer ground with the king crab, black cod and prawn dumplings with roasted chili dressing, which deserves its tag as one of ROKA’s signature dishes. The exterior of the dumpling had been seared to create a satisfying layer of crunch packed with an array of sweet seafood flavors.

For our maki rolls, we selected the wagyu tartare maki with karashi mustard, along with the crispy prawn and avocado maki with dark sweet soy. Both were fantastic, and we’d list them as must-try options.

The evening’s standout dish, though, was the black cod marinated in yuzu miso and served with pickled radish. The cod’s crunchy exterior and sweet creamy center matched with the tang of the yuzu miso is a perfect combination, making this truly the best cod we’ve tasted in Riyadh. Pair it with ROKA’s baked potato with yuzu cream and chives served tableside to make it even better.




ROKA’s offers baked potato with yuzu cream and chives. (Supplied)

If you’re not a seafood fan, then go for the Robata meat section, which offers a wide selection cooked live at the grilling station. (The restaurant is famed for its Robatayaki cooking method — the grilling technique that gives the meat a satisfying charred flavor.) Our only meat selection was the lamb cutlets with Korean spices and sesame cucumber. Apparently this is one of the stars of the grilled menu, but we found it fell a bit short of ROKA’s general high standards. The plating was once again beautiful — the lamb chops delicately balanced against each other — but the flavors were unbalanced, with the disappointing spice blend overpowering the tenderness of the lamb and leaving little room for flavors to be infused from the grill.

But our night ended on a high note with the yoghurt and almond cake. It’s a favorite on the Dubai branch’s menu and we can see why. The cake’s hard crust hides a warm, fluffy almond sponge that is topped with a mango toffee sauce and a dollop of caramel miso ice cream. It’s essentially an upscale, deconstructed mango cobbler, and it’s delicious; a perfect blend of warm, comforting flavors that brought our dinner to a very satisfying end.

Overall, ROKA justified its reputation as one of Riyadh’s most exciting new eateries.


What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy

What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy
Updated 28 November 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy

What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy

Authors: Hal Brands and Charles Edel

Today, after more than seventy years of great‑power peace and a quarter‑century of unrivaled global leadership, Americans have lost their sense of tragedy. They have forgotten that the descent into violence and war has been all too common throughout human history. This amnesia has become most pronounced just as Americans and the global order they created are coming under graver threat than at any time in decades.
In this book, Hal Brands and Charles Edel argue that a tragic sensibility is necessary if America and its allies are to address the dangers that menace the international order today, according to a review on goodreads.com.


Jack Lang launches an Exhibition on Eastern Jews to ‘fix ignorance’

The show exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world in a 1,000-square-meter space. (ANFR Photo/Anne Ilcinkas)
The show exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world in a 1,000-square-meter space. (ANFR Photo/Anne Ilcinkas)
Updated 27 November 2021

Jack Lang launches an Exhibition on Eastern Jews to ‘fix ignorance’

The show exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world in a 1,000-square-meter space. (ANFR Photo/Anne Ilcinkas)
  • The Parisian institution exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world, in an area larger than 1,000 sq. m.
  • ‘This event is a response by reason, by culture, by knowledge, a response by history,’ says Arab World Institute president 

PARIS: After exhibitions titled “Hajj, the pilgrimage in Makkah” in 2014 and the “Christians of the East, 2,000 years of history” in 2017, the Arab World Institute in Paris is continuing its trilogy dedicated to monotheistic religions with “Jews of the East, a multi-millennial history.”

It exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world in a 1,000-square-meter space.

“This institute would only truly find its vocation if it were open to all the spiritual and intellectual heritages that have marked the history of the Arab world,” IMA President Jack Lang said in a speech to the press a few days before the exhibition’s inauguration. It is set to take place from Nov. 24 to March 13, 2022.

The Parisian institution exhibits “exceptional and unpublished” work, which were made available by 35 lenders — institutions or individuals — bearing witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world, from the Atlas plateaus to the banks of the Euphrates.

“Was it normal that the Jews, their culture and the Jewish religion did not have their full place here?” IMA’s president asked.

He began to handle the issue two years ago, “shortly before the appearance of these movements, that are in reality very old but reappear regularly in France, of negationism, of hatred, of racism, of denouncing the truth, of confusion.”

He continued: “This event is a response by reason, by culture, by knowledge, a response by history.”

For French President Emmanuel Macron, this is a “great lesson” about “coexistence, mutual enrichment and exchanges between monotheisms.” 

He said: “Identity is always more complex than we think and rubs against other identities to feed on it,” while also denouncing the “obscurantisms” of recent times.

For the first time, Arab News en Francais has partnered up with the IMA for this exhibition. “We are very happy to work with you,” Lang rejoiced in an interview, evoking his “immense admiration for the work accomplished today in the Kingdom by Saudi authorities in general and by Prince Badr in particular.”

“People around the world have absolutely no idea how far a real cultural revolution is taking place in Saudi Arabia, in all fields such as art, cinema, theater, literature, painting, sculpture, music…,” continued the president, who will fly in a few days to Jeddah on the occasion of the Red Sea Film Festival, which promises to be a “huge event.”

He added: “I told Prince Badr, whom I met with 10 days ago: You are not broadcasting enough the magnitude of the cultural changes taking place in the Kingdom today.”

Among these Saudi sites “which one day will be more known” is the Khaybar oasis, represented by three photographs by Humberto da Silveira at the beginning of the exhibition “Jews of the East,” which retraces in a chronological and thematic journey, 15 centuries of Jewish presence in now Arab countries. The Khaybar oasis, located on a major caravan route in the Hejaz, was indeed occupied by Jewish tribes in ancient times, before the Prophet Muhammad made it the “land of Islam.”

“Today, there is a French team of archaeologists undertaking research on the spot to better understand this complex history of the Jews and the Muslims in this historic place, Khaybar, with the consent of Saudi authorities,” added the IMA president.

One of the pieces of the exhibition that most impressed Lang also comes from the Arabian Peninsula. 

He admitted having great difficulty in choosing just one, given the richness of the works exhibited: “Jewish women of Yemeni origin, who have now become Israeli citizens, have created a fabulous music group that travels the world. This relationship is extraordinary, because these Jewish Yemeni women sing in Arabic.” The three Haim sisters (Tair, Liron, and Tagel) with their group A-WA, have enjoyed phenomenal success on YouTube with their song “Habib Galbi,” which mixes traditional Yemeni songs with hip-hop beats.

The public will rediscover the “Hana Mash Hu Al-Yaman” clip at the conclusion of the exhibition, the last stage in a history spanning more than 2,000 years. It shows the history of Jewish communities in the Arab world, of the first links forged between the Jewish tribes of the Kingdom and Prophet Muhammad up to the final exile, the emergence of great scholars, such as Saadia Gaon, Maimonides or Joseph Caro, during the medieval caliphates in Baghdad, Fez, Cairo and Cordoba, and the rise of Jewish urban centers in the Maghreb and the Ottoman Empire.

“Never before has the history of the Jews been told in these countries which have become Arab countries today. It had never been told on a millennial scale, from ancient times until today,” said Lang, adding: “It is a way of repairing ignorance, of showing that the Arab world is rich in successive religions and cultures, which fashioned its originality.”

Asked about the apprehensions that this exhibition could arouse on the Palestinian side, the Lang explained that “the exhibition absolutely does not address the political questions of today.” 

“There are other occasions for the IMA to bring them up,” he said, referring to the upcoming publishing of a book titled “What Palestinians Bring to the World.”

Just like the general curator of the exhibition, historian Benjamin Stora, who said that “we would miss our target if we only spoke of the end, of the ‘why’ did the Jews depart,” Lang insists on showing that: “Above all, we want to show that the presence of Jews goes back a long way in history.”


The best dressed stars at the 2021 Cairo international Film Festival

The best dressed stars at the 2021 Cairo international Film Festival
Tara Emad posing on the red carpet at the event, running until Dec. 5 at the famed Opera House in Zamalek.AFP
Updated 27 November 2021

The best dressed stars at the 2021 Cairo international Film Festival

The best dressed stars at the 2021 Cairo international Film Festival

DUBAI: The 43rd edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) kicked off in style on Friday evening with a plethora of glamorous A-list Arab celebrities walking the red carpet at the annual opening ceremony in Egypt.

Running until Dec. 5 at the famed Opera House in Zamalek, the Arab world’s longest-running film festival brought together a host of stars, including actors Tara Emad, Dorra Zarrouk and Salma Abudeif in addition to 68-year-old film icon Fifi Abdou, who were all dressed to the nines in up-and-coming as well as established regional designers.

Check out our pick of the best dressed stars at the 2021 Cairo International Film Festival below.

 

Tara Emad in Nicolas Jebran

Youssra in Rami Kadi

Bushra Rozza in Samah Mahran

Dorra Zarrouk in Zuhair Murad

Laila Eloui in Hany Elbehairy

Mona Zaki in Maram Bohran

Nelly Karim in Maison Yeya

Nour in Sandy Nour

Raya Abirached in Zuhair Murad

Salma Abu Deif in Rose Fabrics

Fifi Abdou


Past and future meet in UAE-based trio’s ‘Beyond: Emerging Artists’ display

Past and future meet in UAE-based trio’s ‘Beyond: Emerging Artists’ display
“Beyond: Emerging Artists,” a section of the now-wrapped up Abu Dhabi Art fair. Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art
Updated 27 November 2021

Past and future meet in UAE-based trio’s ‘Beyond: Emerging Artists’ display

Past and future meet in UAE-based trio’s ‘Beyond: Emerging Artists’ display

DUBAI: Challenges of the future and painful reminders of the past are among themes explored by three UAE-based artists in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al-Saadiyat.

New commissions by Emirati artists Maitha Abdalla and Hashel Al-Lamki, along with American Christopher Benton, now based in Dubai, are included in “Beyond: Emerging Artists,” a section of the now-wrapped up Abu Dhabi Art fair.

Maitha Abdalla, Too Close to the Sun. Courtsey of Abu Dhabi Art

“Beyond: Emerging Artists” was curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath and is running beyond the end of the fair until Dec. 4, 2021.

Bardaouil and Fellrath told Arab News that the three artists’ strong links with Abu Dhabi allowed them to examine the city’s history and diversity, as well as its challenges and opportunities.

The artists rely on media ranging from painting to sculpture, soundscapes, video works, found objects and site-specific installations.

Abdalla’s commissions are part of a series of works that “negotiates the wild nature of women that social forces have often attempted to tame,” according to the artist.


 

Hashem Al-Lamki, Neptune. Courtsey of Abu Dhabi Art


“In my work, I am interested in storytelling and folk tales, and for this exhibition I was inspired by the book ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves,’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, an American psychoanalyst. She talks about how in every woman there is a wild creature and that this creature is powerful. She calls it wild woman and says this creature is an endangered species,” Abdalla said.

Fair Director Dyala Nusseibeh told Arab News: “The work is amazing — from performances that revolve around notions of female wildness to sculptures and paintings that provoke discussion around what’s considered right and wrong behavior and thought in communities.”

Benton’s installation of a chained palm tree also fosters debate around labor economies and the appropriation of Middle Eastern culture in the US.

Christopher Joshua Benton, chained palm tree installation. Courtsey of Abu Dhabi Art

The artist’s film “The Kite Has Come” features archival images of Zanzibar from 1860-1910 — when the world’s last slave market operated in the city — and explores how slave histories in past centuries resonate in today’s world.

Meanwhile, Al-Lamki examines the rapid pace of change in the UAE, particularly evident in his hometown of Al-Ain.  

The artist, who founded the art group Bait 15 in a residential neighborhood in downtown Abu Dhabi, uses natural pigments collected from regional locations, referencing traditions that are under threat from new technologies and consumerism.

“The extravagance of the glitter and dyes in his paintings alongside the use of batteries, star stickers and popcorn in his sculpture, contribute to a sense of spectacle and futurism, but also a note of wistfulness for what is left behind,” Nusseibeh said.


US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi

US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi
The artist will perform live on Dec. 3. File/AFP
Updated 27 November 2021

US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi

US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: US singer Nick Jonas is set to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi for a live performance on Dec. 3.

He will join a lineup including R&B singer Kehlani, who will perform at the three-day event taking place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) on Dec. 4.

The 29-year-old, who gained prominence as a member of the Jonas Brothers with his two older siblings, also has a fruitful solo career, giving us hits like “Jealous” and “Levels.”

VidCon Abu Dhabi was originally set to be held in March 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other big names set to appear include Egyptian TV show host and comedian Bassem Youssef, Emirati influencers Khalid Al-Ameri and Salama Mohamed, Saudi YouTuber Naz and travel blogger Iknani, among others.