FACT dines at one of the two restaurants in Bahrain recognised by the inaugural MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
I am in Bahrain for two reasons. First, I promised myself that I would not be that guy. You know, the guy that stays in Dubai never to see other Gulf countries.
The second reason I am here is to fulfil a promise to a charming woman who impressed me over a dinner at Trèsind Studio. Her easy demeanour and impactful confidence lured me across the Arabian Gulf to Manama. That woman is Tala Bashmi. My promise was to visit her award-winning restaurant, Fusions by Tala.
Tala Bashmi’s profile ascends in the Middle East and more widely. Fusions by Tala won big at 2022 Middle East and North Africa’s 50 Best Awards. Not only was the restaurant ranked at number 39 on the list, but Tala also earned the Female Chef of the Year award.
It’s easy to see why. We settle into Fusions by Tala’s tasting menu where that same personality is palpable throughout. Fusions by Tala is a Bahraini restaurant for the modern day. Tala Bashmi’s determined vision for Bahraini food grabs it with both hands and gently chaperones it towards the future. Fusions by Tala is not proud or pompous; in fact, just looking around, the restaurant shares more in common with a good city gastropub. It’s the most modern square footage in the Gulf Bahrain Hotel by about forty years, give or take.
Still, among Fusions by Tala’s dark glossy woods, panoramic windows and smiling service, lies a deferential restlessness to present a future course for Bahraini food that looks to the past for inspiration but without loyalty. There are smatterings of Asian influence with yuzu and tataki name drops. Don’t let “Fusions” mislead you. Tala tilts toward Bahraini cuisine as a starting point, but stretches certain dishes beyond recognition toward an image of what could be.
The tasting menu’s strongest dishes play in this space. Spiced, ochre machboos – a traditionally Bahraini rice dish made with seafood, chicken or lamb – is reimagined as poppadom-like shards that shatter effortlessly. Ghoozi tacos with collapsingly-soft braised lamb shoulder crowned with sautéed onions are cooked to the point of delicious sweetness. Although both these dishes leave oily fingertips. A lacquered, shiny wagyu beef cheek glistens with sticky, rendered collagen and wears a verdant okra “glass” as a homage to Bamia, a regional okra tomato stew. Whilst a leek ravioli in seafood foam makes light work of sweet Bahraini clams.
Tala’s desserts land impressively. Not Your Average Cheesecake looks like a bee’s fever dream that wields creamy, sharp and crunch in equal measure. The kitchen graciously sends what resembled a Faberge egg: a shiny Lavender cake, pelted with gold leaf, cossets a light, lavender sponge, rich blueberry jelly and white chocolate mousse.
There is a lot to enjoy at Fusions by Tala. The non-alcoholic beverage pairing stands out with zipping black lime infusions and kombucha-fortified mocktails. Alcohol pairings are also available, sourcing wine from Australia, Spain and elsewhere. The service is attentive and friendly. It’s a place where you start as strangers but leave as friends.
In short, Fusions by Tala offers a lot to love and you get the sense there’s more to come. Keep going Tala, keep innovating. Fortune favours the brave and all that. Thinking travellers will time a visit with the cooler months to drink in aperitifs, city and sea views from their roof terrace. That said, I do see Fusions by Tala outgrowing its Bahrain Gulf Hotel residence for a more modern location.
GO: Follow @fusionsbytala on Instagram for more information.