Spring/Summer 2018

Daringly Different

Mahonia, the first-ever fine dining degustation restaurant in the region, delivers an authentic epicurean journey distinctively different from anything else in Bahrain and the Arabian Gulf

Restaurateur Sawsan Baluch, who delighted Bahrain’s movers and shakers with quality, clean cuisine at her inviting and stylishly designed My Café bistro and trendy rooftop lounge Iris Bahrain, now aims to enrich people’s palates with her latest exclusive dining destination Mahonia.

This gastronomical treasure, located in the heart of Bahrain’s culinary hub in Adliya in the same building as the passionate visionary’s two successful venues, brings in a new level of epicurean exclusivity with opulent furnishing, decorative lighting fixtures, bespoke artwork, chic décor and beautiful bites that are a feast for the senses.

The mother-of-two and interior designer, who has always had a fine eye for detail and love for food, has spent more than a year along with French Executive Chef Herve Pronzato creating a multisensory dining experience that will captivate culinary connoisseurs.

After designing a restaurant filled with eye-catching decorative pieces and works of art, the duo complemented the decadence with a degustation menu concept which will allow sophisticated foodies to savour various, flavourful fare, paired with refreshing beverages to further enhance the occasion.

“Creating Mahonia has truly been a labour of love,” says Baluch. “To me, it is more than a restaurant, it is a culmination of my lifetime passion for all things beautiful – exceptional cuisine, inspiring art, opulent design, decadent accessories and melodious music.”

She named the restaurant Mahonia, which is a pretty yellow flower, because of her fondness for sweet-scented florae; and as it starts with the letter M and is a seven-letter word which happens to be her favourite number and letter. That cosmic name set the plan in motion and a daringly different epicurean eatery was born.

The venue features seven tables that can seat 35 diners comfortably and also boasts a lounge for guests to sip unique beverage combinations while unwinding on plush sofas and listening to funky, jazzy, soulful tracks and soundscapes compiled specifically for the restaurant by French DJ Stephane.

Baluch’s vision for ‘haute cuisine’ was inspired by her travels and experiences in Europe. She wanted to create a restaurant that would offer foodies a true dining experience rather than eating and leaving once done.

Hence, she started degustation in Bahrain which is the careful, appreciative tasting of various foods, focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary, appreciation of ingredients and the chef’s technical skills art and good company. The concept originated from France and focuses on all the senses including sight, taste and smell.

Baluch says: “I love to share. I have travelled the world and experienced many wonderful restaurants and whenever I come across something I love, I want to share that with people I care about.

“I love food, I love to cook, I love design and I love people. What better way to combine all these things than by opening a restaurant where people can eat great food, made fresh and from scratch, while admiring art and enjoying the ambience?

“Also, while there is great food in Bahrain and the Middle East, there isn’t any degustation restaurant around the region. Why not have one in Bahrain? I have an amazing chef who creates delicious combinations and dishes so why not share his culinary expertise and skills with food lovers of Bahrain?”

“Instead of having one main meal where you know what every bite will taste like, why not have different bursts of explosive flavours instead? You will never know what you will get next, be it smoked quail egg wrapped in potato spaghetti with Gruyère cheese and topped with caviar or chicken liver parfait in a tartlet with peanut butter and white chocolate and shredded coconut on top. Every flavour is different and more exciting than the next,” she says passionately.

“I would love for the kingdom to become the next food hub and, in my opinion, people in Bahrain are exposed to great cuisine and are open minded to try new things.

Mahonia is Baluch’s version of Wonderland and chef Herve is the man who makes diners’ wildest culinary dreams a reality.

His adoration for the art of cooking stems from preparing family meals with his grandmother Danielle in her home in Normandy when he was a little boy.  His formal training then began at the age of 16 in Paris where he refined his gastronomic skills in several Michelin-starred restaurants before moving to London at the age of 24.  A year later he moved to Greece, where he lived on and off for the next 25 years. He had also lived in Spain, Thailand, Turkey and other countries before moving to Bahrain.

During his travels, he worked under the celebrated three Michelin-star chef Joel Robuchon and he later himself gained his first star in 1989 in Paris. He then earned his second in London and the third star in Greece. In England, chef Herve learned the secrets of molecular gastronomy from the master of molecular cuisine Chef Heston Blumenthal. His experience spans from exclusive dinners in petite grape cellars to grand banquets for 5,000 people. He has cooked for many celebrities and world leaders including Queen Elizabeth, Brad Pitt, Sting and The Rolling Stones. His accomplishments led him to become one of the judges on Top Chef, a hit TV show in Greece. His work and travels have taken him around the world, enabling him to absorb influences from many cuisines and incorporating the best elements from everywhere to develop and perfect his recipes, giving each dish he creates a unique interpretation.

Chef Herve spent more than a year developing the genuine gastronomic experience and meticulously designing and perfecting the restaurant’s offering using his Michelin teachings and a professional pairing application that combines ingredients to create out-of-this-world flavours. Diners have a choice of a 16-course or a seven-course degustation menu with grape pairings and other high-quality beverages.

He and his team of 40 chefs lovingly prepare every single dish as if it were a priceless work of art using only the finest ingredients from around the world, from Japanese Kobe beef to French quail eggs.

“Mahonia is not just a restaurant, it is a multi-sensory experience that will forever change how people see, taste and understand food. We do not have this style of dining in the Middle East, let alone in Bahrain. You simply come in and let us take care of the rest. Sit back with friends, sample delicious bites, stay as long as you please and remember you are not alone on this journey,” says Chef Herve.

“Our hand-picked floor managers that have worked for Michelin-star restaurants, service team and skilled sommeliers will help complete your sophisticated palate-changing voyage. Their impeccable service standards, combined with polished and friendly delivery, ensure a perfectly choreographed, flawlessly sequenced and timed performance, with each dish expertly explained and presented.

“Also, we believe in quality and everything is made in-house with the best and rarest ingredients such as cured and smoked meat, cheese, butter, bread and even micro-greens. Freshness and taste is everything at Mahonia,” adds chef Herve.

Each dish is presented in imaginative tableware and is almost too beautiful to devour. However, don’t let the size of the tiny morsels fool you as every bite will tantalise the taste buds.

In addition to the degustation menus, an à la carte menu expertly crafted expands the choice of delectable dishes available for food connoisseurs.

Its mouthwatering delights aren’t the only thing that will enthrall diners as the experience is intensified by its lavish and sophisticated surroundings and eclectic décor.

Baluch’s previous career in design, where she had launched her own furnishing business called Kunooz and consulted for various companies and homes, is evident in Mahonia’s rich and sumptuous interiors.

Carefully curated original artworks collected by her adorn the walls including original paintings from Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall to Bahraini artist Lulwa Al Khalifa and Saudi Tagreed Bagshi. She says: “Stepping into Mahonia is like stepping into my world. I designed it like I designed my home. I wanted to create a liberal, artistic destination that has a soul or a pulse for people to be able to relax and enjoy.

“Every piece you see here, such as the flawless Murano glass sculptures and Baccarat vases, I collected and wanted to share. I wanted to give art lovers a feast for their eyes as well as their palates.”

The décor also includes furnishings from Fendi, Bohemian crystal chandeliers, candles and sculptures such as a giant pink cat for Baluch’s love of felines. She designed the location to the smallest detail and even added tiny ottomans for women to place their handbags.

Also, the tables are adorned with the finest quality of tableware, handmade glasses and cutlery.

The restaurant has a stunning cigar lounge to accompany the finest grapes, beverages and mocktails hand-picked by expert sommeliers, all enjoyed with gastronomic bar bites.

“Mahonia is an experience to be felt on every level of your being, an experience where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts,” says Baluch. “Whether you join us from across the borders or within the island, allow us to pave the way for your unforgettable Mahonia culinary voyage.”

– by Mai Al Khatib-Camille

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