Saar Avenue’s newest restaurant and its complementary coffee shop, Hopscotch and Grind, are the perfect medley of taste and comfort and have very quickly become among the Kingdom’s favourite
BY ANAAM IKRAM
Brick walls, wooden benches decorated with small pails of cutlery, and tiny plant, pots, industrial-style flooring, and an incredibly hard to miss vintage-style bicycle suspended in the air close to the entrance that demands the attention of every customer as they walk in through the wooden fence to the door and are greeted by block capitals “OH HEY” on the floor. Welcoming the customers with her own signature phrase, founder of the rustic kitchen Hopscotch, Dona Murad, has created a space that brings to its customers more than healthy yet comforting food, but also a comfortable and relaxed ambiance to enjoy their meals with friends and family, or work in the cosy yet equally cool and relaxed aesthetic made even more perfect with a cup of freshly brewed cup of coffee, crisp to the taste. Dona spoke to Perle Magazine about her love for food and having a self-made hearty meal in a comfortable place that feels like home outside of home.
Experience the art of creating beauty from food from a young age, Dona was inspired by the art of baking as she would watch her grandmother bake and design wedding cakes, sparking in her an interest as well. At 15 Dona set up her own mini-business, called Cupcakery, of baking cupcakes and selling them to her friends, unknowingly paving the way for her future culinary endeavours. While away at university, Dona continued to work her culinary skills by preparing meals for herself, but her career in culinary did not take off till she quit her job in the Marketing and Communications industry and signed her space in 2015, and 14 months later Hopscotch was born. “To be honest this concept has been with me for a long time. I have always wanted a place where people could come in and have a coffee followed by a meal or vice versa in a comfy setting”, Dona explains and adds that working in a corporate environment never felt organic to her and thus she decided to move forward with her passion of food and coffee. “If you know me, you know I love food and coffee!”
Naming the restaurant after her favourite game as a child, as well as it being an international game, which inspired her fusion menu, it is evident that Hopscotch for Dona is more than just a business venture. Working on the interior design of the place by herself, Dona says she wanted everything to have a certain look that falls between rustic and industrial. A minimalist by nature, Dona says she wanted to make sure the restaurant and café give off the vibe of not being overdone yet still feel cosy. Large windows on two sides of the restaurant allow in ample sunlight and allow a view of the al fresco seating area, while still maintaining privacy as a wooden fence serves a boundary outside the restaurant on all sides. The walls, albeit plain, are either exposed brick, or painted white with real potted cacti on the wall. The wooden beams of the restaurants are also exposed, and counter is put together using brushed metal sheets with visible bolts, as small plant pots dangle from the ceiling, similar to the light bulb that hang from the ceiling from ropes. In Grind as well, the wooden tabletops complement the metal chairs, and the metal shutter counter-front is a truly unique touch. Leaving no detail unnoticed, even the bathroom door has a metal sliding door and the tables and chairs have little sayings on them – a personal touch of Dona’s. Making sure the customers become part of both the Hopscotch and Grind experience as much as possible, even the cutlery used has a rustic vibe to it with the food served on wooden planks, minimalist plates, skillets (for eggs), and mini-skillets, and metal pots for the smaller starters or side dishes. The drinks are served in mason jars, and coffees served in neutral coloured ceramic cups (or paper cups) or in the traditional chai tumblers. But perhaps the most eye-catching accessory in Hopscotch is the custom-made bike made by Dona herself. Taking an ordinary bike and repainting the rims and adding a vintage-style handle bar, Dona decided to suspend it from the ceiling, adding extra character to the chic restaurant.
The delicious menu is also produced by Dona, who took her favourites as well as some family recipes, and added her own personal touch to them. Already becoming a favourite of many around Bahrain, the Thunder Thighs Fried Chicken Sandwich, which is a fried chicken sandwich served with special sauce is one of the restaurant’s specialty. The homemade sauces add a spicy twist as the hearty meal leaves customers full but of course, wanting for more.
Taking into consideration the different taste palettes and dietary preferences in Bahrain, the menu also boasts vegetarian and vegan dishes, such as the ever-popular Buddha’s Bowl, which is composed of fresh veggies such as cucumber, avocados, radish, some kale, and quinoa, and chickpeas, topped with a spicy pepper sauce, making a truly delicious and wholesome meal with a zest. The meat lovers can also enjoy the juicy ribs which are the perfect choice as they are covered in the homemade spices or a seafood dish such as the newly added Teriyaki Salmon Donburi. The small but eclectic menu gives customers options to alter their dishes as per their requirements, without taking away the true flavour of the original dish. “I wanted the menu to be versatile for all kinds of eaters, maybe one day you want to have a fried chicken sandwich, and other days you want a light salad – there is something for everybody”, Dona explains. The starters, sides, and the hearty salad options on the menu as well serve as light bites complemented with freshly made drinks. They can be enjoyed as part of a meal or enjoyed on their own, as they served in generous portions and the richness of each ingredient can be tasted in every bite. For those with a sweet tooth, Hopscotch also serves freshly made decadent desserts such as the Brooklyn Blackout, which is a dark chocolate pudding in between the cake layers, and the Sticky Toffee Pudding made from organic dates, both of which are house recipes and ultimately, customer favourites.
The menu at Grind is a coffee lover’s dream, as the beans come from different countries witch each holding their own flavour profile and hand-written tags on the containers. Having taken barista and latte art courses in London to understand the art behind a good cup of coffee as well as currently learning how to roast coffee, Dona says she appreciates a well-made cup of coffee and therefore does not like to use any additives or sugar syrups to ensure the customers experience a freshly roasted and ground cup of specialty coffee. What makes the coffee even more special are the gluten free brownies that are served at grind or with any of the desserts from Hopscotch, and turn the coffee drinking experience into a little treat.
Sourcing the ingredients locally as much as possible, Dona says she goes every to the Farmer’s Market every Saturday to purchase all the produce that is in season. She adds it is important as a local business, to empower other local business to help each other grow. For her own business as well, Dona says she is still working on the menu to figure out what the customers prefer and don’t, and hopes to bring about some more changes in the future to the menu.
Moving form the world of Marketing and Communications to becoming a restaurateur was not an easy leap but an exciting one for Dona nonetheless as she was able to express her creative freedom as an individual and follow her dream. “Being a restaurateur is not an easy job, you have to make people happy every single time they walk through the door, every day feels like your first day at a new job, which does keep things challenging”, she says and adds that all the challenges and patience are worth the wait when everything comes to life. She adds the restaurant is still growing as she believes in a slow and organic process for a better result rather than to rush everything.
“I want my customers to feel as though they are at home! Bring your book, have a cup of coffee, followed by a meal. Nothing makes me happier than seeing people come to sit here comfortably with their friends or do work”, Dona says, and being hands-on with her business and is present in the restaurant everyday herself.
So whether it is the giant neon “BLAH BLAH BLAH” sign in Grind inviting customers for a chit chat over a cup of coffee, or the friendly and welcoming ambiance of Hopscotch allowing customers to make it their second home, the restaurant and café have come together harmoniously to create a setting that is equal parts chic and cosy, mirroring the persona of their creator, Dona Murad, herself.
For more information:
Al Markh Avenue, Saar
(00973) 1769 1124
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