I find it interesting that up to this day, we have not yet dined in an authentic, Saudi restaurant. Ain’t that a shame? Here we are promoting Riyadh, Saudi Arabia but we’ve never experienced eating real Saudi food. Well, shame no more because I’ve finally visited Bialah Restaurant, a chic and modern nod to Saudi cuisine.
I could attest to having eaten several Saudi dishes of course, but it was always in various event and never in a real themed restaurant. In Bialah, they have taken traditional Saudi dishes and have prepared them in a contemporary manner. The same thinking went on to their ambiance and decor — while the restaurant is quaint with the family section dining indoors and outdoor seating for the single section, the interiors are elegantly accented with Saudi symbols like the keffiyeh (red and white headdress for men) pattern in a panel painting and Arabic calligraphy stenciled in their plate settings.
Upon arriving, the Saudi hospitality of offering Gahwah (Arabic coffee) is extended wile we began browsing their menu. We noticed that they had a significant selection of Taatima or dips/spreads that are meant to be enjoyed with the creations of their bakery. For example, we tried their Red Cheese and Eggplants with Humar that came along with flat, crispy Fatoot bread with black seeds. It was served in a big wooden platter and the dips are packaged in small jars that you can take home after (in case you don’t finish it all). The Red Cheese dip was similar to the taste of a pimiento spread as it is also made with red bell peppers. The Fatoot bread was something new but I preferred to spread the cheese dip into a khubus/tamis bread instead.
For a bout with traditional names in Saudi cuisine, we also tried their version of the Foul (pronounced as “fool”) which is basically fava beans mashed to perfection. It’s meant to be eaten with torn off Tamis and dipped before swallowing. I was delighted with how light and fluffy their Foul was, as it was almost what a cloud’s texture would be if it were a dish. The flavors were very basic but it can always be enhanced with a squeeze of lemon or some herb condiments that you can request.
One of my favorite Saudi/Arab dishes is the Felafel, which is made of groud chickpeas molded into balls and deep fried. It’s great as a sandwich or on its own but when I saw that they had made a salad version of it, I was intrigued and ordered it.
At first it didn’t look too enticing but once we mixed it all and had our first taste of it, our table agreed that it was flavorful and worth a second, third and fourth bite. It had a lot of zest from the pickles and tahina and crunch coming from the cabbage and felafel crumbs. The eggplant and tomatoes in between cushioned it all in one happy texture fusion.
The other good options you could try are their Chicken and Beef Tacos. Now, I know, tacos are not Saudi food but they basically twisted the idea of a Mexican taco by using Arabic ingredients. They’ve used the pastry usually reserved for Sambusas and have used either chicken tikka with sesame seeds or ground beef with pomegranate as its fillings. I personally enjoyed the beef tacos more and secretly didn’t want to share it with anyone else (peace, guys).
The evening’s novelty choice goes to the Popcorn Sambosak which are teeny, tiny version of a real sambusah only not oily and comes in a paper cone with condiments on the side.
We got the assorted version which had beef, chicken and labnah with zaatar and took turns dipping them in the sauce before popping them in our mouths. I think it’s a fun eat for both kids and adults and I can appreciate the creativity behind the concept of including this recipe in the menu.
You may notice that most of our orders were appetizers or starters so we decided to try at least one of their main dishes, particualrly the Pomegranate Bamia. It was okra cooked with beef, pomegranate molasses and lemon juice with rice underneath. I would say that it’s definitely a dish that’s not mainstream for our palettes but if it’s a representation of Saudi food and you’d like to experience it then you’d have to welcome the idea of a different taste.
For me, the dish was pretty much a one-note thing with all soft textures and a somewhat sharp acidic base. I would put a little salt on it to balance the flavor but other than that, it was a decent dish.
Our quick dessert was one of their Sweet Muttabaq of stuffed pancakes (they also have a savory selection). From sweet cheese, bananana, apples or Nutella – we chose the Nutella. It would have been good though if we didn’t let them serve it to us along with the other dishes because the softness of the bread dried out and made it chewy when we got to the dessert part. Muttabaq is best eaten when freshly cooked and served so that it’s soft and proper to eat.
For our drinks we tried their in-house iced tea and lemon mint drinks which were served is smaller glasses than expected. They’re not the usual 12 oz or 16 oz glasses that we know of but they were refreshing. We just want more of it for the 14SR or 18sr that we paid for.
Bialah Restaurant would be a good option if you were taking a friend or colleague who is visiting Riyadh and would like to experience Saudi food. Although, I can contest the lack of shawarma or kabsah in their menu to depict what I’ve always known as Saudi food. 😛 It would also serve us Riyadhizens some good to claim that we have indeed eaten in a Saudi food restaurant after the years we’ve spent here. But then again, if it’s not your cup of tea, then you can always go ala carte in your nearby local restaurants as the food there is a bit expensive too.
Along Tahlia St., across The Mira Hotel
Tel: (011) 4724140 – (011) 4724240 / 800 247 4400
Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat: @bialahksa