Thanks to its fusion of Bedouin, Levantine and Persian influences, Riyadh has an exciting dining scene (Photo: Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia enjoys a rich culinary heritage thanks to its fusion of Bedouin, Levantine and Persian influences. Travellers keen to experience the country's food scene will find a plethora of interesting places to eat and drink – especially in Riyadh, its fast-evolving capital city. From sampling one of the city’s best Friday brunches at The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh's elegant Al Orjouan restaurant, to savouring the finest Arabic desserts at the tranquil sanctuary that is Fork & Pipe, here are the best culinary experiences that Riyadh has to offer.

Feast on Riyadh’s best Friday brunches

Young Saudi women enjoying lunch in Riyadh restaurant Waist-up view of Middle Eastern friends in abayas and headscarves talking and laughing as they eat a light midday meal at sunny window table

Friday brunch is a great time to get together with friends and family to enjoy good food and conversation (Photo: Getty Images)

Joining in with the convivial Friday brunch atmosphere is among the best culinary experiences in the Middle East. So, it’s worth knowing about Al Orjouan, reputed for having one of the largest — and most diverse — buffets in Riyadh. Located at The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, the venue invites diners to whet their appetites with tea and dates, before exploring myriad food stations that serve everything from freshly shucked oysters to regional staples like kofta and Levantine grills.

For a complementary take on this weekly tradition, try Kitchen on 3 at the JW Marriott Hotel Riyadh. Here you'll find a homely, market-inspired restaurant that satiates appetites with everything from any-style eggs to Arabic-style mezze.

The ultra-smart Goji Kitchen at Marriott Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter, meanwhile, presents sizzling barbecue stations and much-loved Saudi dishes such as lamb ouzi, imbued with the delicate hit of cardamon and cashews. The dining experience is often enhanced by the melodies of a live oud player.

Lastly, explorers with big appetites should get La Brasserie on their radars. Friday brunch at this Al Faisaliah Hotel restaurant invariably features lovingly prepared pots of kabsa — a type of one-pot chicken blended with myriad spices — and high-quality international and breakfast dishes including made-to-order truffle omelettes.

Savour the work of Riyadh's masterful grill chefs

JW Steakhouse at JW Marriott Hotel Riyadh

The JW Steakhouse at JW Marriott Hotel Riyadh brilliantly showcases the Saudi tradition of preparing melt-in-the-mouth steaks (Photo: Marriott International)

Saudis are passionate about cooking melt-in-the-mouth beef. After all, beef kabsa — a flavourful blend of beef, tomato, long-grain rice and aromatic spices — is considered a national dish here. At the JW Steakhouse, part of JW Marriott Hotel Riyadh, the chefs share this same dedication to succulence. The waiting staff, too – so if you struggle to know your filet mignon from your striploin, just ask. Stand-out dishes include the tender wagyu ribeye and braised ox cheeks while the pistachio-accompanied beef carpaccio adds a subtle nod to local culinary heritage.

Elsewhere, meat lovers will be bowled over by the seemingly endless options at Sultan’s Steakhouse. This highly recommended venue, popular with Riyadh locals, offers everything from lamb chops and Tomahawk wagyu steaks to spicy Middle Eastern sucuk sausage, served with pistachio and halloumi cheese.

Lying not far from Riyadh’s popular shopping district, Beefbar takes a refined approach to grilling. While international in style, highlights such as mini lamb shawarma with markook bread and the mouth-watering hummous wagyu are perfect examples of Riyadh’s creative culinary scene.

Discover quintessential Middle Eastern flavours

Chicken Kabsa

Often featuring succulent chicken, kabsa is a classic Middle Eastern dish akin to a mildly spiced biryani (Photo: Getty Images)

Those keen to dig deep into Saudi’s authentic regional cooking can visit Najd Village, a traditional village-style restaurant named after the Kingdom’s fabled Najd Highlands, an area steeped in tribal and pastoral history. Seated on traditional Arabic carpets, diners dig into banquets of lamb stews like margoog and the chicken and rice-based najd temman. Arabic coffee and desserts like the milk-based mohalabiya and the sautéed date dish qishd, bring a sweet end to this traditional Arabic experience.

Elsewhere in the city, Maiz is also renowned for its colourful, Saudi-inspired décor, but this time with a modern twist. Designed to combine various regional flavours in one, the menu is an enticing selection of smoky eggplant salads, slow-cooked lamb and charcoal-grill dishes including the traditional camel steak. Ingredients like date molasses, tamarind and zaatar make for an enticing sauce selection, while the honey and mascarpone-based massabeeb dessert can’t be missed.

Equally creative in approach is Suhail, an inviting venue that blends warm Saudi hospitality with artistically designed plates of lamb sambosah, traditional jareesh soup and stuffed vine leaves infused with traditional spices.

Diners who gravitate to more contemporary settings will also love Awani, whose two Riyadh restaurants — located in The Zone and the Nakheel Mall — serve up various mezze, and imaginative hummous and flatbread dishes, bringing diners a taste of the Levant.

Meanwhile, both Riyadh locals and guests of the centrally located Sheraton Riyadh Hotel & Towers throng to its all-day dining venue, Al Bustan, for its traditional Middle Eastern cooking. Diners are spoilt for choice by the restaurant's various barbecue and rice dishes, such as the popular kabsa. A ‘Saudi Cooler,’ also known as a ‘Saudi champagne’ — a blend of apple juice, fresh mint, and sparkling water — is a refreshing beverage to toast the night.

Sample the finest Arabic desserts

Middle Eastern treat kunafah

The classic Middle Eastern treat kunafah, a delicious melding of syrup, cheese and pastry or vermicelli, is found at outlets right across Riyadh (Photo: Getty Images)

Many Saudi chefs pride themselves on their confectionary and dessert-making, interpreting generations-old recipes with native ingredients like pistachios, honey, rose water and toffee-sweet dates. The lovingly prepared cakes at Fork & Pipe at the JW Marriott Hotel Riyadh do this tradition proud and can be ordered as part of a stylish afternoon tea. Offering expertly crafted coffee and an extensive tea selection, Fork & Pipe is also known for its botanical gardens, where you can while away several hours enjoying its relaxed setting, later in the day, live DJ sets and sunset views.

Another spot for travellers with a sweet tooth is 10:10 Lounge, a modern pool-side venue located at Marriott Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter. Praised for its excellent shisha sommelier, 10:10 Lounge affords diners some lovely sunset views and excellent desserts. The sticky-date-based Arabian Delight, served with crème brûlée ice cream, is particularly good.

A proper exploration of Riyadh – all the way from the Old Town's bustling souks right up to the Sky Bridge on the 99th Floor of the Kingdom Tower – takes energy, and there's no better way to refuel than with a slice of the classic Middle Eastern treat kunafah. One specialist Riyadh outlet to look out for is Kunafa Abul Haus – but this delicious combination of syrup, cheese and filo pastry or vermicelli noodles is found right across the city, so keep your eyes peeled.


Published: October 26, 2023

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