A Weekend in Riyadh: The Globe Restaurant

The Atmosphere

img_0516After my wonderful spa treatment downstairs, I headed up to the very tippy top of the Al Faisaliah Tower. The tower is supposed to look like a giant ball-point pen (I dunno who thought that was cool for a skyline), and the “ball” part of the “pen” is a huge silver globe in which sits a gourmet restaurant called (originally) The Globe.

This place is super fancy and has a 300 riyal minimum for dinner. There’s also a cigar lounge with a 200 riyal minimum, and supposedly they do a High Tea in the afternoons, which I didn’t get to do because I opted for the Museum, having only one day, but really hope to do if I find myself with an afternoon free in Riyadh again.

The picture on the left is from the restaurant’s own website, since it was too dark and full of people for me to get a good picture when I was there.

As you can hopefully see, the entire wall is part of the glass ball. There is also a glass barrier between the tables and the globe itself, so the floor stops short of the outside wall, creating the fantastic sense of having the city spanning out under and around you. Not as vertigo inducing as you might think, however. To the right is the view from my own table.

They have seasonal rotating menus, and to make this easier, the menu is on a tablet rather than printed. My water (45 riyals) was in a beautiful glass bottle that was kept in a champagne chiller next to my table. The bread was actually a bread sampler platter with five different types of bread as well as butter and a tangy dipping sauce.

But Kaine, you don’t eat wheat! My friends exclaim… turns out that may be limited to America.

The Bread Basket

img_0535The crispy baguette (long and pointy at both ends) was my favorite. A super crispy outside with a soft fluffy interior. I finished that one. Moving to the right there are two brown bread buns, the one on the bottom was a little sweet with dried fruit pieces with a softer, chewier texture, and the one above was herby and savory with a slightly crisper crust (nothing like the baguette). Only one bite each for those. The bread in the glass at the top right was actually fried in some kind of herbed oil. It is what croutons want to be when they grow up. Alone it was delightful, crunchy but thin enough to be flakey, the oil was pleasant rather than greasy. In the dipping sauce it was outta this world. I didn’t polish it off, but it did get a second bite as well as second place. Finally the ciabatta, the square bread in the upper left. Also very nice, a crust that maintained a balance of crispy and chewy with a white interior, only slightly less fluffy than the baguette. Two bites and third place.

The Appetizer

img_0537Next, the waiter brought out a sample appetizer (or possibly a palette cleanser) that I hadn’t ordered, but was happy to try. If you could sort of imagine a guacamole ice-cream cone… which doesn’t do this justice. The “cone” was made from corn meal, but not just any tortilla, it was impressed with the crosshatch marks of an ice-cream cone and either made with a sweet corn (most likely) or a little extra sugar because it was just slightly sweeter than a regular tortilla. It was also delicately thin, like a wafer cookie. The guacamole filling was very creamy and mild. Totally smooth with a good blend of avocado and lime, but not enough garlic or chili to cling in the mouth or ruin the main course.

The Main Dish

I ordered lamb. I’ve heard really wonderful things about the quality of seafood in Riyadh’s high end restaurants, but I have a long standing aversion to ordering seafood in a land-locked place. Chicken is for safe bets when you’re not sure about the chef. And given a choice between beef and lamb, I’m partial to lamb, although I know the flavor isn’t for everyone.

img_0538I ordered mine rare. I’d read that Saudi restaurants often have trouble with this, but the Globe chef clearly knew what he was doing. I know rare is supposed to be cold in the middle and red all the way through, but I prefer the much more elusive warm and red center. He nailed it. The lamb was not only tender, juicy and cooked to perfection, it was topped with an herbed bread crumb crust and feta crumble which complimented the meat beautifully. Served on a bed of rosemary risotto and porcini mushrooms. Framed by tart grape tomatoes, lightly roasted and drizzled with a tomato reduction. I really enjoyed going back and forth between the flavors, trying different combinations of the savory risotto, earthy mushrooms, salty feta and tart tomato with the wonderful umame of the meat and each other. This was also a very generous portion, making me glad I’d skipped lunch.

For Afters

After a long slow savoring of dinner, it was time for desert and coffee. While I am an eternal chocoholic, there is one dessert I can never pass up at a fancy restaurant: the crème brûlée. I can still remember discovering this amazing custard treat, this creamy yet crunchy, cold yet caramelized culinary coup de grace…. my alliteration ran away with me there, but I really love crème brûlée.

img_0542This particular brûlée was served, beautifully plated in this chilled shallow dish. I have a deep appreciation for appropriately sized desserts that pack a huge flavor punch. I’ll take a tiny slice of mouth-gasm over a giant pile of meh any day.

The crispy caramelized top coat was, as you can see, not even slightly burnt, and yet it was a perfect hard crack with that ever so slightly bitter note that offsets the sweet creamy custard beneath. Atop this candied crust is a mango compote and a tiny scoop of finest vanilla ice cream.

Normally, I have strawberry or raspberry with my crème brûlée if I have any fruit at all. I would not have considered mango. Nor had I ever previously considered making a compote from mangoes. Salsa, sure, but a compote? The flavor was fascinating, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there was some peach mixed in. It wasn’t anywhere near as sweet as fresh mangoes or what I would expect from any kind of fruit compote, but it clearly wasn’t made from the tarter, less ripe mango because there was no hint of sour flavors. There was a hint of pleasant bitterness that echoed the mildly bitter flavor in the caramelized sugar topping.

I also would never have considered adding ice cream to a crème brûlée. After all, the brûlée is so creamy and delicious already, right? But as it turns out, I was wrong. If you add really good vanilla ice cream to really good crème brûlée you get really really good frozen custard. As with the main course, I enjoyed mixing and matching the different flavors and textures in different bites as I slowly devoured my dessert course. The final bite included a tiny sprig of mint. I think a good chef will try to make the garnish a flavor pair with the dish, and not simply something pretty to be discarded (maybe I watch too much cooking channel). But in this case, my faith was rewarded, and the tiny fresh mint leaves gave me one last burst of new flavors, blending with the final mouthful of custard, caramelized sugar, mango compote and vanilla ice cream. Heaven.

I finished my meal with a double Turkish coffee while looking out at the view and revelling in my day of total pampering. Just when I thought it was coming to a close, the bill paid and heading to the elevator, the maitre d’ asked if I had been to “the Experience” yet.

The Experience

img_0543The Experience, as it turns out, is the viewing platform just beneath the Globe restaurant. This my view while standing just under where I was eating a few moments before, the city below reflected in the mirrored windows. If you choose to come here without dinner, the ride to the viewing platform is 40 riyals. It’s pretty freakin’ amazing. I admit, I was full of happy hormones from the spa and dinner (yay dopamine!), but wow.

The clear glass walls that surround the viewing platform keep one totally safe while presenting the illusion that one is on the edge of the top floor of the building. However, there is no ceiling. The winds that blow 30 floors up are dampened somewhat by the sheer height of the glass walls (about 10 feet), but are still a presence to be reckoned with. Riyadh is also a very hot city, and even at night its still quite warm, so the wind whipping my abaya and hijab around was not in the least bit chilly despite the elevation.

The Globe restaurant is listed as one of Riyadh’s most romantic dining spots, and the Experience viewing platform was testimony to this. Several couples came out while I was ogling the view. Ladies were carrying roses their husbands had liberated from the tables inside. Couples looked very happy and stood very close, even holding hands, which was more PDA than I’d seen anywhere else. Definitely a romantic locale! The women’s outter garments were clearly a step up from the daily black and showed a lot more color and bling than I’d seen in the rest of Riyadh. Moreover, they had not covered their faces! All the better to enchant their husbands with their beauty. I was asked to take pictures for more than one such couple, but always approached by the woman as her husband stood well back from me, respectfully.

img_0546I circled the platform a few times, taking pictures, admiring the view of the city below and the moon above, and pausing one final time to relish the long road to the Kingdom Tower, to imagine the eye of Saruman poised between those tines and myself on the windswept tower of Isengard looking for giant eagles in the night sky. Then, spa pampered and gourmet food filled, I rode the languid elevator back to ground level where my driver awaited me by the front door to take me back to my own considerably less fantastical and less expensive hotel and sleep.

 

 

 

A Weekend in Riyadh: Al Faisaliah Spa

My actual plans for Halloween weekend having been cut short by Hai’a and/or mismanaged Abayas, I decided my Friday would not be a total waste and set about finding something Riyadh had to offer that Tabuk did not. Turns out among these are first rate spa treatments. Oh, yeah!

I’ve pretty much only experienced spa treatments piecemeal elsewhen in my life, an occasional massage, steam room, man-/pedi- but all a la carte. So when I looked at the website for the Al Faisaliah Spa, I decided I might as well splurge.

To be fair, my first choice was Luthan, which is a ladies only hotel and spa (and still on my list of things to do next time I need pampering and can plan in advance), but they require 24 hr advance booking, which didn’t work with my last minute plan change.

sau

For those who do not know the Riyadh skyline, there are Two Towers… no really, I thought for a while there had to be secret Tolkien fans on the building committee…  The Kingdom Tower looks sooo much like Barad-Dur that I’ve taken to thinking of the tower facing it across the expanse of the city as Isengard. This pic (not mine sadly) shows a full moon though the tower’s horns. If those neon lights were firey orange/red instead of purple/blue… total Eye of Sauron. Yeah, I’m a nerd. But I’m really entertained by the entire metaphor of Riyadh being Mordor and the Hai’a (religious police) as the Uruk-Hai.

Anyway, on to Isengard, I mean Al Faisaliah Tower. There’s a shopping mall, luxury hotel, super fancy restaurant and fully awesome spa. After reading the website options, I decided on a traditional Middle Eastern treatment called Hammam. Its based on the traditional Turkish bath by the same name, but really dressed up at Al Faisaliah.

img_0523First, you are buzzed into this gorgeous reception room. No men are allowed past the main doors of the spa, so everyone inside is dressed normally. The setting is all low light and soft waterfall sounds, with a sparkly starry night feel. I checked in for my appointment and was taken to a nice waiting area to complete my paperwork and enjoy a nice cup of tea, something very fancy with more herbs in it than I could remember. The room had a full wall waterfall and fresh orchids at every table.

Once my paperwork was signed and tea enjoyed, I was escorted upstairs along beautiful hallways where the floors were designed to look like boardwalk planks with light shining between them. In the changing room I met my therapist, then I was given a locker to put my stuff in, and changed into some paper undies for modesty.

Then I went to the steam room. This room was covered in beautiful blue and white tiles with iriridescent stones. There were two large quartz crystals bathed in lavender light, and another wall waterfall. Steam filled the room, sauna style, but there were spouts and shower heads so you could access cool water at need. After a few minutes in steam, my therapist came in and gave me a cool water rinse then lathered a kind of musky soap/gel on my skin. She let that sit for a few more minutes in the steam before returning to rinse it off with cool water once again, and a final few more minutes of steaming.

From the steam room we went into a massage room. If you could somehow imagine combining a massage table, a shower and a bubble bath, that’s what I experienced. First, I lay down on the heated marble massage table and my therapist exfoliated my entire body. I love exfoliation. If I could have a loofah wall in my bathroom to rub up against like a bear I would be in heaven. I actually think my skin is still soft 5 days later. The steam room and soapy stuff had softened up the skin, preparing me for the exfoliation to have maximum effect. This was done both face up and face down.

Then after a rinsing (the massage table had drains), I was covered in foamy bubbles! Like a full body bubble bath without the bathwater. I cannot explain how amazing this feels, especially after a serious exfoliation, so all my skin was soft and tender and I could feel the texture of the bubbles popping against my skin like soft little poofs. Being covered in bubbles is really cool… maybe get yourself a kiddie pool and some willing hands if you can’t find a spa that does this.

Next is a full body massage –while covered in bubbles! Using the foam as a massage oil, my therapist gave me a massage shoulders to toes, front and back. So relaxing.

After rinsing the foam off, there was another application of what was probably a moisturizer. Scents of musk and resin are very popular here in Saudi, so there really isn’t much that smells like flowers here. Also perfect for me, since I’m not a fruity-floral gal, and that meant everything that I was treated with at the spa was just fantastic smelling.

It’s still not over. The next step was a hair washing. On so few occasions does one get a hair washing massage. Its not the same as a salon wash, because the goal is less about getting your hair clean and more about making your scalp feel awesome. Did I mention the massage table was heated?

Then I took a quick shower to rinse anything that the therapist missed off, and was escorted into another room for a final layer of moisturizing lotion. After which I was wrapped in the biggest fluffiest softest bathrobe and slippers ever and taken to the relaxing room.

img_20141031_211149This room continued the beautiful starry night motif, and had large half bed-half chair things covered in pillows. There were privacy curtains for use when the room was more crowded, and one could order juice or tea to have as a relaxing refresher while simply basking in the afterglow of the treatment, the furriness of the bathrobe and listening to the calming chime-like music playing softly in the background.

After a while, I was all finished basking and ready to move on to dinner, so I was taken back to the changing room where I was left in peace to change back in to my clothes (next time I’ll be sure to bring a clean change with me!). The changing room had all manner of goodies for primping after your treatment, blow dryers, curling irons, hair spray and mousse, lotions and perfumes. One of the attendants packed my fluffy slippers up for me to take away, and I left the spa with some reluctance, tempered only by the knowledge that I was heading next for a super awesome meal experience!

(Keep reading in A Weekend in Riyadh: The Globe Restaurant, and as always see more pictures on my facebook page)

A Weekend in Riyadh: Overview

Over Halloween weekend I flew down to Riyadh to attend an amazing event: an all girl gamer convention! #GCON2014. Sadly, events being Saudi in nature meant that my plans went all awry and I had to invent some other adventure instead (or maybe in addition, since I did get to see a couple hours of the Con).

I’ve been trying to write about it all week since I got back, but it has just been crazy here. Everyone got sick, including me. We had a teacher out for surgery, myself sick for several days and missing work for one day, another teacher out for a day, the admin assistant and a bunch of the students… not to mention for the first three days of the week all the students were fasting for Muslim New Year. Not a good week for all of us at Tabuk University.

So, I’ve got one and a half blog posts written out of 4 (5 counting this one), and one photo album up on the facebook page. I was trying to get them all written and post in chronological order of my weekend, but I’ve given up on this dream in favor of simply getting something out there for you all to read.

Impressions of Riyadh:

img_0546It’s really hot there. Really hot. The city reminded me a lot of Beijing. There were many strangely shaped tall buildings under construction. I even saw one that reminded me of the EMP in Seattle, which may be the strangest building I’ve seen. This picture is the Kingdom Tower, which I still think looks like Barad-Dur.

It was pretty clean in the parts that I saw driving around. And the taxis were actually much much better than in Jeddah. I ended up having a better and less expensive experience with the taxis than either Uber or Careem, but the need for a smart phone with gps and Google Maps is still very much present, since none of the drivers know how to get anywhere.

It’s a very strange blend of conservative Saudi culture and ultra modern big city luxury. The women are dressed all in black and mostly veiled, unlike Jeddah with its colorful abayas and women showing faces and even hair! But there are taxis for women to take alone, and many places that allow women to enter and dine alone not in a separate section (not something I can do readily here in Tabuk). I admit, I didn’t get to see much in only one day, but much like Jeddah, nice place to visit, kinda glad I don’t live there.

It’s continuously amazing to me how little the Westerners who live in these cities think there is for them to do other than go to shopping malls. So far I’ve managed to avoid the malls in both Jeddah and Riyadh and still found plenty to do. The National Museum park and compound alone could keep me busy for several weekends exploring everything there. I guess it’s different if you live there a long time, but I’d think they could still remember that newcomers will find these things interesting when asked for ideas. *Shrug, oh well.

Synopsis:

The convention was scheduled for Wed-Fri (remember weekends are Fri-Sat here). I couldn’t get any days off work because one teacher was already out (surgery), so I packed my bags Wednesday night and brought them to school with me so I could go straight to the airport after school. Upon arrival I battled the evil taxi army to get to my hotel and check in, then summoned an Uber to take me to the convention.

You can read all the details of the convention in another post, but for now, just know what I saw of it was pretty awesome, and the third day (Friday) was cancelled, so I only got about 2 hours on Thursday night.

I wasn’t flying back until Saturday, so I had to find something to do Friday. I ended up going to see the National Museum, getting a first class spa treatment, and a gourmet meal atop the famous Al Faisaliah Tower.  So it was still a pretty amazing weekend, despite my plans being totally derailed.

I’m working on a post for each of the adventures, but I am not going to be able to publish them in chronological order. I do hope you’re able to enjoy them vicariously nonetheless.

🙂

Links to the other posts:

#GCON2014

King Abdulaziz Historical Center

Al Faisaliah Spa

The Globe Restaurant