After a little over 7,000 kilometres and twenty days on the road, we find ourselves at the end of the journey in Dammam – the gateway to Bahrain on the East Coast of Saudi Arabia. The gora’s (the white skinned) look pink, they have peeled-off quite a few times. Yours truly, the tropical islander – “supposedly” well-seasoned in the sun, is also peeling. Sunburn has been quite harsh on anyone and everyone. Tito’s über cool shades covered most the face except the tip of the nose and the tanning process has worked wonderfully well, leaving him with a black nose. He looks hilarious.
We look horrendous. Ridiculously happy, nevertheless. Happy to have completed the mission and we decide to spend the last few hours around a good dinner table and go our separate ways at sunrise. Pity there are no night clubs or bars in town to raise a glass of toast, so it is going to be soup instead of champagne tonight. Crossing the bridge to Bahrain was a thought, but then, some of the crew had issues with re-entry visas.
Bahrain has to wait for another time, unfortunately.
A wonderful seafood dinner is on the cards, at a restaurant that “you will not forget” says ZeeZoo, the man-in-charge of sustenance. After his previous promises and delivery, we are quite sceptic about the promise, but then again, if you are not ready for adventure, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. He has been feeding us with road-side junk food, and the hospitable locals have been offering traditional Arabic rice and meat: Kharouf and Kabsa everywhere we went. With a slow – but definite – growth of a noticeable belly-pot, it is time to stay away from the local cuisine, however hospitable and generous they are.
Seafood sounds a welcome change, so seafood it shall be.
A shower and a quick peek at the inbox, and we are ready to discover what swims in the Arabian Gulf, and how they would taste on my dinner plate. A brief drive (yes, 35 km IS brief for those who just drove across the country) and we are at a restaurant that is pretty much occupied by men in crispy white thorbes and chequered head-gear. It’s not easy to find a table for a dozen, in a busy restaurant. Looks like we made a fatal error in not reserving a table beforehand.
However, the restaurant host doesn’t want to disappoint us. He is keen on entertaining us, and we are taken up the stairs, around a few nooks and corners, and shown in to a private dining room.
Suddenly, we find ourselves tele-ported in time. From a regular restaurant, we were ushered in to the Barouqe era, and there is a huge gap between the two sides of the door that separates them. Inside the door is a room that reminds me of Anastasia and the Russian Empire. Or it could be a page from the Arabian Nights with a touch of Morocco. I was too tired, and too hungry, to decide which it would be. Could be both, or neither – it looks like an interior experiment horribly gone wrong. The décor is far from my minimalist taste.
The room has two regal tables that sits possibly a dozen and a two. There are some lazy sofas on one side, furnished in velvet, and supplemented with cushions that are decorated with intricate handwork: lace, frills, fancies, mirror-work and the whole nine yards. In the middle is a hand-painted star-shaped coffee table that’s detachable, in case if you want to keep your coffee next to you.
The floor is carpeted, wall to wall. The ceiling has detailed patterns carved and coloured with soft yellows, blues and the pinks. Walls adorn various paintings, trophies, and memorabilia.
And, for a moment, I didn’t know whether to call it a dining room or a museum.
The wall right in front of us held the prize winner: a torso of a huge stuffed gazelle (or an Arabian Oryx, I have no idea). Big beady eyes and majestic look – he surely must have been a gorgeous creature roaming the earth before he came to the seafood restaurant.
On the left wall, there was a stuffed lamb on a pedestal. Tiny thing, that would’ve found itself useful in Sri Lanka around Christmas. Then there was this angry looking dog-like thing – possibly some kind of a hyaena – frozen in time in another corner. Obviously his angry look or the ferocious bite that could’ve been, didn’t work in his favour either. Poor thing: all guts, no glory; I thought to myself. There were some stuffed birds as well, but you get the picture. Right?
I resorted to a culinary expedition I’m comfortable with: spicy seafood soup, baked lobster with cheese, followed by a platter of grilled seafood. They also had the best bread fresh from the oven, the food was just amazing.
All in all, it was a fitting finalé to the road trip.
And Zeezoo was finally right – I won’t forget the place. For two reasons: the great food and shocking décor.