Hasan Habib Hasan on changing careers for the love of food
Time Out Bahrain staff
Banker, artist, (self taught) chef, restaurateur – you could be forgiven for thinking it’s some sort of barmy take on the classic Le Carre spy novel, but it’s actually the life story of Hasan Habib Hasan.
The managing director of Pasta Art is also responsible for designing the venue’s interiors, painting the impressive artworks on display and is pretty much chief cook and bottle washer (oh alright, the bottle washer bit’s not quite true).
But it wasn’t always that way. For more than 30 years Hasan was a banker, working with the likes of Lloyds in the UK and heading up finance at Nestle, before he decided it was time to follow his dream. He said: “I’ve always been into food, particularly Italian food, I cook for my family, friends and colleagues and have done for years. In fact opening my own restaurant has been my dream for a very long time. “So when the banking crisis hit, it presented the ideal opportunity – from 2008 until last year I was thinking about it and preparing and we opened in December 2011.”
And he chose the venue carefully, in the Zamal Tower at Manama Gate, right downstairs from his former banking colleagues who have now become lunchtime customers.
“It’s great, the friends I used to invite to my home now come to my restaurant and they love it. And it’s also a great way to show some of my younger former colleagues that you really can follow your dream.”
Passionate about providing exactly the kind of ambience he has been seeing in his mind’s eye all this time, Hasan set about designing the interiors himself – everything from the colour of the table cloths to the menus and placemats – which feature an educational paragraph about pasta – ‘I did everything, except the two vases which came from a friend who’s a fellow artist’.
His own artworks are on the walls, hence the name Pasta Art – the art of food – and give another indication of his creativity. This Bahrain Banksy uses a spray paint technique not found anywhere else on the island to produce silhouettes of desert scenes.
But it’s the food that really makes an impression.
Hasan explains: “I’m absolutely passionate about the ingredients, everything should be as fresh as possible and I will not compromise on quality.
“Our ravioli is home-made and all our other pastas are sourced directly from Italy with extra virgin olive oil coming in from Spain.
“I’ve been training my chef to make sure he tastes absolutely everything before it leaves the kitchen, I say to him ‘if you don’t taste it, that’s when you start to get food sent back’, it’s a lesson very well learned though I’m here every day and still do quite a bit of the cooking myself.”
The dishes range from the simple tagliatelle with pinenut and walnut pesto to fettuccine with shrimp, broccoli, onion, cherry tomatoes, basil and pine nuts in tomato or cream sauce.
There are also different soups daily and look out for the lasagna stacks salad. It’s another dish you’re unlikely to find anywhere else on the island – lasagna sheets, layered with rocca leaves, sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil leaves with a pesto dressing.
From the menu choice to the surroundings Hasan has gone all out to realise his vision and he hopes he can inspire his countrymen to do the same.
“I wanted to come up with something different and to also maybe be an inspiration to young Bahrainis,” he said. “I’m living proof that if you want something you should just go for it.
“I can honestly say it was absolutely the right move, I just wish I had done it years ago – I would have four or five restaurants by now…”
Spaghetti with pesto in cream sauce
Ingredients: Spaghetti Fresh basil Garlic Walnuts Pine nuts Olive oil Salt and pepper
Method: Heat olive oil slightly, add garlic, pesto sauce, walnuts and pine nuts and cream, season with salt and pepper, add spaghetti, cook for one minute add fresh basil and some grated cheddar cheese and grated parmesan cheese.
Serve with local bread deep fried to a crisp, golden brown.