The Best of Bahrain
Above: The Tree of Life
Presenting the first (and last) The Two Crabs Best of Bahrain Awards! Mr. Crab is departing Bahrain in a few days. So before I bid "masalama", I leave you with my institutional knowledge gained from our two years in Bahrain.
FUN & ENTERTAINMENT
Best Friday Brunch: The Movenpick. Friday Brunch is a beloved tradition in Bahrain. And Movenpick is by far the best of the many all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink brunches across the island. Movenpick has a great grill station, sushi, wine & cheese room, pasta, breads, salads, fun live band, and a mojito and Jameson station. What more do you need? 15% discount for NSA badge holders (including Embassy). Honorable Mention: Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa. Bahrain's newest hotel offers the closest thing to a Dubai style Mega Brunch, featuring three interconnected restaurants and good champagne.
Above: Sofitel Hotel, Zallaq Beach, Bahrain
Best beach: The Sofitel Hotel. Sadly, Bahrain is an island with almost no beaches. The only good ones are either private property, or located at hotels. The best accessible beach is located at the Sofitel (I'm convinced they imported the perfect white sand from the Maldives). But to enjoy said beach, you'll either need to stay overnight, or shell out $3,000 to join the Sofitel beach club. The Ritz-Carlton also has a nice beach, but it costs $4,500 membership fee and $4,500 per year. Honorable mention: Al Dar Island. A 15 minute, 5BD boat ride gets you to this tiny island off the east coast of Bahrain, where you can lounge on the tiny beach, enjoy cocktails and kebabs. There is also a small beach next door to Bahrain Fort.
Above: Bahrain Fort
Best tourist attraction: Bahrain Fort (Qalat al Bahrain). World class museum is the highlight of this old Portuguese-built fort located in Seef. Honorable mention: Honorable mention: Bahrain National Museum. Great exhibits on the Dilmun period of Bahrain's history, and rotating contemporary exhibits by Bahraini artists. Honorable mention 2: The hidden alleys, antique houses and coffee shops of Old Muharraq.
Above: Bahrain National Museum
Most under-rated tourist attraction: The National Oil Museum. Located in the desert near the Tree of Life, this little museum is home of Oil Well #1, the first place in the Middle East where oil was discovered. The small museum has an interesting exhibit about the history of oil in Bahrain and the Gulf, and cool old photos of Bahrain. Only open Friday and Saturday.
Most overrated tourist attraction: The Tree of Life. Go see it once for your obligatory photo. Sadly, the tree is not maintained or secured, so you will often see litter, rude tourists sitting on the branches or carving their names into the 400-year-old tree trunk.
Best Water Park: Lost Paradise of Dilmun. Go on movie nights, where you can watch flicks while wading in the wave pool. It's located in the center of the island and is one of three water parks in Bahrain.
Best Amusement Park: Adhari Park. But only in the winter. Sadly I never went here but many of my colleagues with families have been and rave about it. The go-karts and bumper cars are some highlights. That said, if you visit one theme park in the Gulf, go to Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi.
Best overall restaurant: Block 338.
Our favorite restaurant takes its name from the block number that houses Bahrain's top restaurant/nightlife district, better known as Adliya. Of the many great restaurants located in Adliya, Block 338 by far remains the Two Crabs favorite restaurant! For alfresco dining, Block 338 has the largest outdoor area we've seen, with tables scattered around the grassy front yard and chillax music playing throughout (sometimes live). 338 serves an international mix of delights; our favorites are the lollipop lamb chops, and the brined Hammour fish dish (which sadly seems to have vanished from the menu lately). Inside, 338 looks like a contemporary villa, with a lovely little bar on the ground floor. Friendly staff, though service can be slow. Discounts for NSA Bahrain badge holders.
Honorable mention: Trader Vic's, located at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Seef. Yes it's a chain restaurant. Yes it's got a cheezy Polynesian theme. But the Trader Vic's here has a great asian-inspired menu, and fun features like the outdoor island bar, the back deck patio, the indoor bar with great Puerto Rican band, and the friendly waitresses with their ubiquitois thigh-high slit skirts. Not to mention strong drinks. Don't miss our favorite, the "Suffering Bastard."
Best Chinese restaurant: Beijing in Adliya. Great, inexpensive meals makes this a great place for big parties. There's also karaoke rooms available. Honerable mentions: Tie between China Garden at the Gulf Hotel and Foli in Umm Al Hassan.
Best Thai restaurant: HONEY THAI
At first glance, this hole-in-the-wall located in the Souq looks like, well, a strip club. The windows are covered by newspapers taped to the glass. A tiny sign on the door reveals the generous hours: 10am - 5am (YES, it's open 19/7!) No alcohol. You'll find it across from Gold City Souq on the side road that ends at the Ministry of Municipalities building. It's one of several great little dive cheap and tasty restaurants located in the Souq. Honorable mention: Lana Thai on Budaiya Highway, another hole-in-the-wall (alcohol served) with table seating and traditional floor seats. It's located halfway between Jannussen and Alosra roundabouts.
Best Mexican: Casa Mexicana in Adliya. Let me preface by saying that no Mexican food can ever compare to my mom's cooking, or any restaurant in the Southwest. That said, of the handful of "Mexican" restaurants in Bahrain, I still prefer Casa Mexicana. Their tortilla soup and traditional "mole" (pronounced "maw-leh") dishes are the highlights. Honorable mention: Margarita Mexicana at the Gulf Hotel, where a chef will prepare guacamole tableside. As the name suggests, it also has the best margaritas in town. The rest: Senor Pacos is a great place for a birthday party or other group fun event, but don't expect much from the food, or the music. Ric's Kountry Kitchen has surprisingly good fajitas, taquitos and huevos rancheros. And when you're just feeling homesick, there's always Taco Bell at the Navy base (membership has its privileges).
Best European/International: Upstairs/Downstairs in Adliya. Nightly live jazz musicians are a popular draw. Honorable Mention: Camelot, located across the street from Upstairs/Downstairs, this castle-shaped building is hard to miss. Come for wine tasting night every Tuesday.
Best Middle Eastern/Persian: Tahkt Jamsheed at the Gulf Hotel. The Two Crabs are personally bigger fans of Persian cuisine than Lebanese/Middle Eastern food. If you've never had it, this is the beginning and end of your search. The food, particularly meat and fish dishes, are wonderfully spiced (not hot spicy) and flavorful. Honorable Mention: Parsian, a great neighborhood restaurant hidden in a quiet section of Adliya near Casa Mexicana.
Best Indian: The Copper Chimney in Um Al Hassam. You may have second thoughts when you drive into this old neighborhood, but inside Copper is bright and tasty! Great Indian, and best of all, alcohol is served. Runner up: The Clay Oven in Adliya (located near Casa Mexicana & Parsian).
(Note: Casa Mexicana, Clay Oven and Parsian are all listed as being in Adliya, but they are actually on the outskirts. To find it from the Grand Mosque, take the road past Gulf Hotel, go through Shwarma Alley, continue straight to Carpet Alley. When you see KFC on the right, make an immediate left. The restaurants are all down on the right side streets).
Best Sushi: Maki at Moda Mall (World Trade Center, the iconic building with the windmills). It is SUPER expensive. Expect to pay about $200+ for two people with one drink each. If you're a real sushi connoisseur, and you're celebrating a special occasion, Maki is the place to go! Runner-up: Sato at the Gulf Hotel. Worth a mention: Bushido also has good sushi, but the portions are so tiny you need forceps and a magnifying glass. Bushido's best for tepanyaki style dishes.
Best burger: Elevation Burger in Seef Mall. Runner-up: the Hard Rock Cafe on Exhibition Avenue. Yes, both are American brands. We know our burgers.
Best Pizza: Le Chocolat in Seef. Don't let the name deceive you. The front part of the building is indeed a pastry shop, but the back is a full-service restaurant with a real wood-fired oven. The pizza is out of this world and authentically Italian.
Above: Temporary winter park/cafe in Adliya.
Best Cafe: Cafe Lilou in Adliya. The outdoor cafe is often packed when the weather is cooperating. Fantastic sandwiches. This is a great place for a spot of lunch (no alcohol served). Honorable mention: Coco's, located in an unmarked building next door to Cafe Lilou with a beautiful outdoor patio seating area and great pasta.
Best takeaway: Iskenderun Grills in Hoora (1-7293334). Good selection of kebabs, Turkish pizzas and grills. Honorable mention: NuAsia Cafe. Incidentally, you can get anything and everything delivered in Bahrain, including McDonalds and TCBY.
Best Shisha (hookah) cafe: Al Bandaira Cafe in Gudabiya, directly across from J.J.s Like in many parts of the Middle East, business and conversation often takes place in a shisha cafe, where folks (usually men) smoke fruit-flavored tobacco out of a traditional water pipe. Al Bandaira is one of the few places where women can feel comfortable also smoking. Modeled after a traditional Bahraini home, this cafe has a family room on the second floor but women are welcomed anywhere. This place also serves great Middle Eastern dishes and fantastic hummus.
Best Korean: Arrirang Do in Hoora. Located across the street from the Baisan Hotel/Warbler, Arrirang Do has bulgogi and beer! It's one of only two Korean restaurants in Bahrain.
Best schwarma stand: Airport Schwarma. Schwarma is Middle East fast food, it's basically a rolled pita filled with chicken or lamb meat and veg. It's only sold at night. You will find many schwarms stands on "Schwarma Alley" in Adliya behind the Gulf Hotel. Airport Schwarma is hard to find; it's located in Muharraq on the road to the airport, down the side street by Yum Yum Tree food court, but the sign is only in Arabic.
Best Filipino: Bahay Kubo (1723-1996). A bit tricky to find, this lovely family restaurant is located on Road 723 in Gudabiya, behind the Middle East Hotel and across from the Indian Club (this neighborhood is home to many local, inexpensive restaurants). The house speciality here is Lechon Kawali (crispy pork belly). The seafood soup is creamy and delicious, full of crab and prawn bits, and Filipino standards like pancit and adobo rice are worth the hunt! There's a detailed map on the website, but free delivery is also an option.
Best nightclub: Bushido in Seef. From the same people who brought you Buddha Bar. Bushido hosts regular Fashion TV events. By day, Bushido is a great Japanese/sushi restaurant.
Best bar: The Warbler. British-style pub with London Pride on tap! Honorable mention: The Bull's Head at the Dilmun Club.
Best bar with a view: The Meat Company rooftop bar in Adliya. Great people-watching spot and chillout music. Expensive drinks. And a meal downstairs will easily set you back $100 USD for a steak and two drinks.
Best hotel lounge: Downtown at the Interncontinental Regency Hotel, located in the parking lot for the Souq (big silver building with blue neon). Dress the part: No shorts or open-toed shoes for men (I found that out the hard way).
Best Expat hang-out: Ric's Kountry Kitchen in Juffair. Typical expat bar with Western menu (blueberry pancakes, huevos rancheros, BBQ ribs, etc), currency on the ceiling and customer-scrawled graffitti on the walls. Good live music too. Honorable mention: JJ's in Gudabiya, especially on Monday karaoke nights.
Best Irish bar: Fiddler's Green at the Diplomat Hotel. This place was a watering hole for war correspondents in 2001. Today it's a popular bar featuring a live Canadian band. Bahrain has no less than 10 Irish pubs now, including the little-known Irish Lounge located in Bahrain International Airport by Gate 12!
Best bar for live music: Tie for Latin Quarter at Pars Interntional Hotel and JJ's in Gudabiya. Honorable mention: the bar at Trader Vic's currently featuring a Puerto Rican band.
Best private club: The Dilmun Club. One of 7 or 8 "country clubs" in Bahrain, the Dilmun features horseback riding lessons, tennis courts, a temperature-controlled swimming pool, and about five restaurants and bars. The biweekly pub quiz is very popular. Membership required, but free admission for NSA Bahrain badge holders. The Dilmun features an international, predominently British, clientele.
A word on entertainment listings: The monthly Time Out Bahrain is a good place to start. But for more timely event listings, see the Daily Tribune on Wednesdays, or the Gulf Daily News on Thursdays.
Best mall: Bahrain City Centre. Bahrain's largest shopping mall, featuring many popular American and British brands. When you're tired of shopping, stop for a drink at the attached Kempinski Hotel, which has several bars including the hidden cigar lounge, Boudoir. For the kids, the mall has the rooftop Wahoo water park and Magic Planet amusement park. Honorable mention: Seef Mall. once Bahrian's largest mall, it has been abandoned by weekend tourists, but it's a nice quiet place with a huge selection of American brand stores and restaurants including Elevation Burger, Gap, Victoria Secret (no underwear, just beauty products), Toys R Us, etc.
Best shopping: Manama Souq. (Open 0900-1300 and 1600-2100 Sat-Thu, and 1600-2100 Fri). Located behind Bab Al Bahrain (Bahrain Gate) in downtown Manama, Bahrain's most traditional souq (market) is where locals shop. If you can't find it here, you can't find it at all. Most visitors only explore the first two or three blocks of the souq, where all the souvenirs and touristy items are sold -- overpriced -- especially at the "new" modern souq building. But if you venture further, you will discover some great hidden gems like little tea shops frequented by old Bahraini guys in their traditional thobe dress, antique stores, spice markets (above), housewares, kitcheware and much more. A few blocks east of the main souq is Gold City, a huge mall full of nothing but jewelry shops where you can watch artisans at work. But probably the main reason most expats come to the souq is to buy a custom-made suit or dress. Which leads us to the next item.
Best Tailor: There is nothing like the feeling of a custom-made business suit. Manama Souq is home to probably 100 tailors. Most of them specialize in men's suits, but a few of the Indian sari shops can also make or replicate women's business attire. Everyone has their favorites. The Two Crabs favorite new tailor is Sharafali Fabrics (17 253 945); this place has an unbelievable selection of fabrics including linen. You can buy the fabric alone or get a custom-made suit here too. Expect to pay about $250 USD for a suit and one shirt. Right across the alley from Sarafali is another good shop, Kumar, which makes fantastic custom-fitted dress shirts for $20-$40 apiece. To find them, enter the Souq through the main Bab Al Bahrain Gate, walk about three blocks, and when you see Western Union on your left, turn left. You'll see Sharafali on the right and Kumar on the left. Lots of folks also swear by Marhaba, where you can get a custom-made suit or tuxedo for only $100, and dress shirts for $20. That said, you get what you pay for. The pricier shops tend to have much higher quality fabrics and better tailoring. To reach Marhaba, enter the souq through the alley east (right) of Bahrain Gate and walk about 2.5 blocks; it will be on your left.
Best grocery store: Geant at Bahrain Mall. Honorable mention: Tie between Alosra and Jawads, both located on Budaiya Highway near Barbar. (Note: This fall, Jawads is being rebranded as Waitrose, the upscale British chain). And if you're lucky enough to have Navy base priveleges, the NEX Commissary can't be beat for American goods. Note, produce and stables like meat, milk and butter are cheaper on the local economy, but American brand products are cheaper at the NEX.
Best butcher: Sage & Sirloin in Hamala, near the Saudi Causeway. Not cheap - when you simpy must have the best cuts of meat or special BBQ! Runner-up: the Geant butcher counter.
Best veterinarian: Dr. Nonie Coutts on Budaiya Highway (in the little strip mall just east of Alosra). This is actually their satellite office. The main clinic and hospital is in downtown Manama, hidden in a villa near the Japanese Embassy. The downtown location is also a "cattery" (that's British slang for a kennel for cats). If you have access, the Army vet at the Navy base is also good but it can be more expensive than Nonie Coutts.
Best Pet Supplies: Pet Arabia: In a pinch, this place has pretty much anything you could need, but be warned that it is RIDICULOUSLY expensive. You will pay 2-3x what you would pay at PetSmart or Petco in the States. If you have access to FPO address, you're better off ordering online. Geant and Carrefour also have a decent supply of (mainly French) pet products.
Best hardware store: Manazal. Located in Salmabad about halfway between the Saudi Causeway and the American embassy, the three-story Manazal is Bahrain's Home Depot. You can find anything and everything here including grills, outdoor furniture, home repair parts, paint, etc. However, you'll pay way more than you would at Home Depot. Sign up for the Bonus Card, which gets you a 10BD voucher for every 100BD you spend. Well worth it if you will be in Bahrain for a few years. Honorable mention: HomeZone in Seef Mall parking lot.
Best place for Christmas decorations: Again, Manazal. It has by far the largest selection of Christmas trees, tree ornaments, lawn ornaments, wrapping and other decorations. Runner-up: Carrefour at City Centre Mall, which even sells Santa suits.
Best nursery: Al-Khair Agricultural Center Center on Budaiya Highway, halfway between Janussen and Alosra roundabouts. This place has a huge selection of live indoor & outdoor plants, trees, mulch, gardening tools and supplies. In the months before Christmas, they stock a good selection of poinsettas. Honorable mention: Jassim Trading & Agriculture, located just east of AL-Khair (next to Hardees & old Krispy Kreme shop).
Best "Dinar" Store: Ramez. This is the equivelent of an American Dollar Store or British Pound Shop. There are several locations around Bahrain; the largest is near Tubli Bay, across the highway from Adahri Park amusement park. They also sell the same Middle Eastern souvenir items you will find at the Souq, at the same price you would pay AFTER bartering. So if you're not a good at bartering, skip the Souq and get your souvenirs here.
Best Road trip: Ikea in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Cheap flat-pack furniture and Swedish meatballs! Ladies should wear the black abaya but don't need to cover their hair. And of course, you'll need a male driver, and a Saudi visa. It's available from the Saudi embassy in Manama and takes about 5 business days to receive.
Best regional getaway (less than 90 minutes flight): Oman. Sometimes, it's just nice to see trees and mountains. The Omanis are friendly, hospitable people. Rent a car and get out to explore the canyons and wadis. This is the best place for families. For lodging options, we highly recommend the Shangri-La and the Chedi. The Shangri-La is a colassal resort with three separate hotels, including one specifically catering to kids; two of the hotels are connected by a lazy river! This place has the biggest beach in Muscat. For couples and singles looking for pure luxury and hip venue, the Chedi is bar none, a minimalist contemporary style hotel with two infinity pools and a narrow beach. For everyone, take a day trip to the Oman Dive Center, which offers swimming, diving, snorkeling and hiking options and has the best beach in Muscat. You can also stay overnight in little air-conditioned huts on the beach!
Best regional getaway (less than 3 hours): Cyprus. Only 2.5 hours flight, Cyprus is the closest European destination to Bahrain. For when you just really need to get away from the Middle East. Cyprus uses the Euro, but be aware they drive on the left just like Brits and Aussies. Honorable mention: Jordan. If you haven't been to Petra or the Dead Sea, you have not been to the Middle East!
Best dream vacation: The Maldives. Only 5 hours from Bahrain via Doha, Dubai or Abu Dhabi. If you've ever wanted to get away from it all, sleep in a over-water bungalow and snorkel in a live aquarium, the Maldives is a trip of a lifetime. The diving and snorkeling are among among the best in the world. Everywhere you look, the scene looks like a screensaver! One of the most romantic places on Earth. Leave the kids at home.
Best getaways for art lovers: Doha and Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi will soon be home to satellites of New York City's Guggenheim Museum and Paris' Louvre Museum Doha has the Museum of Islamic Arts, designed by I.M. Pei.
Best regional airline: Etihad. Especially business class!
Best long-haul flight: United Airlines direct flight to Washington Dulles (with brief stop in Kuwait).
- Best local deal: The Prestigue Club at the Gulf Hotel. Membership gets you 50% off all meals and 20% drinks when two people are dining at one of the Gulf's 10 bars and restaurants! The annual fee is 70BD but it more than pays for itself after 3 or 4 dinners out.
- The Kempinski Hotel is the only place to get a drink at City Centre Mall. The hotel has a mezzaine level bar with seating "pods", and hidden in a corner behind an ornate set of doors you will find the Boudoir cigar bar.
- The Royal Golf Club is a great day trip, even if you're not a golfer or member. The RGC has four restaurants, three of which are open to the public incuding a lovely Italian spot, Prego. The lunch sandwiches are quite tasty. The RGC also has an award-winning brunch that is our #3 favorite brunch in Bahrain. For golfers, the RGC has special deals for military and diplomats. There's a very extensive pro shop too.
- At Bahrain International Airport, there is an often-overlooked Irish bar ABOVE Gate 12. The stairs are next to the smoking lounge. Alternatively, you can also access the Dilmun Lounge at the other end of the airport; admission is free if you are flying business, have an American Express card, or pay 10BD per person.
- Bahrain has a chain of liquor stores called BMMI, open to non-Muslims only. The stores are unmarked and a bit hard to find. The most accessible one is located in the back parking lot of the Gulf Hotel. However, BMMI also offers home delivery! A good option if you do not have access to the NEX. However, it's overpriced compared to NEX or Bahrain Airport Duty Free shops.
- If you are flying away on a weekend trip and want to buy something for yourself at Bahrain Airport Duty Free, you can buy it before you take-off, and pick it up when you return to Bahrain Simply make your purchase and then take it to the Customer Service desk, fill out the form with your travel data, and it will be ready for pick up at the little shop just past the customs & immigration desk.
- During winter months (November-February), many Bahraini families "camp" in the desert near the Tree of Life. Take the opportunity to drive down and stop at some of the makeshift coffee shops that spring up along the road. Tell the guy at "Star Coffee" we said hello.
- The Grand Mosque in Juffair offers free tours for non-Muslims, everyday except Friday. No appointment needed, just show up and you will be assigned an English-speaking tour guide.
- Looking for a bit of culture? Check out Al Riwaq Art Space in the pedestrian zone of Adliya, across from the Meat Co. Al Riwaq hosts exhibits by visiting international artists.
- During the Christmas season, go to the Souq and stock up on paper mache tree ornaments. In the "new souq" building, you will find a kiosk that sells hand-painted ornaments; the artist will inscribe your family's names on the ball in Arabic.
- For culture vultures, Bahrain is sadly lacking in performing arts options. However, Bahrain is now building its first National Theatre and is scheduled to open in November 2012. The theatre is located behind the National Museum.
Yet another Adliya photo: