Warm hospitality and authentic flavours were on the menu at Zahrat Al Fayrouz, as Melissa Nazareth savoured an extravagant Levantine dining experience at Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa.
Offering a tranquil retreat for all ages and preferences, Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa is nothing short of a palace from the Arabian Nights. Ideally located on the south-west coast of the Kingdom, it is the perfect spot for a family staycation, a weekend with friends or loved ones or even an exquisite dining experience. That’s what I discovered at Zahrat Al Fayrouz, a restaurant serving up a selection of Levantine dishes, located on Basement 2.
Moderately lit, it beckoned to us with soothing Arabic instrumental music. The décor, traditional yet exhibiting modern touches, is impressive to say the least. It’s in keeping with the opulence of the rest of the hotel; Oriental rugs draping the reception desk, dark wood furniture upholstered in crimson and Levantine turquoise, pottery displays, paintings, mesh partitions and archways. The restaurant is spacious with private dining sections and an extensive outdoor area – perfect to unwind with a hookah – Zahrat Al Fayrouz has a selection of flavours you can enjoy.
Our generous host guided us to a table of our choice and soon after, the feast commenced. First came the mezze. It’s typically served with a bread basket of what we were told is Turkish bread – airy and topped with sesame seeds. You can order other varieties separately; we went for Pita. Among the cold appetisers, we had hummus, baba ghanouj, moutabel and muhammara. I thoroughly enjoyed the smoky flavours of the grilled eggplant in the baba ghanouj and moutabel. The muhammara, made from chilli paste, garnished with buttery chopped walnuts and infused with a tangy pomegranate sauce and fruity olive oil, was silken and delicious.
Our hot appetisers included Batata Harra, cheese rakakat, spinach fatayer, meat sambousek and fried kibbeh. I dived into the Batata Harra, fried and spiced potato cubes. Zahrat Al Fayrouz’s version has a good kick to it, which appealed to my Indian palate. Next in the line of favourites for me were the beef kibbeh. Crispy on the outside, they encased an exceedingly flavourful minced meat filling, cooked in intense, earthy spices that provided a gentle heat. We also tried Lahmeh Bel Ajeen Manakish, a pizza-like dish topped with aromatic minced lamb and toasted pine seeds for crunch.
Before our main course arrived, my companions and I cleansed our palates with some refreshing salads. While you can never go wrong with fattoush and tabbouleh, the jarjeer stood out for me. A bed of pungent green rocket leaves and juicy sliced tomatoes and onions, all brought together with premium quality olive oil, vinegar and pomegranate sauce. What I love about pomegranate sauce is that it’s tangy but with a hint of sweetness, which is quite different when compared to the citrusy zing of limes and lemons.
The first main course to arrive was the Vegetarian Thareed. A traditional Middle Eastern stew, thareed usually also has meat. However, this version was an absolute delight. The broth had so many levels of flavour with the spices and aromatics. It complemented the light, saffron-infused long-grain rice topped with fried onions. The dish is also served with Arabic bread that you can dunk in this rich curry, topped with raisins and blackcurrants.
This was followed by the mixed grill platter, which featured Bahraini tikka – zinged up with the local black lime spice – meat and chicken skewers and a lamb chop. We constructed our own bitesized wraps around this juicy, meaty goodness and topped them with the accompanying grilled onion, chilli and tomato. Our cold mezze came in handy here, serving as sauces. That’s the beauty of Levantine dining – you can go back to previously served courses as you please.
Next came a hearty plate of Mansaf, which we were told by our generous host is a Jordanian dish, popular in Palestine too. Zahrat Al Fayrouz offers a variety, from Lebanese and Iranian to Greek-inspired creations. The Mansaf comprised of a lamb shank sat royally on a bed of yellow stout-grained Oriental rice. The meat was braised and exceedingly tender to cut and eat. It complemented the rice, which was topped with toasted almonds for crunch. The lamb is coated in laban jameed – yoghurt made from goat’s milk, which offers a slight tartness to every bite and works supremely well with the robust flavours of the flesh.
If there’s one dish you try at Zahrat Al Fayrouz, let it be the spinach and cheese baklava. I never knew baklava could be prepared as a savoury creation. A splendid medley of eggs, spinach, potatoes and salty Akawi cheese layered with filo pastry and drizzled with a buttery chickpea relish, it blew my mind. And the Kuku Sabzi, an airy Levantine egg muffin, was served with a yoghurt dip and utterly moreish.
We washed down this rich feast with a fizzy concoction of hibiscus, oranges, lemons and mint laced with star anise, which was refreshing. For dessert, we kept it simple – or so we thought – with a selection of ice creams. The flavours were exotic and I personally have never had them anywhere else in Bahrain – hibiscus sorbet, date mascarpone and orange blossom. The scoops sat on a crumble that complemented each particular flavour. A sweet and pleasantly surprising ending that will surely make us return for more.