Food is one of life’s great joys, or at least it is for me. So, I often sympathise with my plant-based friends. They, undoubtedly, love to eat just as much as I do, but finding places that cater well to the ever-growing vegan fraternity is far from easy.
So, the news that Four Seasons Bahrain Bay was to launch Folia, a vegan menu, was certainly met with great joy. But, of course, there’s always the USD64,000 question: would it actually be any good?
Well, I guess the fact that it’s Four Seasons is a bit of a giveaway. Add to that it’s a collaboration with plant-based chef extraordinaire Matthew Kenney, who’s pretty much a godfather of vegan cuisine with the stated aim of changing the way the world eats by creating plant-based versions of virtually every cuisine possible, and there’s a fair chance even the most picky veggie fan would be impressed.
The Arab world’s most famous vegan, CEO of KBW Ventures, HRH Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, has also had a hand in the development, and much of what he touches seems to turn to gold.
To test the theory, I roped in a vegan buddy and headed to the Bay for a tasting.
First off, let me say that the menu is small, only 10 dishes. However, both chef Kim and the GM assured us that this is simply for the initial roll out – it’s a new concept for them and a first for the Gulf, so, they want to make sure they get it right. If it proves popular, of which there is little doubt, there’ll be new dishes and the possibility of adding vegan-specific eats to the brunch.
We tried various plates including beet hoummus – the staple vegan go-to in pretty much any restaurant but done with a twist with oregano cream. More adventurous was the Cacio E Pepe, kelp noodles with crispy black olives and arugula. The noodles had a great texture, firm and exciting to the bite, while the black olives added the required zing to save the dish from blandness.
Dukkah Avocado with spicy greens, preserved lemon, radish and tomato jam was an interesting combination of flavours and brought forth the question I often ask when eating avocados in a restaurant – where on earth do they get them to avoid the extremes of hard or mush I so often confront in the stores?
We had a salad nicoise with nori giving the important fishy tang and a piquant Dijon vinaigrette adding an, almost, sweet-and-sour element – to be honest, this could actually have had fish in it, the taste and texture were equally satisfying.
My two favourite items were the Wild Mushroom Sandwich and Green Herb Tacos. The sandwich is served on dark, seedy, nutty bread which had been lightly griddled with caramelised onion and truffle aioli – mention truffles and I’m always sold. It’s a really substantial feast, the mushrooms forming a hefty filling and the hint of truffles giving a satisfying savoury beat. Add in some truffle fries and I’d probably never have left (fortunately, they didn’t).
The tacos, with roasted squash, king oyster barbacoa-cooked mushrooms and pepita cream guacamole were a real triumph; incredibly tasty with a great combination of flavours and textures. The chunky mushrooms and squash would make this a great main course option.
And so to dessert. I can honestly say both myself and my pal were blown away. Vegan ice creams that I’ve tried usually tend either towards the icy or grainy, so to discover strawberry ice cream with a delightful flavour and a texture to match made for widely smiling faces. We honestly thought it couldn’t get any better…and then we tasted the chocolate option. For chocolate ice cream aficionados, the almost mousse-like texture might have been disappointing, but for a chocolate fiend, it’s heaven on a spoon!