Liz O’Reilly took a trip down memory lane for a delightful dining experience.

Momento at Al Areen Palace & Spa by Accor is a beautiful restaurant that’s part of a beautiful property. I spent my first Christmas in a villa there when I arrived on the island almost 15 years ago and, since then, it has always had a piece of my heart. I love the drive down through the desert and the short ride on a golf buggy through the resort surrounded by opulence, lush greenery and tinkling water features

At the newly launched Momento, which used to be Keizo, it’s all crisp white linens and crystal. The ceiling, swathed in airy material, the sun-shaded terrace giving a sense of an African safari tent – even the poles holding the sunshades are spotted like the skin of a savanna beast – while inside, the cuisine is determinedly Mediterranean with freshness at a premium.

Fresh white roses adorn the tables and dark wood flooring and furnishings add to the feeling of luxury while the outdoor dining area overlooking the waters of multiple ponds enjoys a serene desert backdrop.

Arriving for a late lunch, we were immediately struck by the sense of tranquility and the gorgeous light all around. After a friendly greeting, we started with a Peninsula Green Salad featuring hydroponically grown greens, from Bahrain’s own Peninsula Farms, married with Heirloom tomatoes, seasonal mango, red and white quinoa and crunchy purple sago crackers, from Sous Chef Soni’s mum’s own recipe. The dish was topped with rich, salty goats cheese, also from Peninsula, the perfect foil to the sweetness of the mango and the herb and citrus drizzle.

Soft creamy burrata from Italy again came with Heirloom tomatoes but this time blanched and skinned to give a pale and interesting appearance. The dish is served with high-grade olive oil in a pesto with walnuts, pistachio and pine nuts which adds an intriguing nutty earthiness to the richness of the cheese.

I’m a sucker for calamari and Momento’s came fried with a crispy coating accompanied by lemon aioli and spicy marinara. The sauce had a slight kick of heat and the aioli was delightfully creamy but I preferred these delicious bites of soft, sweet calamari with just a squeeze of lemon to bring out the flavour of the seafood.

Next came baby chicken with new potatoes and asparagus, eggplant caponata and chicken jus. The chicken was beautifully tender and juicy, stuffed with onions and vegetables which were teeming out as it was carved at the table. The eggplant was amazing. Barely smoky, as eggplant is known to be, but rather almost fruity, from more of those delicious tomatoes, and with a slight, welcome warmth. This was one of the stand-outs for me.

Mediterranean Seabass with mixed roasted veg – tomatoes, broccoli and white asparagus – soon arrived at the table. Stuffed with thyme, lemon and seasoning and chargrilled then whole roasted, the skin was crispy and the flesh tasty and firm. I loved the white asparagus, which you don’t see very often. Served with a vinaigrette which gave a sweet and savoury combination, it added another dimension to the already excellent fish.

We were also recommended to try the octopus, or polpo, which is cooked for eight hours sous vide, to ensure it is super tender with not a hint of rubberiness, and served with persilade sauce, red peppers and lemon and capers with crushed fingerling potatoes. My dining companion had specifically requested this and could not have been happier, he actually says it is one of the best renderings of this dish on the island.

The piece de resistance was the Tomahawk steak, a speciality of Executive Chef Sumeet Kumi. This cut is so large that it can serve several diners and can be cooked rare in the centre, ranging out to medium-well done at the edges, so everyone gets the texture they desire. I went for a medium-rare slice and it was gamey and absolutely delicious. Melt-in-the-mouth tender it had just the right amount of seasoning to perfectly complement the highquality meat and the flavoursome juices flowing from within.

Alongside our food, we also got to sample a selection of expertly mixed mocktails. The St Tropez – a combination of fresh berries, elderflower syrup and soda – was a great favourite, its perfect combination of sweet and tart just hitting the spot. Another that’s highly recommended was Habu Alhal – pineapple juice, lime juice, coconut milk, honey and cardamom syrup. This had an unexpected taste with such a great mix of flavours. It went down so well that my colleague and I were fighting over the last drop!

I have to say though that I wasn’t truly convinced by A Ghaf. According to the menu “drinking cheese is the next big thing” and this is a mix of hibiscus/cascara tea, lime juice, peach syrup and vanilla syrup topped with goat cheese foam. I think this might be an acquired taste.

The finale, was, of course, a selection of desserts, including Tiramisu and pistachio panna cotta. Lava cake with homemade vanilla bean ice cream was my favourite. Deeply chocolatey and satisfyingly gooey, I ate it even though I was already thoroughly stuffed because, well, chocolate lava, how could I not?! ✤