Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Bahrain Restaurant Review; Villa Mamas


Villa Mamas one-of-a-kind for Bahraini food

Tucked away in the most unexpected of places is the most unexpected restaurant I’ve ever been to in Bahrain. Located in a yet-to-be- opened compound opposite Saar cinema, Villa Mamas is literally a hidden gem that I predict will become a must-stop destination on everyone’s itinerary.

Hidden treasure: Villa Mamas

Villa Mamas is located in this compound opposite Saar cinema

Entrance to compound (no signs)


The entrance to the compound is right in front of the intersection after Saar cinema: 
in this view, Saar cinema is on the right, road leading to Miami Park on the left


If you live in or have visited Bahrain, chances are you have complained that there is no place where you can go to eat local Bahraini cuisine. And finally now, we have an option.

Run by Bahraini Roaya, this restaurant is a true family restaurant that was built on a dream. An ex-banker, Roaya switched careers and spent a couple of years creating her menu in the build-up to Villa Mamas’ opening. Her vision was to open a restaurant that featured authentic cooking (focus on Bahraini and Persian dishes) and allowed her to share her love of cooking with everyone.

Roaya's cooking tips serve as the backdrop to your meal



A contemporary interpretation of traditional dishes


Unique in every sense of the word: from the menu, that has a vast variety of top quality food including nostalgic items that can usually only be found in our homes, to weekend nights when Roaya’s four sons help out serving in the dining area. Roaya herself is quite a character with a passion that is contagious.

I’ve visited the restaurant on two evenings- once on a Thursday night when the restaurant was at  (over) capacity, and once during the week. The food, on both occasions, was delicious. The atmosphere is cosy and homely, but the service – though improved between the first and second visit- needs a lot of work.

Food

The food at Villa Mamas is cooked with love, and you can actually taste this. Top quality yumminess such that barely any food goes back uneaten.

The first time we went for dinner we were a group of six and for many of us it was our first visit. We ordered a variety of items: eggplant explosion, pasta (penne mountain and tagliatelle), pizza (margarita and mushroom), authentic Bahraini dishes (crabs and chili-roni), 3 salads (grilled prawn, sweet and sour and goat cheese) and a rice dish.



Penne mountain


Tagliatelle

Mushroom pizza


The eggplant explosion is a modern interpretation of kashk badhinjan, with lovely spices. Penne mountain is a vegetarian delight: penne with spinach and béchamel sauce, topped with small round mashed potato bites with a lovely salty- creamy contrast. The pizzas are TO DIE FOR- made on freshly- baked focaccia bread that is perfectly burnt on the edges, and with a wonderful blend between tomato sauce and cheese. There is a khabbaz on the premises who can be viewed from the main dining area.  The bread has a crispiness that tastes almost like خبز خباز  (khubbuz), making the pizza really light. 

On-premises bread-maker

The Bahraini dishes were really good- the crabs were finger-lickin’ good  and the chili-roni is exactly what your grandmother used to make.  The rice dish never made it to the table (more on that later) and the salads- although were the last dishes to make it over to us—were quite good.  I especially liked the sweet and sour which is arugula, pomegranates and walnuts in a tangy dressing.


Authentic Bahraini dishes feature on Villa Mamas' menu

On our next visit we tried the sweet angus burger, which by many accounts, beats the burgers at the specialized burger places that have popped up around Bahrain lately. We also tried the four cheese pizza which came highly recommended- this has blue cheese on it and I loathe blue cheese so didn’t eat it.

The Angus burger with sweet caramelized onions 

For dessert, the first time I went and asked for dessert they told us there wasn’t any. We found out later that the carrot cake had been baked but not frosted so couldn’t be served.  The second time we tried the carrot cake, which was fantastic. Although I haven't tried it, the red velvet cake is also said to be really good.



Dessert winner: the carrot cake
Although I haven't yet been due to work timings, Villa Mamas main highlight is its lunch, when Roaya serves daily specials based on what's in season.  Crabs, safi, prawn machboos, etc. are current favorites.  This is authenticity in its essence, and if you have guests from out of town, THIS is where they go to try local fare.


Prices at Villa Mamas are very reasonable- our tab on both visits was around BD 42, with dishes ranging in price from BD 2.500- 4.  For the quality of the food, and the portion size, this is really competitive.

Click for Villa Mamas Menu

Service

Villa Mamas has a LOT to work on in terms of service. Synchronization between kitchen and dining area, getting food out on time (on my first visit it took an hour for the first dish to reach us, and over the course of the next hour dishes appeared gradually), ensuring that appetizers are served before mains (salads coming at the end of the meal is simply not acceptable!).  We ended up cancelling the rice dish because 2 hours later, it was nowhere to be seen. Service was total mayhem on the weekend visit- staff were confused and unprofessional, the kids were dealing with angry customers, orders were being cancelled because they were taking too long, and customers were leaving angry and hungry.

On the second visit (weekday), noticeable improvement had been made.  The staff were more attentive and less frazzled, there was a Bahraini (adult) attending to the dining area, the food took a lot less time and the appetizers came first.  However, my lemon mint juice was not available, and we ordered the tagliatelle which we were informed 20 minutes later was not available.  Cutlery was pretty much thrown at us, plates came late,etc…  But still a DRASTIC improvement from the first time, so it looks like they have recognized the issues and are working to resolve them.
Lemon mint juice- a fast-seller

If you go, you should be prepared to wait for your food. I doubt I will go on a weekend again until I have heard that it is running more smoothly, although I think that night they had a host of problems that they weren't prepared to handle. 



Putting both food and service aside, the potential of Villa Mamas is huge.  It has already created a buzz around town and as one of only a handful of options in the area, Villa Mamas is the strongest contender by far. The vision, passion, proposition, food nostalgia, all combine to make it truly unique.  A much-needed concept, at a time when Bahrain could really use some comfort food, Villa Mamas should hold pride of place amongst us all.

Verdict: despite the service issue, Villa Mamas deserves a 2 thumz up for passion, vision, food quality and creating a place that whenever you go, it will feel like home. 

Watch out Coco’s, there’s a new kid in town! 

Contact: Villa Mamas Restaurant, Saar, +973 1730 5031 or +973 3994 2449;  or follow on twitter: @VillaMamas- Roaya is great with responding.

4 comments:

  1. Love it!!! Well written, everything about VM is just great.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Villa mama's SUX big time and Roaya is obnoxious and rude and I'm not ever ever going there again. The number of people that walked out while I was there, and it took TWO hours for my friend to get her food (the dessert came before her food came) and the rest of the 5 of us all got our entrees at different times. They gave us NO menus so we knew no prices, and the burger was BD 6.5 and the steak was BD 9.9 and they said they could not give us their menu because they were revising their prices (UP no doubt). Then she was so damn defensive and rude and just plain stupid when we told her all this, plus they had the gall to add BD 10 to our bill as a SERVICE CHARGE.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I went there once and am never going there again. The owner is loud and obnoxious and she actually sat down on our table and shared our food! That is not customer service that is borderline rude and intrusive.

    Service was horrible - late and unorganized.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The resturant, food, owner and staff are great.
    But from my openion the price is too high comparing even with 5 star hotels resturant.
    For 3 person ordering 3 rice and fish, 2 salads, 2 cakes, 2juice and 1 coffee. We paid 61 dinars.
    Honestly, Roaya is great person and I really like her way in approaching customers.

    ReplyDelete

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