What We Are Eating Today: The vibes are to dine for at Riyadh’s lively Latin restaurant Hotel Cartagena

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Updated 16 September 2022

What We Are Eating Today: The vibes are to dine for at Riyadh’s lively Latin restaurant Hotel Cartagena

RIYADH: Hotel Cartagena in Riyadh, despite its name, is a Latin American restaurant — but the impressive vibes will have you wishing they had a room for you to stay in.

Entering the restaurant venue is a rainforest experience, with its plants, flowers, funky wallpaper, bird decor and vibrant aesthetics of a rustic hotel in the Amazon. Featuring various performances throughout the week, including live DJ sets, singers and bands, Hotel Cartagena brings a taste of spicy Latin entertainment to Saudi Arabia.

The joint also hosts trivia nights and weekend brunches, and almost every hour, the staff breaks out in a dance sequence with music mixes blasting, encouraging guests to join along — and they often do.

There is truly no dull moment here, especially with staff bringing a fire and dance show to every customer’s table who orders their most popular dish, the Coffee Aged Tomahawk Steak. The downside to this level of showmanship, however, is that the food can sometimes take a back seat. The steak isn’t always cooked properly, and the coffee rub might not have broad appeal. The order can either be made with Wagyu beef or US prime, both of which are arguably overpriced for a single order.

Some of their popular Latin delicacies include their classic fish ceviche, crispy duck confit salad, chili prawn nachos, and ropa vieja empanadas. Must-try sides are their sweet potato fries and creamy congri, which is a version of classic Cuban rice and beans.

Diners can enjoy refreshing mocktails, most notably the sweet and spicy Flor de Jalisco and the sweet and sour Mai Gai.

We wouldn’t recommend this spot as a vegetarian-friendly joint, as they don’t offer vegan or vegetarian dishes aside from their selection of salads and bites.

Coffee, an integral part of Saudi culture, hospitality 

Updated 28 September 2023

Coffee, an integral part of Saudi culture, hospitality 

  • Ministry of Culture’s Saudi Coffee Festival is open until Oct. 1
  • Gathering for an afternoon drink has deep value as it brings people together

RIYADH: Coffee is deeply rooted in Saudi culture, with families in most regions savoring the hot beverage late afternoon or early morning every day, whether at home or at the workplace.  

Almost all commercial and residential neighborhoods have cozy local coffee outlets nestled between shops. 

To introduce Saudi coffee to visitors and highlight its role as part of Saudi heritage, the Ministry of Culture is organizing the Saudi Coffee Festival for 2023 in the eastern part of King Abdullah Financial District from Thursday until Oct. 1

Targeting all age groups, the festival will offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about the history of Saudi coffee, as well as its cultivation methods, preparation and presentation.

Saudi coffee is made by roasting coffee beans until they are golden brown. The coffee is then boiled and served as a dark, unfiltered drink. Spices such as saffron, cardamom and cloves are also added to the boiled coffee for flavor and richness. Dates or desserts are served alongside Saudi coffee to balance the bitter taste of the drink. 

Saudi national Nourah Al-Harbi, who is originally from Madinah but has lived mostly in Riyadh, said: “When the sun sets, we bring our coffee and dates.” 

Sharing an anecdote from her childhood, Al-Harbi said: “I remember one of my uncles owned a farm in Madinah at the time, when I was a child …  His neighbors used to gather at his farm every evening after sunset prayer for coffee.”

Despite the popularity of the beverage, some of the Kingdom’s regions prefer other drinks during their afternoon hours, such as tea.

Hashid Adeel Mohammed, who works at a local company that specializes in warm beverages like coffee and tea, said: “Some people prefer black tea, while others like green tea, which they also have specific ways of preparing.”

Another business entrepreneur, Anas Al-Balouchi, who works as a general manager at a coffee and tea company, spoke to Arab News about some of the norms when it comes to afternoon hot drinks for people in Madinah, where he is from.

“In Madinah, tea time starts from late afternoon until sunset. But coffee is consumed from sunset to early in the evening,” he said.

“Black coffee is served in the morning.”

In a family-oriented culture, gathering for an afternoon drink has deep value as it brings people together, whether relatives sharing a house or neighbors living in the same community.

Saudi Netflix drama-comedy ‘Crashing Eid’ tackles romantic taboos with heart

Updated 28 September 2023

Saudi Netflix drama-comedy ‘Crashing Eid’ tackles romantic taboos with heart

DUBAI: Following hot on the heels of Netflix’s first Saudi original comedy series “Tahir’s House,” the global streamer has just announced another Jeddah-set original series that is tailor-made to get the Kingdom talking.

Created by Saudi filmmaker Nora Aboushousha (“Lucky You Are Mine”), “Crashing Eid” is family drama-comedy that tackles societal romantic taboos with both an irreverent spirit and a warm heart, set to debut worldwide on Oct. 19.

The show follows Razan (Summer Shesha), a Saudi woman living in the UK with her teenage daughter who plans to marry a British-Pakistani man under the assumption that her family will approve the pairing without question. When she returns home during Ramadan, with her fiancé following soon after as an uninvited guest, she soon finds that breaking with tradition may be harder than she had originally thought — to both hilarious and dramatic results.

Aboushousha, herself from Jeddah, is a rising star in the Kingdom, with her one-location lockdown crime series “Rahin Altaqiq” and drama comedy about rebellious young Saudi woman “Confessions” both becoming viral hits over the last few years. She is also no stranger to pushing boundaries, with her short “Lucky You Are Mine” winning a production grant by the Saudi Film Commission before debuting at the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival in her hometown to strong acclaim.

“We started off with a concept of someone who is different from their family, and that grew into this story of a single mother who returns from abroad. We started wondering, what will inspire the clash with the rest of the family? And immediately we realized, ‘oh, she should come back ready to be married to someone from outside the culture!’ Everything fell into place from there,” Aboushousha told Arab News.

For Shesha, who steps into her first major lead role as Razan, the project inspired her not only because of the ways that the conceit allows each member of the family to flourish as they grapple with the events it sets into motion, but because the themes are so easy to relate to for so many people across the world.

“First of all, this show is awesome. I really think it is. That drew me to it to begin with. But it also mattered to me that this is on Netflix worldwide. This is a show with global themes of family, conflict and love. I really wanted a show that both felt specific and universal and this show has really captures that,” Shesha told Arab News.

Review: ‘Fingernails’ – Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed star in Apple TV+’s anti-climactic sci-fi romance 

Updated 28 September 2023

Review: ‘Fingernails’ – Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed star in Apple TV+’s anti-climactic sci-fi romance 

TORONTO: What if there was a test that could determine for certain that you and your partner are in love? Set in a near-distant future, Greek director’s Christos Nikou’s English debut “Fingernails” toys with that idea but the end result falls flat.

The sci-fi sees Anna (Jessie Buckley) on a job hunt after the school she worked for closes down. She lands a position at the love institute run by Duncan (Luke Wilson). This is an establishment that dedicates all its efforts to testing couples on whether they are truly in love with each other. 

Anna and her partner Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) received a positive test early into their relationship and have settled into a predictable routine at home that no longer excites Anna. Enter, Amir (Oscar-winner Riz Ahmed), Anna’s charming co-worker who helps her find her feet as they start running tests with clients and ultimately collect their fingernails for the final result. As weeks go on and despite Anna’s 100% test with her partner, Amir and Anna fall for each other which contradicts their entire career.

Buckley and Ahmed have instant chemistry as coworkers who root for their clients and share the same optimism for love but the real issue lies within the script. Director and writer Christos Nikou had an opportunity to take this “Black Mirror” style idea and turn it into something thrilling with higher stakes and gorier shots, instead it cuts away whenever fingernails are pulled and there’s no consequence for people if they step out of their test-proven matches. 

Aside from a lackluster screenplay, the score and cinematography match the eerie theme at hand and the pressures that our heroine faces with her conflicted feelings. The performances from Riz Ahmed, Jeremy Allen White and Luke Wilson carry the film and do what they can, especially Jessie Buckley who swaps her thick Irish accent for a convincing American one and is luminous throughout the film. 

Though the film Nikou’s message is clear — love is not a science and can’t be manufactured or determined by a machine and while the film is shot on 35mm making it seem better and more artistic than it is, “Fingernails” fails to live up to its full potential.

"Fingernails" played as a part of the Special Presentation program at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

Arab American filmmaker Ruby Malek shines spotlight on Saudi talent  

Updated 28 September 2023

Arab American filmmaker Ruby Malek shines spotlight on Saudi talent  

LOS ANGELES: Arab American filmmaker Ruby Malek is shining a spotlight on Saudi talent in the 10-episode docuseries “Herstory” which follows the journeys of Saudi’s modern-day female music stars.  

“We were just fascinated by the amount of talent because a lot of these artists are self-taught. And, you know, there were no music schools that they went to. There wasn't like a piano teacher that would teach these women,” said Malek to Arab News.  

“A lot of these artists actually didn't show their identity, didn't show their faces, and weren't really out there... We're still talking about 2020 now, so it wasn't like now in 2023.”  

Chronicling these artists' struggles, triumphs and their place in the cultural history of the Kingdom, the series blends the passion for music-infused storytelling Ruby honed making music videos and her skills as a documentarian.  

“I'm the generation that grew up watching MTV, VH1, so I was very into the various reality shows, and that's what I kind of fell into. I fell into creating reality shows and formats, and so went from music videos to reality shows, documentaries. And then one thing led to another,” said Malek.  

Motivated by the positive changes of Saudi Vision 2030, Malek sought to showcase a side of Saudi Arabia that she had not seen in the West. With the series having opened doors for the creator, she’s excited to continue working in the Kingdom.  

“I actually have been back to Saudi. I shot a show for Vice, and yes, I would definitely (work there again). I mean, as a producer, there's so much potential and there's so many stories to be told that I think I will be going there more often and very soon,” she said.  

Review: Wes Anderson returns to Roald Dahl with ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’

Updated 28 September 2023

Review: Wes Anderson returns to Roald Dahl with ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’

LONDON: Given the critical success of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” in 2009, it is something of a surprise that it has taken so many years for Wes Anderson to return to the works of Roald Dahl.

Now, lo and behold, four adaptations have come along at once, with a quartet of Anderson-directed short films for Netflix — also including “The Swan,” “The Rat Catcher” and “Poison” — released at daily intervals this week.

Anderson has assembled an fine troupe of actors, many of whom appear across the four stories, and first turns his inimitable, behind-the-curtain style to “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.”

As perhaps only Anderson could, the director leans into the multi-layered storytelling, including a narrator (Dahl himself, played by Ralph Fiennes) and a procession of deadpan, to-camera monologues from his cast, which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, Dev Patel, Rupert Friend and Richard Ayoade.

Bored, greedy bachelor Henry Sugar (Cumberbatch) stumbles across the story of Imdad Khan (Kingsley), a circus performer who taught himself to see with his eyes closed. Sniffing an opportunity for limitless profit, Sugar tries to develop the same power so that he can make a killing in the world’s casinos.

Because it is a Wes Anderson film, the audience is invited to share in every aspect of the storytelling — whether it is the actors taking on multiple roles, the visible stagehands, the off-screen noises or the occasional glimpses beyond the sets, there is a decidedly theater-like aesthetic at play.

For Anderson, the telling of the story is, in fact, part of that story — and the relationship between author, narrator, actors and audience shifts and pirouettes throughout the 39 minutes.

“Henry Sugar” is one of Dahl’s more upbeat tales, removed from the naivety of the writer’s children’s stories and perhaps lacking some of the more macabre leanings of his adult work.

The cast certainly commits, all throwing themselves into the straightlaced performances. Although it makes for an odd experience — all lavish worldbuilding juxtaposed with starkly functional acting — it somehow works.

Much like Dahl himself, there is an eccentricity about Anderson’s style that makes his films captivating, and the prospect of more work to come an intriguing one.