We've got the lowdown on the coolest neighbourhood in Bahrain
Time Out Bahrain staff
Usually associated with the island’s fine dining scene, Adliya’s Block 338 certainly has more than its fair share of chi-chi eateries but take a walk down the winding backstreets and you’ll find there’s more to this little area than meets the eye.
From a stunning art gallery, which regularly hosts international exhibitions and encourages street art, to some of the island’s favourite carpet shops – you don’t have to buy (though obviously he’d be happy if you did), but you can just sit and drink hot sweet tea with Mr Khan at Isfahan and pass the time or day.
Or cross the road to the Phoenicia Centre. Yes we know it’s not strictly in Block 338, being on the wrong side of Osama Bin Zaid Avenue, but what’s a few steps between friends? And it would be criminal not to mention Hazel Furniture which should really be called ‘Hazel I bet you never expected to find that in Bahrain’.
Bulging at the seams with second- or possibly even third- or fourth-hand books, Hazel is a treasure trove of the unusual from peculiar, but oddly appealing, hand-painted pictures and bits and pieces of furniture, some of them classic and some of them just plain odd, to a brilliant collection of vinyl LPs – our photographer George almost had to be surgically removed from the place.
And as we enter the Spring of Culture, Block 338, which officially runs from the restaurant side of Osama Bin Zaid right the way down to the Palace Hotel, will really come into its own playing host to street artists, a market (maybe), dance and music performances and more.
Tala Bashmi of Al Riwaq Art Space explains: “We are putting together a committee for the whole of Block 338 to bring together art and business – as soon as we suggested the idea 10 of the restaurants immediately said they wanted to be involved.
“For three weeks, from March 29, we will be operating across four venues – the old Bohemia restaurant, where owner Nawaf Shawwa has allowed us to take over the space for an art installation, the square outside Monsoon, where we will be building a stage from recycled materials for music and dance performances, Al Riwaq Art Space, where we will have an exhibition documenting this collaboration, and the restaurants themselves.”
The Al Riwaq artists have come up with the concept of operating a direction system – similar to the iconic London Underground map – so visitors can easily get from venue to venue.
And participating restaurants, such as the Cafe Italia, Mezzaluna, Monsoon and Tian, will themselves be turned into art spaces.
Each will come up with a special menu to mark the event, menu cards will be designed by the artists visiting Al Riwaq and Bahraini film-makers will be making a series of short loop films to be shown in those eateries which have lounge spaces.
The restaurants will also host musical performances and other art-based shows and those taking part will display special flags throughout the event so visitors can easily identify where there is something interesting to see or do.
Tala said: “People so often think of Adliya as being just a place to eat and party – if they want art they think they have to go to the museum or to Muharraq, we want to show that Block 338 can actually be seen as a centre of culture and, if this is successful, we hope it will become an annual event.”
Of course she’s right, there is a lot more to Block 338 than restaurants but, all the same, we thought we’d give you our top picks to try if taking in all that activity gives you an appetite.
Blaze Burgers: This is a new kid on the block serving burgers and more with a selection of dips, toppings and seriously sinful milkshakes – come on really folks Oreos, Reese’s Peanut Butter, what will they think of next? (17 744 773).
Marrakech: Another newbie, so new in fact that even we haven’t tried it yet but we did have a good nosey round before it opened and can tell you it looks very moody and atmospheric with a fair dash of Morroccan bling and space for a traditional musician. (17 003 273).
Corners: If you approach this traditional Bahraini sheesha bar from the rear car park, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s actually derelict since it looks so shabby. But once you get round the front you’ll find a charming terrace in an establishment that’s earned its place as one of the grand old ladies of Adliya – we hope it never changes. (Number to come).
Café Italia: This is one of those places where you go for a special night out. It’s not cheap, that’s for sure, but the food and drinks menus are impressive and we’ve never eaten and we’ve never eaten a bad mouthful here. There’s also a nice garden area for a quiet smoke. (17 744 774).
Block 338: The bar/restaurant of the same name. Yes it’s expensive and the bills always get messed up but the staff are really friendly, the food’s good and with a two for one on drinks most nights from 5pm-7pm, it’s no wonder this place, with its great garden seating, has become so popular. (17 710 338).
Tian: We loved this when it was Memories of China and still do - where else can you see the chef making noodles on the restaurant floor. (17 717 080).
Salad Boutique: Yet another newish venue (at this rate it’s amazing any of the old ones are still going), this place offers salads big enough for two in absolutely beautiful surroundings. We’d be happy to just sit and look at the place, mind you we might get a bit hungry. (Number to come).
Hash House: This traditional Thai eaterie always looks pretty, if a little chaotic, with its year-round fairy lights. You can eat and smoke on the roof and the fish cakes are to die for. (17 715 094).
Masso: Moving along to the other end of the block, we’ve so far been very impressed by the offerings at chef Susy Massetti’s Masso. If you like fish, you won’t go wrong here. (17 725 000).
Shawarma Alley – Yep we couldn’t finish our list without a mention of the first place most people see in Block 338, the section of Osama Bin Zaid lined with shawarma stands where you can pick up dinner for a few hundred fils without even leaving your car. We also tried Mino’s, another of Adliya’s old favourites.
I am the other
One of the pillars of the Block 338 experience during March and April will be the exhibition I am the other in which visiting artist in residence at Al Riwaq Art Space Mo Reda begins his journey of otherness in Bahrain before continuing on to other locations in the Middle East.
Reda’s works explore the origins of the distancing and divisions between the self and the other. The journey Reda takes begins with a series of questions: Who is the other? Why do we include and exclude the other from our own selves? Where does the self end and the other begin? How can we exclude the other, when we ourselves are ‘the other’ to those around us?
When asked about a defining moment in his life, Amsterdam-based Reda would always go back to being born in Kuwait and growing up there under unusual circumstances. Having been born to parents of Iraqi nationality, he was suddenly branded as an unwelcome ‘other’ at the outbreak of the 1990 Gulf War. Despite being an ‘enemy’, he was also seen as a friend and victim because of his Kurdish background.
Reda’s project spans a period of three months as he collaborates with artists in Bahrain and together, they develop their works and create their own concepts based on the theme of ‘the other’. For the project, the artists are occupying Bohemia, an abandoned building in the heart of modern Block 338 in Adliya, and transforming it into a space to display their works.