After a summer of not being able to get through on the phone or find any information on the internet and generally having no idea what was going on down there in the wilds of Sakhir, it was with great pleasure that we finally got wind of the changes afoot in Al Areen Palace & Spa and secured ourselves a table at L’Ile. Would it be as good as its previous incarnations, Saffron and Le Thai? It certainly had a lot to live up to. We picked a quiet weekday evening, filled the car with petrol and bottles of water for the long journey and headed off dahhhn saaath to see what we made of it.
The new highway (I’ve been here nearly five years – to me it’s new) makes what was once a rather hellish journey almost a doddle and we made it down to the BIC from Seef in just under 20 minutes. However, there the street lights disappeared, as did any sense of non-trespassing, and we crept along the spooky, unwelcoming roads and through the bollards and traffic cones in the dark, which totally dissipated our earlier positive feelings about the drive. At least, I suppose, the pitch blackness meant we couldn’t see the cranes and unfinished building work that’s all over the place down there. This place had really better be worth it.
The Al Areen Palace & Spa is a lovely hotel. We were golf-carted from the reception down the hillside the lagoon-pool complex and private villas are set into, and dropped off at the bridge leading across the so-called wadi that surrounds the restaurant and gives it its name. Stunning is the only word to describe what we thought of it so far, and the inside too was very elegant and impressive: simple yet striking furnishings and décor overlooked by an enormous, sweeping tent-effect roof. We decided to sit outside and make the most of the surroundings and the just-right November temperatures and were led out to the verandah at the back. Unfortunately the lighting in the grounds was so low that we couldn’t see the views at all, but we got the idea. The pan pipes CD of Beatles, ABBA and Simon & Garfunkel hits aside, this was all lovely so far.
For starters I chose the warm mixed salad which consisted of mixed leaves, pieces of grilled beef, asparagus hollandaise and a very curious ‘ring’ hidden away at the bottom of it all. I presumed this was the chicken mentioned on the menu but I wasn’t entirely sure even after trying it, it was a sort of potato and chicken-type mash coated in breadcrumbs and fashioned into a ring. Quite bland in itself, but set off nicely by the asparagus hollandaise. On the whole it was a very tasty starter, though disappointingly light on the ‘salad’ part. The emphasis here was definitely on the beef, which sort of put paid to my plans for a light starter. My date had the girolle mushroom soup with raviolli. Ordering this at almost every restaurant he goes to he considers himself something of a mushroom soup connoisseur and declared this to be ‘good, but nothing extraordinary’. So that was that.
If I’d known my ‘salad’ was going to be so heavy on the meat I might have opted for a different main, but I’d gone for the lamb chops with crushed new potatoes and rosemary and mango chutney. Although if I’d been looking for anything vegetarian, I would’ve been disappointed. The meat wasn’t as tender as I personally like but fine nevertheless, and tasty enough but there was just nothing wow about it. I noticed that the promised ‘crushed new potatoes’ were missing and pointed this out to the staff who were serving us and who appeared to have no idea what I was talking about. They were on the menu, I promise! Halfway into the course and a large bowl of potato wedges was brought over. By this point I was stuffed full of meat and had no need of them, but I felt obliged to force at least a third of them down after having made a fuss.
My friend had ordered the beef churasco, an Angus beef steak with a sauce of tri-colour peppers and onions, which he enjoyed but, again, couldn’t say any more than that about.
We didn’t really need to but we decided to finish with a dessert, and ordered a chocolate trio to share. It was a scoop of cinnamon-flavoured dark chocolate set atop a blob of white chocolate mousse, balanced on a circular bed of what appeared to be Rice Krispies coated in milk chocolate, all of which we thoroughly enjoyed.
All in all, a teeny bit disappointing given which luxury resort we were in and given the trek we’d made to get there and given that they promote their grills as one of their specialities. Although I’m sure if the restaurant had been in easily-accessible Adliya we might have come away thinking how lovely that had been.
The bill (for two) Warm salad BD5.000 Mushroom soup BD4.000 Lamb chops BD9.500 Beef churasco BD8.600 Choco trio BD2.900 Coke BD1.300 Lemon and mint BD2.300 Evian (large) BD2.200 Total (incl. tax/service) BD43.229
Time Out Bahrain staffhttp://www.timeoutbahrain.com