Let me start this post of by saying something completely shocking. I’m starting to really enjoy life in Riyadh. For real. Every time I hang out with B I tell her how I’m sure that no one else in the world enjoys life to the extent that we do. Somehow in the midst of the most undesirable circumstances, I’ve learned to love my life. And life, it seems, is faithfully loving me back.
This weekend I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh to experience their famous Friday brunch! I’m a pretty down to Earth kind of girl, so the finer things in life usually don’t pique my interest, but having just been told about how fabulous the Ritz is by a reader-friend a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. Besides, Riyadh isn’t famous for its things to do, so sign me right up for a visit to the high life for a day! I invited my friend Kelly, soon-to-be sleep-deprived first-time mommy, to join me, arranged a ride, and set off on my way.
I was blown away before we even entered the gates. From the opposite side of the highway, I worried that my GPS was mistaken. That can’t be a hotel…that’s a palace. Even the driver was confused as I guided him down the road to the grand entrance. He parked on the side of the road, confused, until I told him “please drive inside.”
From the moment we entered the gates, every member of the Ritz-Carlton staff was cheerful, welcoming, and attentive. If this had been my first visit to Saudi Arabia, I would have thought that all those stories about Saudi hospitality were spot-on. Living here in the land of Customer No-Service, being greeted by a staff that was warm and kind was incredibly refreshing.
The lobby was absolutely breathtaking. The decor was tastefully opulent with a Middle Eastern touch. A table in the center of the room included a large display of fresh flowers which filled the massive space with a smell so sweet and reminiscent of summertime back home that I joked with Kelly that I’d probably cry about it.
After we’d taken in the lobby, Kelly and I were guided to Al Orjouan where the host kindly gave us a tour of the many sections of the buffet before showing us to our table.
The restaurant offers meals other than Friday brunch. The prices are steep, but the experience is worth it.
As soon as we sat down, we were offered a selection of mocktails. We both chose the pomegranate mojitos because as we’ve learned, if there’s one thing Riyadh does right, it’s mojitos of all kinds. We then discussed a game plan and set off to try the breakfast offerings first. There were dates, fresh fruits, nuts, cereals, yogurt, pancakes, waffles, and cheeses, as well as hot items such as hash browns, sausages, and Eggs Benedict. I found the hot breakfast items to be underwhelming with exception to the foul, or fava beans dip. On the plus side, when Kelly didn’t find the scrambled eggs she was looking for, she let our waiter know and the chef whipped some up for us personally.
Kelly’s such a great model!
After the breakfast portion of our brunch, we got our bellies ready for some serious lunching. We started out with the soup and salad station, the largest and, in my opinion, best section of the entire buffet. There were tons of options available and I liked everything I tried, my favorites being the lentil salad and kidney bean salad. I was convinced for a while that I could indeed accomplish my dream of liking vegetables and even someday being a vegetarian after all.
We set out next to try some of the made-to-order foods. There was Chinese, complete with Peking duck and sir fry, fresh Sushi, and a pasta bar. Our first stop was at the Chinese station. This was another personal favorite because in addition to offering tasty food, the chefs offered friendly chatter and a personal fire show! If you’ve not seen the video yet, go check it out on my Facebook page.
My exact words to them: “Smile, this is going on the internet!”
While we waited for our stir fry to cook, Kelly also ordered some sushi. I’d never tried sushi before since the idea of raw fish turns my tummy, but since she ordered an avacado roll, I went for it. I’m here to tell the world once and for all that I don’t care how trendy it is, I do not like sushi. Kelly said it was good, so you’ll have to take her word for it.
After reminding ourselves and each other that we could NOT fill up on stir fry because we still had so much food to try, we treated ourselves to some spinach and ricotta tortellini with a combo of alfredo and marinara sauces. That was another dish that we both had to pry ourselves away from because you really can’t go wrong when it comes to pasta drenched in creamy, cheesy goodness.
At this point, an hour and a half into our gastronomical marathon, I doubted my ability to eat anything else. We both took some time to compose ourselves and let our tummies settle before heading off to check out the main course selections. Fish, lamb, beef, and chicken were all served in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. Although it all looked and smelled delicious, we both decided to skip it and head for the desert tables. There was, after all, a chocolate fountain. And one does not pass up a chocolate fountain in favor of actual food.
There were three large tables of dessert offerings. From traditional Middle Eastern desserts, to pastries, to the richest and sweetest warm chocolate brownies I’ve ever eaten, there is something for everyone with a sweet tooth. I selected a few items from the displays, got a scoop of pomegranate-passion fruit sorbet, and then headed to the chocolate fountain. Everything was incredible, but that chocolate-covered marshmallow was life changing. Kelly and I were both rendered speechless.
During our two hours at Al Orjouan, I was surprised to see so many families with children. I had chosen not to bring my daughter along because I didn’t think such a fancy place would be child-friendly, but I’m happy to say I was wrong. Not only did all of the kids we saw enjoy eating in the dining room, they also had the option of hanging out in the Kids’ Club downstairs, which also had a mini buffet set up for the kids to eat from. We did get a personal tour of the Kids’ Club, but I didn’t think to take a picture of it.
On the way out we took some time for more pictures and made a vow to do it again sometime.
Overall the experience was amazing and it’s something I’ll not soon forget. If you’re lucky enough to be in Riyadh and looking for a place to treat yourself, your friends, or your significant other while also making some great memories, the Ritz is definitely a place you should go!