Until recently, Amwaj Islands has had little to excite non-residents. But all that is about to change with the opening of Muju at the Dragon Hotel
Time Out Bahrain staff
For a country with 100 miles of coastline, Bahrain is sorely lacking when it comes to waterfront dining. Sure, there’s a smattering of restaurants from which the sea is just about discernable, but any visitor to the island would certainly be given the impression that residents of Bahrain are thoroughly aquaphobic.
Not so in Amwaj Islands, which by contrast is a veritable temple to the ocean with practically every villa boasting a slice of beachfront. And after nearly a decade of building, the islands have finally got their first up-market hotel, and with it a brand new restaurant to add to the country’s exploding dining scene. Despite its East Asian moniker, Muju’s cuisine is squarely international, with dishes crowd pleasingly ranging from sushi to spaghetti.
Alongside the restaurant, the venue boasts a lounge looking directly over the water, made atmospheric by low level lighting and the chill out tunes from the resident DJ. With its own private beach and outside decking, the lounge is a clear rival to the Ritz-Carlton’s private island and Coral Beach Club – it is not hard to envisage crowds here during the sweltering summer evenings, looking for the island life.
To celebrate the opening of a venue that actually celebrates Bahrain’s biggest asset (it’s coastline) we caught up with the head chef and resident DJ to find out more about the people who are putting Muju on the map.
Cook who’s talking
We catch up with the latest addition to Bahrain’s burgeoning cuisine scene, Vito Fornelli, the executive chef at Muju.
Where are you from? I come from southern Italy, which is where I studied and worked before moving to London to work at Claridge’s. I moved here to experience something different, and to open the restaurant, Muju.
If you train as a chef in Italy, you focus on Italian cuisine, right? Of course yes, especially in the south where we have a lot of Mediterranean dishes. The menu at Muju, however, is very international in order to satisfy all different tastes.
It is hard to cook from a menu that is so diverse? No, it is not that hard, so long as you are willing to learn new things and continually improve to make it better. I was in London for five years where I had to serve a lot of international cuisine.
What’s your impression of Bahrain so far? Bahrain so far is a little bit different to Europe and especially London, but it is a nice place to live.
What do you like most about living in Bahrain? I like the Bahrain seaside, and I like the people here. Bahrain is a very interesting place.
Do you miss anything about Italy? I have been here for four months and at the moment, no. What dish on the menu are you most proud of? We do some homemade pasta that comes from Italy, and I think the pasta is among the best dishes. We do a lobster ravioli with tandoori spice, there is a mix of ingredients and national cuisines.
Have you eaten out much since you’ve been in Bahrain? So far, not much. There are a few places that have quite a high class of service and food, but obviously most of them are just normal places compared to what I saw in Europe and London. But a few of them are quite interesting.
When you designed the menu, did you have a particular clientele in mind? Bahrain is very multicultural, so we wanted to make the restaurant for everybody.
What’s the dish you like cooking best at home? Just spaghetti with tomato sauce, which is also on the menu. It is a recipe from my grandmother.
If you could cook for anyone, who would you cook for? The Queen of England.
The food here has already got a reputation for great presentation. What’s your design ethos? I try to do something different, which is why I came here. Ideas come to me and I try to express them on the plate. I just use my imagination.
Hey Mr DJ!
DJ Mr Doris is on the road to disc jockey stardom, and he’s also about to make Muju one of the most happening lounges in the country. We caught up with him as he hit the decks.
Where are you from? I’m from North London originally, but spend half the year in London and half the year in Ibiza, and I have been doing that for the last 10 years.
How did you get into DJing? I have always been passionate about music and although I am inept with most instruments, I can play the piano a little bit and that was the door into music. The first holiday I had away from my parents was Ibiza, and I kept going back and getting into music more and more. When I first started going in the mid-1990’s was when the phenomenon of the DJ first blew up. I was given my first turntables by a friend of mine and I started playing in 1999.
Before I was a professional DJ I was an archaeologist, so in one aspect it is nice to be in Bahrain for the historical side, which I am still very much into. During my university years my hobby was DJing and I started playing parties for people and then playing bars and then clubs. I got my degree and started working as an archaeologist for a couple of years, but it is very bad pay – you start on the minimum wage. Party because of this, and partly because I started to get booked more and more and didn’t have the time to do both, I had to choose one or the other. Although I am still very much interested in history and archaeology, I was having more fun DJing, where I was working less hours and getting more money, so it took off like that.
How did you get involved in Muju? I came out last February for a gig at Cocoon Lounge. It was a fantastic night, and I kept in touch with Damian D’Costa [the man behind Cocoon Lounge]. Damien came over to Ibiza last summer, when I was resident for Pacha, Space and several other clubs. I gave him a CD and he contacted my agent to say that there was an opening here. I have a tour lined up in Australia and have bits and bobs in Dubai and China, but I’m the resident DJ here. I’d like to think I bring a little of the Mediterranean sound to the Middle East - from one island (Ibiza) to another (Bahrain).
What was the first professional gig you ever played? The first ever professional momentous gig was Pacha, Ibiza in 2004, that’s when I realised that I could actually do something with this. Then that same year I also got Space. From then on every year it has progressed.
What’s the best gig you have ever played? There are so many, but last year I was resident DJ for a beach bar in Ibiza called El Chiringuito and there were monsoons, it was pouring down with rain. I started playing Cuban jazz and everyone in the whole place started dancing in the rain, which was a moment. For some reason the rain, the heat and the music combined to make that. And then that same day I moved on after playing six hours at El Chiringuito to play the closing of Space. It was still raining, and the room that I was playing in was half open. But that didn’t stop anyone, they just went mad.
As a DJ, you provide the entertainment, but you don’t really partake in it. Is being a DJ much fun? It depends on the venue and if it’s a good gig. It is my job to entertain one way or another. In Muju it is not about getting people dancing, it is about getting people in the mood and see if they want to get up and have a wiggle.
Do you spend much time clubbing, for research purposes? I used to, but not anymore. If something new is coming up or a DJ that I really want to see then sure, though these days I tend to go for more live stuff which is more the direction that I am going in. The funny thing is, the more work I have got, the less I go out to clubs because I have had enough. If I have been DJing six or seven hours a day and had music in my ears for six or seven hours a day the last thing I want to do is head off and listen to music unless it is real chill out stuff. But even then, I’d prefer to go outside and listen to the sea, or find somewhere with absolute silence.
Do you have a signature track? St Germain ‘Rose Rouge’. I can play that anywhere.
If you could give Muju an anthem, what would it be? Juju Orchestra ‘Kind Of Latin Rhythm’; Dimitri From Paris ‘La Vie’; Quantic Soul Orchestra ‘Feeling Good’. All of which you’ll be able to find on the new Muju Mint mix compilation...
What makes a good night, are there any essential ingredients? It depends what angle you are going for. In a place like Muju, it is about subtlety. You don’t want to be in their faces, but they still need to nod their head and appreciate the music. But when I play a festival in, say, Australia, I’ll play music that will hit the back of the tent. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? I can see myself settling down in Ibiza. I like the Spanish way of life. I will still be DJing, but I don’t want this to be my only occupation in life. I am looking at opening a jazz lounge there. To hear some of Mr Doris’ mixes and to find out more information, visit www.mrdoris.co.uk.