A Dainty Mediterranean Affair
BY ANAAM IKRAM
Popular for its lush dining scene, art galleries, and small boutiques Adliya’s Block 338 area is no stranger to a harmonious amalgam of flavours, art, and culture with each passing step. Home to Bahrain’s favourite and most popular cafés and restaurants such as Café Lilou, Coco’s, and Zoe, the café strip has also become home to the Kingdom’s newest chic Mediterranean dining experience, Florence – La Maison Méditerranéenne. Offering customers a charming dining experience Florence is a culinary getaway to an authentic Mediterranean cuisine. One of the owners, Svenja Schuetze, spoke to Pearl Magazine about her passion towards the multifaceted cuisine and serving it in an environment that feels like home.
Originating from the small city of Kiel, Germany, Svenja’s venture into hospitality seems almost inevitable, as her grandmother had remained the owner of Residenz Waldkrone, a small hotel in the city of Kuehlungsborn. With two of her sisters also in the hospitality industry, Svenja’s interest in the food industry is almost natural and her passion to serve a perfectly hearty and delicious meal is evident with each dish that is brought out of the kitchen. With her education in International Business and commitment towards launching her own business, Svenja dedicated herself to opening a restaurant. Her hard work, creativity, and passion towards owning a place that would make her customers feel welcomed and comfortable; she set up Florence – La Maison Méditerranéenne in April 2016.
A cuisine carrying Italian, Levantine, Maghrebi, Ottoman, Provencal (French), and Spanish elements, the Mediterranean geographies broadly follow the distribution of the olive tree. The core ingredients that define Mediterranean cuisine are the olive (yielding oil), wheat (bread and pasta), and grape. There are many factors that distinguish Mediterranean cuisine from Northern Europe, such as the use of olive oil instead of butter. As the time went on, Mediterranean cuisine evolved, however, one of the most important change was of the introduction of many Arab foods to Portugal, Spain, Sicily in the Middle Ages, such as aubergines, spinach, sugar cane, rice, apricots, and citrus fruits. These food items may not serve as staple Mediterranean food items, but they have become important elements of the cuisine. Through Florence’s meticulously crafted and eclectic menu, Svenja captures the essence of the Mediterranean and serves dishes that appeal to lovers of simplicity and purity in taste.
From a mouth-watering selection of fresh salads created using an interesting mix of ingredients that allow a burst of flavours in each bite, to a wide selection of hearty starters, sandwiches, mains, and delicious desserts to end the meal on a sweet note. “We want to have it simple but tasty food in a homely atmosphere”, Svenja says. Working closely with her Chef, Maher Ramzi, the dishes are created using only fresh local ingredients. At Florence, customers can relish in a Salade de Chévre Chaud, a salad dish is served with goat cheese inside a puff pastry and garnished with mixed lettuce, sundried tomatoes, caramelised walnuts, raspberries and balsamic reduction. The rich tasting Gratin d’Épinards made using spinach, artichokes, mushrooms, with roasted garlic, topped with fresh thyme and parmesan served with homemade seasoned tortilla chips is a light starter dish but is filling enough and can be enjoyed as a meal itself. For those who prefer a lighter meal, the char-grilled skewers, served with homemade saj bread are perfect as they are served with a mix of halloumi, grilled vegetables, beef, chicken, and roasted potatoes. For the seafood lovers, Florence offers a wide variety of pescetarian-favourite dishes such as Chef Maher’s signature Sayadieh, a seared baby Hammour with aromatic basmati rice topped with crispy onions, roasted almonds and nuts to add that a hint of crunch with the soft texture of the dish. The seafood risotto is a beautiful combination of risotto prepared al dente with calamari, shrimps, salmon, and sundried tomatoes, resulting in a true treat for the seafood enthusiasts. For those who like to indulge in pizzas and hearty pastas, Florence offers a wide variety of the staple Italian cuisine with wood-oven baked thin crust pizza with a light and crispy crust and a soft and melts-in-your-mouth centre bursting with rich flavours of cheese and tomato base, as well as other complementary ingredients. To complete any meal, Florence’s signature Paris Brest, served with a scoop of ice cream is pure bliss. The creamy dessert made with a choux pastry and praline-flavoured cream is a delight with each bite.
Making the sure the customers have plenty of options to choose from, Florence offers a wide variety of refreshing drinks such as the Summer of Florence, a tangy berry and lime drink with a touch of sweetness from the Vanilla sugar; Cinderella, a sour treat to tickle the taste-buds made from red grapefruit juice, pineapple juice, fresh lemon, peach syrup, and ginger ale; or a simple Marettimo, created using lemon, mint, and orange blossom slush. All the drinks are at the Florence drinks bar, and customers also have the option to create their own unique mixtures and enjoy a drink of their own preference. “We designed the menu”, Svenja explains, “because I always had in mind what I wanted to serve and I sat with Chef Maher and explained to him, and he delivered.” Going a step further with their menu, Svenja explains they also created especially for Ramadan and plan to create something special for the upcoming holiday season.
Svenja explains the location for the quaint restaurant came through the help of her partner, Khaled Mallala (with whom she’s renting the venue) that could not be more perfect for Florence to further enhance Block 338’s culinary scene. Starting work on the location from July 2015, Svenja and her team were able to have Florence’s doors open for the customers. The aesthetic of Florence is drawn from Svenja’s own small-town and homely up bringing, ensuring every customer is felt welcomed and comfortable, while enjoying a wholesome meal. Svenja says they worked with a designer from Lebanon who was able to transform her ideas into a reality, resulting in a beautiful and well-lit restaurant with wooden interiors, pastel colours, and large windows allowing in ample sunlight during the day. With numerous seating outside, downstairs, and upstairs, Florence also holds the capacity to host special occasions and parties for those who wish to mark their special day in a precious manner. Handpicked items by Svenja decorate the interior and exterior of Florence, from little photo-frames and a stand full of tiny music-churners by the front door, to pot plants and multiple china cabinets placed around the restaurant, Florence is every bit charming and unique. Svenja’s personal touches throughout the restaurant give the restaurant an inviting air, both indoors and outdoors. The light colour palette of the restaurant also allows it seem spacious, even with a crowd, and the outdoor veranda and upstairs terrace provide a great al fresco dining experience. Florence’s outdoor dining area also has small fountain situated at the back along with a corner-style seating area for a more relaxed experience, and a newly added glass-panelled gazebo to accommodate more customers who wish to enjoy their meals in an outdoor setting.
“I just want to make everyone understand that Florence is a place for everyone. We do not have a certain target for the kind of people we welcome here. The kind of atmosphere we can accommodate is quite diverse, for meetings, or work, or even for social gatherings. We have a lot of reservation for birthdays and baby showers, weddings, and parties”, Svenja explains of the overall feel of Florence. Confident about her concept and vision from the very beginning, Svenja says she always wanted to have a place that would allow everyone to feel at ease while enjoying their breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Currently working on making Florence one of the most renowned places for the best Mediterranean cuisine in Bahrain, Svenja explains they would eventually like to expand the Florence brand around the GCC. With serving more than just delectable food, Florence has quick become a location ideal for photo shoots and a place to mark special occasions amongst family and friends in the short time since its opening.
From freshly made delicious food, to energising drinks, and mouth-watering desserts all in a comfortable and tastefully-decorated ambiance, Florence radiates an air of sophistication and vivacity, ideal for a family meal at any time of day.
For more information:
Block 338, Adliya, Bahrain
(00973) 1733 6373
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