Success, spice & everything nice
With experience running a franchise (Iris) and a home-grown concept (My Café), Sawsan Baluch opened her first fine dining restaurant, Mahonia, in March 2018 and aims to offer a degustation menu concept to the Kingdom of Bahrain.
On a call with Caterer Middle East, Baluch explains that she actually started her career in the interior design world, but was passionate about food and cooking for a very long time. After two F&B ventures, the idea for Mahonia was something, Baluch says, that was on her mind for a long time.
“The idea for Mahonia came from me travelling all the time to Europe and going to fine dining Michelin-starred restaurants. I thought, ‘how come we don’t have something similar in Bahrain, or the Gulf or the Middle East?’ I thought, ‘why do I have to travel all the time to enjoy this sort of food?’” she says. All of this added up in her mind, she tells us, and led to the launch of the restaurant.
While admitting that prior to the restaurant launching there wasn’t really that much demand or interest from consumers, Baluch says she “always wanted to do a small restaurant, packed with people, queuing for the restaurant, with good food and good ingredients”.
The fine dining venue is located right next to My Café, and Baluch utilised existing space to create an outlet with seven tables. With just seven tables, the group’s executive chef Herve Pronzato spent more than a year developing the menu, which now offers a choice of a 16-course or 7-course degustation menu with beverage pairings. Pronzato has had experience working with Joël Robuchon in Paris, and eventually was responsible for Michelin stars for his own restaurants in Paris, London and Greece.
The food is described as eclectic by Baluch, and the menu offers items such as quail topped with dates, and the tables are all named after an ingredient used in the menu: cardamom, saffron, ginger, cinnamon, wasabi, pistachio, and tamarind. The restaurant uses produce from around the world, from Japanese Kobe beef to French quail eggs. The chefs also prepare certain ingredients in-house, from cured and smoked meats to cheeses, butters, breads and micro-greens.
While the restaurant has been open less than six months, Baluch is confident about its success and comments: “I knew people will love it because I have a really good reputation in Bahrain for my food business. And when you have a good reputation, people will come to you. I didn’t know whether people were ready for degustation though. But when I opened, the reviews were amazing. People asked why I never opened this before.”
She notes she is considering launching a bakery as her next concept but confirms that she is not interested, at this stage, in working on any projects outside Bahrain. “I’m a self-motivated woman. I’m not doing it to show off, or to make millions out of it; I do it because I want to be successful in my way,” she concludes.