In my humble opinion, Middle Eastern food firmly makes its mark as one of the world’s most favored cuisines. Hummus, grills and tangy salads like tabbouleh have become favorites of many all over the globe. That’s why, amidst all other gorgeous international concepts popping up around Kuwait, a modern take of our proud culture is always appreciated.
Welcome to Rosewater Café – a place cradled in the hustle and bustle of old Kuwait City at a hop, skip and a jump away from the Mubarakiya district. The definition of old-meets-new, this spot emulates fresh interpretations that give a nod to our generation’s version of embracing Arab culture and history.
With a pristine presentation that doesn’t compromise itself on comfort, Rosewater uses a smart interior decorating tactic that allows all guests to feel a lovely trend of modernism meeting tradition. Neutrals keep the space bright, coupled with cutlery and flatware that bring out the casual richness of the spot’s personality.
“I wanted to give people a place to go that would make everybody comfortable,” founder Jawhara Almahdi tells me as we settle into the welcoming seats that accommodate spacious tables in the dining area. With fresh wisps of greenery and modern splashes of grays and dusty roses with contrasting bold colors and clean wooden and metallic hues, Jawhara’s renowned good taste is as recognized and praised as in her other two partnerships (The Foundry and N Boutique).
Rosewater Café, however, is an Almahdi family creation, and Jawhara acts as a very hands-on manager of the establishment; right down to finding the ideal chef mentor to build the menu – and who better than the famous Greg Malouf to curate?
“I’m a huge fan of Greg’s – I love the work he’s done, love his books (i.e: New Feast: Modern Middle Eastern Vegetarian (2014))– and it was like a dream come true to have him come over here and work on Rosewater Café with me. He’s so great, and I don’t know what I would’ve done without him.” Known for his outstanding takes on modern Middle Eastern cuisine, Greg’s skill and Rosewater’s ethos provided a perfect fit, and the result is a stunningly simple menu that offers classic Mediterranean Middle Eastern fare.
The menu is small (for now!) yet mighty, with meze, sandwiches, pastries, main courses, salads and of course, desserts. And furthermore, was that breakfast, I spied? “The beauty about this place is that it looks completely different during daytime and nighttime – completely different vibes, but both are enjoyable.” And by offering breakfast, lunch and dinner on the menu, Rosewater is inviting the public to experience all different ambiances at whichever time suits them. Personally, as someone who was at the crossover late-lunch-to-evening crowd, I get the charm.
But the food was definitely the best experience. What I like about Rosewater is that this place has soul, and it strays away from being a clichéd Middle Eastern café. Menu items spoke volumes of local taste, offering simple dishes that are shareable and enjoyed by many. Smokey Babaghanoush (or muttabal, as regionally known by the masses) and a Silky Hummus are accompanied by delicious homemade date pita bread, delivering a deliciously contrasting sweetness to the tart dips.
I’ve always said that when you put hummus and muttabal on the same table, hummus tends to be the more enticing of the two. Albeit they were both delicious, the muttabal was the real star of the show. The hummus had a pleasant taste to it that was light enough for continuous indulgence, but that muttabal – beautifully smoky with a splash of sweetness courtesy of the ruby-colored pomegranate seeds acting as a garnish, was nothing short of addictive.
The dips were a mere teaser for other goodies to come. I was invited to try two types of salads, one of which was the Turkish Tabbouleh; a beautifully citrusy take on tabbouleh, heavier on the bulgur component thus making it more substantial as a meal rather than a side dish. The other salad that I had the pleasure of sampling was the Avocado Fattoush. Acting as the epitome of a modern take on ancient culture, the salad delivered the loveliness a traditional fattoush would, with the added detail of an essential fattoush pita bread crouton fried to crisp perfection.
Another modern take on tradition was in the form of a crunchy and satisfying hazelnut encrusted falafel, served with a light-as-air whipped yogurt-based sauce. Giving a nutty taste, this falafel is ideally paired with one of the magnificent dips that had graced my palate earlier, and of course, the provided squares of homemade pita that accompanied its graceful presentation. But the crunch on the falafel was the real triumph of this dish, giving a pleasing after taste in conjunction with the garbanzo bean filling.
Before moving onto the meatier options on offer at Rosewater Café, I must focus on the hearty heap that is the creamed spinach. Meant to share, this dish is so delicious and was easily one of my favorite items off the Rosewater menu. You could tell that this creamed spinach had its own healthy, Middle Eastern twist – surprisingly light, flavorful, fragrant and fresh – it was an absolute pleasure that I kept hogging for the rest of our meal.
For those who prefer animal-sourced proteins, their main courses have an array of options ranging from chicken, to red meat and seafood. As an avid meat-lover, I’m personally very picky when it comes to grills at Middle Eastern eateries, but when the Grass-Fed Beef Skewer Kebab, I swooned! It was simple in presentation sleeping atop a fresh green sumac-spiced salad, but mighty in flavor.
The spices used automatically took me back to the small Lebanese sausages you can only get from the Goodies delicatessen in Beirut’s Verdun district. This amount of nostalgia coupled with satisfaction, in turn, allowed me to indulge in not one, two, or even three pieces of meat, but four – and I don’t regret a minute of it.
Speaking of no regrets, as though I hadn’t been spoiled enough, I decided to conclude this lovely meal with a steaming cuppa and a little bit of something sweet. I personally like my sweet endings to be short-lived, with a bite or two of a rich chocolatey cake or pudding, but Jawhara surprised me with two different desserts and I couldn’t resist!
I’m a chocolate girl, and so the classic, layered, decadent chocolate cake was definitely a winner, but its counterpart, the cheesecake, was absolutely phenomenal. With a hint of burnt caramel, paired with a sip of black tea, the wrap-up of the Rosewater experience was nothing short of pleasurable and cozy.
For any occasion, craving, or time of day, I would return and leave with satisfaction.
Rosewater Café is located on Abdulla Al Mubarak street, right by the Family Court and near Souq Al-Mubarakiya. Follow them on Instagram @rosewaterkw for more information.