Every year, the Time Out Bahrain team spends many hours (and dinars) eating our way around the country’s best restaurants in time for our annual Restaurant Awards ceremony. Throughout the process, we uncover some seriously stand-out dishes from all sorts of spots that have us day-dreaming for months. From cheap and cheerful but amazingly flavourful plates to Michelin quality pieces of art, we reveal, in no particular order, our 20 favourite dishes of 2014.
Baby spinach and goat’s cheese salad
La Vinoteca Barcelona
It might not sound particularly Spanish but we’ve been raving about this dish ever since we first set eyes on it. Firstly, the plate is a stunning and colourful work of art that never fails to impress. It would be difficult to name every ingredient on the plate in this space, as it’s abundant, but you’ve got your fresh baby spinach and velvety goat’s cheese, alongside creamy quinoa and other tiny flavour infusions like a tart terrine, fruit puree and sticky balsamic reduction. We’ve forced it upon a few salad skeptics and turned them into drooling fanboys so we wholeheartedly recommend this dish to you too.
BD5.9++. Open daily noon- 2am. Adliya, Block 338 (1700 7808).
This brand new Dutch-inspired café serves wholesome grub alongside lighter fare but we think they do comfort food best, especially when it comes to this flavoursome shepherd’s pie. It comes neatly presented and generously portioned, and it’s best enjoyed with a healthy portion of the Paatjes Special (chips with onions, mayonnaise and curry sauce). It’s hearty food that can’t get any better.
BD7.2++. Open daily noon-1am. Block 338, Adliya (3200 0177).
Spicy Angus beef tenderloin
While we’ve tried a smattering of exquisite dishes in Akiko this year so far, it’s the ‘Gyuhire Sumbiyaki Karami Sauce Zuke’ that’s really stolen our hearts. In English, this means the spicy Angus beef tenderloin with sesame, red chilli and sweet soy. The presentation of the dish is simple yet elegant, keeping in line with the contemporary cool style of Akiko. When we first tasted it, the medium-rare steak we ordered had been cooked to perfection and the garnishes really made this dish soar.
BD15. Open Sun-Wed noon-midnight. Thu-Sat noon-2am. Adliya, behind Café Italia (1771 7080).
A timeless classic – the lobster linguine is a constant favourite among foodies and Italian cuisine lovers. But it can either end up being a shining star on the menu, or a major let-down. Luckily, at the stylish and contemporary Italian restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain the former is the case. The chefs at Primavera have got cooking lobster down to a fine art, and the result is a dish so flavourful with the seafood so delectable, and the pasta the perfect amount of al dente.
BD16.5. Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel & Spa, Seef District (1758 0000).
It might seem strange for us to be recommending a Japanese dish from a South East Asian bar concept but Thai Lounge, by the poolside at The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain, has become well known for serving up some incredible sushi. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, the unicorn rolls are easily our favourite, and often cited by the Kingdom’s sushi lovers as some of the best rolls this island has to offer with its teasing textures, deep flavours and fresh ingredients.
BD4.5++. Open daily 10am-1am. The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel & Spa, Seef (1758 0000).
Scallop and shitake dim sum
Initially, our reviewers were a bit reluctant to try this variety of dim sum from popular South East Asian spot Wok. This is because it contains not one, but two, ingredients that can so easily go wrong in the kitchen. However, the skill with which both the scallop and shitake are cooked, and the ways in which the flavours used fuse and harmoniously tie these little steamed parcels of joy together, is nothing short of genius.
BD4.8. Open Wed-Mon 7pm-11pm. Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, Zallaq (1763 6363).
For sheer novelty value, this dessert could not be missed out on this list. The kitchen team at Bayti, using a customised shawarma machine, have paired Bahrain’s most popular national snack with the world’s favourite dessert ingredient. The chefs shave sprinklings of delicious chocolate from the machine into a crepe-like wrap and then serve it alongside some melted chocolate dipping sauce, smooth vanilla ice cream and apple cinnamon-crusted ‘chips’. It’s a combination that works incredibly well and, despite yourself, you’ll polish the entire platter off.
BD2. Open daily 7am-midnight. Next to Bahrain Financial Harbour, Manama (1722 9788).
A second timeless classic makes it onto this list, as its very rare that someone would turn down a chocolate fondant. It’s an incredibly difficult dish to get right, never mind perfect, but chic Japanese restaurant Mirai has managed to do just that.
Their version of the chocolate fondant has no frills but thanks to the quality of ingredients used, and the mad pastry-making skills from the kitchen, this is easily one of the best and most delicious desserts we’ve had all year.
BD5. Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-11pm. Block 338, Adliya (1771 3113).
Potato Gnocchi with mixed mushrooms
It might not be an obvious choice for a ‘best dish’ but Saveur’s gnocchi is gourmet, homely, sophisticated and comforting all rolled into one. The gnocchi, which has a super soft middle and excellently crispy casing, is covered with mushrooms, artichokes, garlic, fresh sage and virgin olive oil, a tomato-based light sauce and a medley of flavours, including what we detect as a hint of nutmeg, that makes it taste so autumnal and lovely that even though it’s generously portioned and heavy, will make you keep eating until there’s no morsel left.
BD4.5++. Open daily 6.30am-11am, 12.30pm-4pm, 7pm-10.30pm. The Westin Bahrain City Centre, Seef (1717 1000).
Diners that have been to Time Out Restaurant of the Year 2014, Masso, all have their own favourite dish but, this year, we’ve been wow-ed by the beef lasagne that often appears on their award-winning brunch menu. Even though there are plenty of dishes to choose from every week, we always order seconds of this as the sauce with mirepoix is bursting with flavour, and the meat and pasta are always perfect.
BD19++ or BD25++ for brunch. Served Fri and Sat noon to 4pm. Palace Boutique Hotel, Adliya (1772 1061).
With burger houses threatening to take over, it’s certainly tough competition for title of ‘Bahrain’s best burger’. As more and more patties pop up on the country’s menus, we cannot claim the award-winning Polo Gastropub’s version does ultimately deserve the top accolade, but it certainly does earn a spot on this list. The Polo Burger is made using certified Angus beef consisting of brisket, rump and fat trimmings, soaked for 12 hours in brine, and then created using their own special recipe. The result is a burger so delicious and so moist served in a homemade brioche bun that is so soft that you’ll be thinking of it for days.
BD5.4. Open daily noon-2am. Palace Boutique Hotel, Block 338 (1772 5000).
Tom Yum Soup
Honey’s Thai Restaurant
When it comes to Thai food, an excellent Tom Yum Soup is the holy grail and Honey’s Thai Restaurant, the budget-friendly restaurant by Gold City in the souq, which has been around since 1986, has nailed it. Everything they offer on their extensive menu is authentic and spot on, but we’ve most enjoying scooping up this soup this year with its rich and complex, aromatic flavours, and well-cooked seafood. The generous portion and reasonable price just adds to its utter brilliance.
BD2.5. Open daily 10am-5.30am. Next to Gold City, Manama Souq (3923 8507).
Saffron by Jena Bakery
We couldn’t very well ignore Bahraini cuisine on this list, particularly as the island’s traditional eateries have been really pushing the boundaries for authentic, Khaleeji food. None more so than our ‘Best Bahrain’ restaurant in 2014, Saffron by Jena Bakery. As there’s no menu, and you’ll be served with a platter of Bahraini goodies, it’d be hard for us to narrow it down to just one dish, but a breakfast here is one of champions. It comes with a range of customary brekkie dishes including foul, balaleet, bajilla, eggs with tomato and others you won’t find elsewhere. Combine all that with a cup of their über saffron-flavoured karak chai and you’ll be off to a good start in your day.
BD4. Open daily 8am-10pm. Near the NBB strip, Muharraq (1362 3191).
Prawn and black cod gyoza
The Japanese dining scene has really stepped up a notch this past year and sophisticated restaurant and lounge, Ruka, which is perched atop Ramee Grand’s 24th floor in Seef, is one venue that’s made a considerable addition. While many of their menu items are spectacular, none have left us as star-struck as the prawn and black cod gyoza. These Japanese dumplings are encased in a thin dough and then stuffed with beautifully cooked seafood – the textures are flaky, supple, with a wonderful crispness from the crust. Superb.
BD7.8++. Open daily 12.30pm-11.30pm. Ramee Grand Hotel & Spa, Seef (1711 1999).
We don’t know where this local neighbourhood Italian eatery gets their cheese from but we do know it’s utterly fantastic when melted on top of a pizza. La Scala is the Time Out team’s go-to take-out of the moment (although you can also eat-in at their stylish Budaiya-based venue). When we need a pizza of such quality, we order the margarita, but they do have over 20 other varieties of pizza on their menu too. The crispy thin crust and base is slightly charred and excellently executed, while the tomato and cheese topping is so rich in flavour, it’s what pizza dreams are made of.
BD3.2. Open Mon-Sat noon-11pm. Budaiya Highway, Budaiya (1769 9997).
Smooth creaminess from the cake, buttery goodness from the crust, and fruity tartness from the passionfruit combine to create one of the best cheesecakes we’ve had all year. Café Amsterdam has two strings to its bow, cooking comfort savoury food and heavenly desserts wonderfully, which is why it’s scored two dishes on this list! Read our review on page 44 for more of our thoughts on this dish.
BD3.5++. Open daily noon-1am. Block 338, Adliya (3200 0177).
Angus sliders in squid ink buns
Tapas Bar & Restaurant
You’ve probably noticed the recent Japanese phenomenon of squid ink black burgers on social media. Now you won’t have to travel quite so far to try this latest craze, which we think is more than a passing fad. The jet-black sheen of the buns adds serious dramatic flair to the presentation of this trio of sliders, although many will be relieved to know the squid ink doesn’t affect the flavour. The black Angus beef patty melts in your mouth, like the red cheddar and mozzarella on top of it. These stand out in every way.
BD4.8. Open Wed-Mon 7pm-11pm. Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, Zallaq (1763 6363).
You can’t go wrong with any of the classic pizzas on the menu at Cucina Italiana – each emerges from the wood fired oven a vision of rustic perfection – but it’s on the Quattro Stagioni that the quality of fresh ingredients and expert seasoning really stood out to us. The toppings take your senses on a tour of Italy’s four seasons, involving artichoke heart, olives, sweet basil, smoked beef and more. Meanwhile, the dough is handmade into authentically thin yet substantial, crisp bases that are a contender for Bahrain’s best.
BD6 (large). Open daily 11am-midnight. Al Safir Hotel, Juffair (1700 1317).
Wagyu beef risotto with truffle oil
Epicures will be accustomed to seeing both Wagyu beef and truffle oil on menus, but not together in a risotto. This unusual, upmarket take on the classic Mediterranean dish is both satiating and morish. Crucially, the Arborio rice is cooked to al dente perfection, and the bite-sized strips of beef are perfectly tender. The flavour of truffle oil is distinct without being overpowering, in what is otherwise a simple yet well-seasoned dish.
BD10. Open daily: Sat-Wed noon-midnight; Thu-Fri noon-2am. Adliya (17744774).
‘Light’ bento box
The selection at Bushido’s business lunch is wide, with plenty of excellent options (hence why it’s won ‘Best Business Lunch’ at our awards five years in a row) but this platter impresses with it’s fresh, light flavours across the grilled salmon, sashimi, veg, soup and even the final fruit salad. It’s perfect for a light lunch before heading back to work.
BD7.5. Served Sat-Wed noon-3pm. Bushido, Seef District (1758 3555).