International gastronomic delights at new fine dining restaurants in Saudi Arabia

The Al-Matal complex houses Belgravian Brasserie, Hellenika, and Nozomi. (Supplied)
1 / 4
The Al-Matal complex houses Belgravian Brasserie, Hellenika, and Nozomi. (Supplied)
International gastronomic delights at new fine dining restaurants in Saudi Arabia
2 / 4
Photo/Supplied
International gastronomic delights at new fine dining restaurants in Saudi Arabia
3 / 4
Photo/Supplied
International gastronomic delights at new fine dining restaurants in Saudi Arabia
4 / 4
Photo/Supplied
Short Url
Updated 08 April 2022

International gastronomic delights at new fine dining restaurants in Saudi Arabia

The Al-Matal complex houses Belgravian Brasserie, Hellenika, and Nozomi. (Supplied)
  • Founders of the restaurants aim to transport diners to France, Japan, and Greece with decor, authentic flavors

ALKHOBAR: They say all good things come in threes, and Alkhobar has triple the options to offer foodies an elegant gastronomic experience while soaking in the corniche sunset this Ramadan.

After nearly three years since the beginning of the lockdown, these clusters of restaurants by the sea opened on Saudi Arabia’s first Founding Day, aiming to transport diners to three contained destinations in Al-Matal complex: France on the ground floor, Japan on the second and Greece on the third.

Following the successful launch of these three remarkable restaurants in February, charismatic Chef Marios George and the Cavadore Group are offering tantalizing options with their refined hospitality for the holy month of Ramadan. In partnership with Abdul Aziz Al-Moajil, his brother Saad and their father Mohammed Saad, vice chairman of the Al-Moajil Group, they have created another reason for the world to visit Alkhobar.

I kept in mind that these restaurants are in Saudi Arabia, and we have a few rules that we should keep, so I tried to extract inspiration from the country each restaurant came from, while also keeping in mind the modesty and cultural sensitivities of my own country, where these restaurants are now located.

Haifa Al-Sudairi, Fashion designer

Be transported to the streets of Paris this Ramadan, with an elegant French-style iftar at Belgravian Brasserie from Maghrib to 1 a.m. daily. The menus include everything from French toast to roast chicken. They also offer curated Ramadan gift hampers for pre-order such as an elegant basket with an array of freshly baked cakes, handcrafted chocolates, chocolate-dipped dates, pastel-colored pillowy macarons and sparkling tea, deemed the best “high-end non-alcoholic product” on the market today.




Haifa Al-Sudairi,
Fashion designer

Break bread at Hellenika from sunset until 8 p.m. The iftar menu is served family-style on the table, with platters to pass around, showcasing a mouth-watering selection of Greek and Middle Eastern dishes, including traditional dips, refreshing crisp salads and hot grills. Between 9:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., Hellenika hosts a convivial sahoor, featuring an à la carte menu of popular Greek dishes and traditional live music that will capture the spirit of the season. The restaurant is inspired by the Greek islands and Aegean Sea.

The Cavadore Group’s acclaimed Japanese restaurant Nozomi offers an enchanting Ramadan retreat, decorated with lanterns, candles and floral arrangements that honor this holy month. Open only for sahoor, the restaurant offers foodies the chance to sample tantalizing offerings from 9:30 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. Nozomi was chosen because of this generation’s love for the structured Japanese style of food.

All restaurants are considered to be on the higher end of the price point. They also have rooms for private events, which have been very popular with employees and dependents of Aramco and for birthday parties.

“I went to Saudi in 2011, and I saw just how passionate everyone was and thought, let’s put a restaurant here,” Chef George told Arab News. “I’m a huge believer in, ‘Build it and they will come.’ I believe Alkhobar is a very important city. You’ve got some huge industries there. You’ve got some fabulous big families.”

George said he was impressed by the “sophisticated palate” in Alkhobar because it is adjacent to Bahrain with the many fine eateries there and only a car ride away from Riyadh. Until these restaurants opened up, foodies have had to travel to other locations to get their fix. Now, it’s in their backyard.

“In Saudi, we can do grand things. In London, we have to do things in smaller places; 600 square meters in London is considered a big restaurant, right? Here, we built three restaurants at 1,200 square meters each. That sets a pattern for the region. It’s not just about money. If it makes a statement, we bring something that adds to the culture, which is the wealth of the region,” George said.

Way before work began on the design of the restaurants, the company strategically set up the infrastructure by creating a company first to import certain products, such as the olive oil that comes from one olive oil plantation in Greece, which was listed as the No. 1 olive oil in the world for the past five years. This enabled them to hold a powerful position to ensure continuity of the experience and quality control so that customers could enjoy consistent excellence on the plate each time they visited.  

Next, they are establishing an academy based in Alkhobar to train Saudis, especially women, who want to work in the restaurant business. They will offer support and resources to enable eager Saudis in the area to acquire the necessary skills.

“We’re going to open in Riyadh soon. But my father mentioned that if I wanted to start a company, I would have to start in the Eastern Province because we live here. We love the city, and we love the people. So, we have to add to our city before adding to other cities in Saudi Arabia,” Abdul Aziz told Arab News.

“As a managing director and CEO, it would not have happened without the support from my father and my brother, Saad. They believe in my goal — it’s a family kind of community,” he said.

In keeping with the Alkhobar roots, all of the elegant clothing worn by the women at the reception were designed by local fashion designer Haifa Al-Sudairi.

“When I started to design, I asked the owners to send their renderings, colorings — everything from A-Z. I kept in mind that these restaurants are in Saudi Arabia, and we have a few rules that we should keep, so I tried to extract inspiration from the country each restaurant came from, while also keeping in mind the modesty and cultural sensitivities of my own country, where these restaurants are now located. I’m so honored to have designed the reception clothing for these wonderful restaurants and so proud that we have such offerings in our dear city of Alkhobar,” Al-Sudairi said.

In keeping with the theme of family and community building, the organizers are hosting a monthly high tea in which they will invite one woman of note in the region to be interviewed. Al-Sudairi will be the first woman in this series of talks when they launch after Eid.


The Umm Al-Qura University academics working to enhance the pilgrim experience

The Umm Al-Qura University academics working to enhance the pilgrim experience
Updated 13 sec ago

The Umm Al-Qura University academics working to enhance the pilgrim experience

The Umm Al-Qura University academics working to enhance the pilgrim experience
  • The efforts of the university’s specialist institute for Hajj and Umrah research help authorities improve the services the provide and better manage their operations
  • The institute ‘has so far carried out 740 specialized pieces of research and has trained more than 6,000 trainees,’ according to its dean

MAKKAH: Each year, researchers at Umm Al-Qura University carry out studies focusing on Hajj and Umrah, the results of which are used to improve and enrich the experiences of pilgrims during their spiritual journeys.

The work is carried out by the university’s Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research. The institute’s dean, Turki Sulaiman A. Alamro, said that it studies current pilgrimage procedures and conditions, collects data on pilgrims’ needs and the services they require, analyzes the data, compiles progress reports and implements new initiatives as required.

The results of the research it carries out, and the database it builds, help authorities enhance the services they provide to pilgrims and better manage their operations.

“The institute is an exclusive research center,” said Alamro. “It has so far carried out 740 specialized pieces of research and has trained more than 6,000 trainees in the field of Hajj and Umrah.”

The university also offers comprehensive medical and administrative courses, in addition to voluntary-service programs.

“The university has exerted major efforts in the field of volunteer work during Hajj by providing volunteers with the necessary skills and training, in coordination with the concerned authorities,” said Alamro.

“We have nearly 2,000 volunteers this year because the university believes they play an important role.”

Sumaiya Al-Sharaf, an associate professor at the university, is in charge of its voluntary operation. This year, she said, about 11 organizations are offering volunteering opportunities, including the General Directorate of Civil Defense, the Saudi Red Crescent Authority, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, and the Health Volunteer Center.

The university provides the use of its campus as a venue for Hajj-related meetings and a transportation hub. It also develops and provides technology and innovation services through the Wadi Makkah Technology Company, an investment company fully owned by the university. The company actively contributes through the forging of partnerships between educational and research institutions and the business community, by investing in joint projects and supporting research and technical projects designed to benefit pilgrims.

Nayla Jad, a graduate student at the university who is specializing in Hajj and Umrah studies, said: “The Hajj and Umrah major is one of the most important specializations for building the financial and business sector by providing qualitative services to pilgrims every year.”


World events behind price spikes, says Saudi minister of commerce

Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi. (Supplied)
Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi. (Supplied)
Updated 05 July 2022

World events behind price spikes, says Saudi minister of commerce

Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi. (Supplied)
  • After 13 months — specifically March 2021 — there were growing signs of economic recovery, Al-Qasabi said, but warning that there was an increase in demand versus supply

JEDDAH: Major events including the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine have caused price hikes around the world, Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi said in a periodic government communication conference on Tuesday.

The press conference discussed four key areas: Global events that led to price increases, the Saudi leadership’s guidance to address the effects of the hikes, repercussions of global events on prices, as well as a question and answer segment.

“Let us rewind two years and a half back to February 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was an economic, social and mental tsunami. It was the biggest economic crisis in the world,” Al-Qasabi said.

“This pandemic affected the whole world all at once, and suddenly without any warning. We are still suffering from its effects,” he added.

“We stayed in the pandemic for 13 months, and after that, it was the beginning of recovery.”

After 13 months — specifically March 2021 — there were growing signs of economic recovery, Al-Qasabi said, but warning that there was an increase in demand versus supply.

“The demand was more than the supply, and this causes an imbalance in the market, when the demand exceeds the supply. Of course, the result will be that prices have risen,” he added.

Al-Qasabi pointed to the Suez Canal obstruction in March 2021 as another event that added to global economic woes.

“We saw the blockage of the navigational movement and the cessation of the navigational movement in the Suez Canal, then after three months — in July 2021 — the second variant of the virus appeared and imposed a curfew again, which caused the closure of some ports and some cities,” he said.

In February 2022, the Russia-Ukraine conflict began. The minister said that the war affected transportation, too.

“We had a crisis between Russia and Ukraine, and we still do not know how long this crisis will last. These events combined, overlapped and completed, leading to a crisis in transportation and supply chains,” he said.

The transportation and supply chain crisis includes the disruption of some transportation ports, such as the main port of Shanghai, a sixfold increase in the cost of transportation, as well as surging freight insurance rates.

Al-Qasabi hailed King Salman’s royal order on Monday that approved the allocation of SR20 billion ($5.32 billion) to help citizens mitigate the impacts of rising global prices.

Half of the allocated money will go to social insurance beneficiaries and the Citizen Account Program.


‘Magnetic attraction’ of Makkah inspires work of Saudi visual artist Ahmed Mater

‘Magnetic attraction’ of Makkah inspires work of Saudi visual artist Ahmed Mater
Updated 05 July 2022

‘Magnetic attraction’ of Makkah inspires work of Saudi visual artist Ahmed Mater

‘Magnetic attraction’ of Makkah inspires work of Saudi visual artist Ahmed Mater

RIYADH: Contemporary artist Ahmed Mater’s first visit to Makkah sparked a magnetic attraction to the holy site that would shape his creative outlook on life.

Similar to many Saudis, his initial interaction with the city was as a child, but his most vivid memories of visiting Makkah came during his medical university years.

He told Arab News that on one trip, surrounded by construction cranes, he felt that his “imagination was more powerful than reality. Sometimes, we dream about change. And it happens because the power of imagination creates all of this movement.”

On his parents’ promise to take him to Makkah for the first time, he said: “They told me I would face something different when in front of the Kaaba, and that I would feel a magnet attraction.”

That moment stuck with him, and he continued building on it to inspire his work through his imagination.

One of Mater’s most popular artworks, “Magnetism,” was constructed using thousands of iron particles surrounding a magnetic cuboid, a symbol of the Kaaba, which becomes the center of attraction to the small particles. “I create most of my artwork based on attraction,” he added.

The viewer’s eye is drawn toward the contrast and simplicity of the color palette, with the black elements set on white canvas and all the specs attracting simultaneously to the center. The exhibit is surrounded by four glass screens, signifying the holiness and sanctity of the performance of Hajj that should not be disturbed by outsiders.

His work also plays with the idea of repulsion.

In an essay, British writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith, said: “The Kaaba is magnet and centrifuge: going away, going back home, is the last rite of pilgrimage.”

Mater said: “I think it’s very important after the coronavirus pandemic that things come back to life. I spent more than four to five years attending Hajj as a photographer and researcher, and really, it’s one of the most beautiful scenes when you hear all of the people with one sound. And you feel it. It really cannot be described by words.”

While entrance to the city of Makkah and the Hajj performance itself is reserved strictly for those of Islamic faith, Mater caters to the curiosity of outsiders within the context of community and urbanism.

In his 2017 to 2018 exhibition, “Ahmed Mater: Makkah Journeys,” staged at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, he presented a series of multimedia artworks centering on working conditions, construction, and urban redevelopment that have characterized recent Hajj seasons.

“Sometimes it’s really about memory and about the way that our culture teaches about spirituality, imagination. Because we are a very spiritual culture, a very emotional culture, in our songs and our intimacy and families. So, I think that’s part of our life, and it’s created a lot,” he added.

In his work, “Leaves Fall in All Seasons,” a documentative on-ground video compilation, he focuses on the workers that contributed to the mass expansion of the metropolis. He noted that Makkah, as a city, had been nourished and built by Muslim immigrants and pilgrims of all backgrounds, bringing a lively and perplexing feel to the holy city.

“Everyone dreams about this Islamic world. It’s their dream to do it once in their life,” he said.

His care for the social well-being of individuals and communities, attributed to his background as a medical doctor, shows through his work as he provides audiences with a glimpse of what a journey to Makkah would be like for those unable to go.

“My opinion is that our work now represents our time now. Every time represents its moment. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s there were great artists. They represent their time, and they built this kind of beautiful history. We are now building our time and history,” Mater added.

The physician-turned-artist is a powerhouse in documenting untold stories, and he has played a leading role in establishing the Saudi art scene and legitimizing it locally and internationally.

In 2016, Mater became the first Saudi artist to hold a solo show in the US with his symbolic cities display at the Smithsonian museum’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

While most artists leave their work open to audience interpretation, Mater said he hoped the research and perception behind his art reached the viewer in some way. “My artwork has personal context, it’s personal. It’s my life,” he said.

The more the visual artist has delved into Islamic collective identity, the more appealing his work has become to global audiences.

“​​I think globally but act locally. We are in our timeline now, and it represents Saudi Arabia now,” he added.


Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality
Updated 18 min 11 sec ago

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality
  • Malaysia is one of 5 countries included in scheme
  • More than 14,300 pilgrims from the country will perform Hajj this year

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysian pilgrims arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for the flight to Saudi Arabia, they are welcomed by Saudi officials who are helping tens of thousands of people depart for Hajj.
The welcome is a pre-departure glimpse into Saudi hospitality.
Malaysia is among five Muslim majority countries — including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Morocco — where Saudi Arabia opened its Makkah Route initiative.

The program, launched in 2019, is dedicated to Hajj pilgrims, allowing them to fulfill all visa, customs and health requirements at the airport of origin, saving long hours of waiting. Upon arrival, pilgrims can enter the Kingdom without waiting, having already gone through visa and customs processes back home.
Those departing from Kuala Lumpur airport are taken care of by dozens of Saudi immigration officials working round the clock to facilitate their journey.
“We are not even in Saudi yet, but I can already feel the warmth. This is very welcoming,” Ariff Abdullah, who departed on one of the last Hajj flights this week, told Arab News, as he and his wife were getting ready to board their Jeddah-bound flight.
“Today I was joking with the chap at the immigration counter,” Abdullah said. “He even knew a couple of Malay words!”
This year, 14,306 Malaysian pilgrims will take part in Hajj. The number is half the quota Malaysia received in 2019, the last Hajj season before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the total number of pilgrims who will arrive in the Kingdom this year has also been halved.
Hajj was restricted to just 1,000 people living in the Kingdom in 2020, and limited to only 60,000 domestic participants in 2021.
As COVID-19 curbs have been lifted this year, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million foreign and domestic pilgrims, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.
Makkah Route officials are helping to streamline their arrival.

 


“The initiative aims to facilitate the pilgrims’ immigration process at their country of origin, including fingerprinting and finalizing the entry (to Saudi Arabia), and delivery of luggage to their chosen accommodations in a very short time,” Sgt. Maj. Anas Muhammad, who arrived from Jeddah to assist Malaysian pilgrims, told Arab News.
His colleague, Sgt. Kholoud Al-Ahmadi, is “honored to be part of the Makkah Route initiative in Malaysia.”
She said: “I am very glad to be part of this initiative, especially since it’s my first time in Malaysia.”
Combined with other procedures under the Makkah Route, the immigration process from both the Malaysian and Saudi sides takes an average of 10 minutes per pilgrim.
To those who require more assistance, including people with disabilities, the scheme is a welcome relief.
“When we reach Jeddah, we are all cleared and there is no need to wait and queue for immigration there,” said Zainab Binti Awang, a wheelchair user accompanied by her sister.
When they reach the Kingdom, pilgrims are received at the airport and taken to their hotels in Makkah and Madinah. They can focus on their spiritual journeys, as all practical aspects of the pilgrimage are taken care of.
“The Makkah Route is very convenient,” said Johar Yusof, another pilgrim departing from Kuala Lumpur. “There’s no need to go through hassle — I love it.”


British pilgrim completes 6,500km walk from the UK to Saudi Arabia for Hajj

British pilgrim completes 6,500km walk from the UK to Saudi Arabia for Hajj
Updated 05 July 2022

British pilgrim completes 6,500km walk from the UK to Saudi Arabia for Hajj

British pilgrim completes 6,500km walk from the UK to Saudi Arabia for Hajj
  • British pilgrim walks across Europe to reach Makkah

JEDDAH: British pilgrim Adam Mohammed has fulfilled his dream of traveling to Makkah on foot to perform the Hajj.

The 52-year-old pilgrim walked through the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan to reach Saudi Arabia, covering a distance of almost 6,500 kilometers in 11 months and 26 days.

He walked an average of 17.8 km a day and reached Ayesha Mosque in Makkah on June 26.

He walked across Europe to complete his journey. (Supplied)

A huge crowd of pilgrims, local residents, and his two daughters who had flown from the UK welcomed him in the holy city.

Mohammed said: “I was so happy to finish my journey and I am overwhelmed by the great welcome, generosity, and love of Saudis and other nationalities. I am so eager to perform Hajj because Hajj has been my greatest dream.”

He spoke about what he would do when standing on Mount Arafat. 

“I will thank Allah for making this journey possible and for making my all-time goal come true to perform Hajj.  This was not an easy journey for me but I had to sacrifice everything for the sake of Allah and humanity.

“I have been preoccupied with reading the Holy Qur’an ever since restrictions were imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, I woke up one day and something inside me told me to go to Makkah all the way by foot from my home. I could not ignore this voice and decided to go for it.”

It took him just two months to prepare for the arduous journey with help from a British organization and donations from his fellow countrymen.

(Supplied)

Mohammed, who is Iraqi-Kurdish, began his journey on Aug. 1, 2021, from his home in Wolverhampton.

He had a cart weighing up to 250 kilos for his personal belongings. “Actually, I built it myself. It is where I ate, slept, and cooked for the journey.”

He told Arab News that, except for weather and traveling, he did not face any other challenge on his way to Makkah.

***

Now read: How his journey began

***

“There were no big difficulties, except for a few stops by police authorities in several countries to inquire about my presence in their land. But they were surprised when they came to know about my unique journey.”

Many people came forward to help him during this journey, with some pushing his trolley and others offering him food and a place to rest.

He documented and live-streamed his experience through his channels on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, while also using his platform to spread messages of peace and equality.

Even with 2.8 million likes on TikTok, Mohammed said his journey was not for fame but religion.