We enjoy her reviews and recipes on Curiously Hungry, we loved and relished her Curious Burgers, and now we can’t wait to try her new Curious Diner! Hessa Humood Al Khalifa is a certified chef from Le Cordon Bleu Paris and one of Bahrain’s popular food influencers. Her brand is all about reviews and recipes inspired by the flavours of the world. Her new diner at Al Liwan in Hamala is all about comfort food and the good ol’ retro diner feel.
Bahrain Confidential’s Deepika Rao got in touch with Hessa recently to find out more about Curious Diner and the Curious talent behind it.
Tell us about Curious Diner. What can we look forward to at your upcoming restaurant?
Curious Diner is a retro-futuristic diner serving comfort food classics as well as experimental special dishes. It is going to be more of a fun family-friendly space where everyone can come, chill, and grab a bite to eat. We’re trying to capture the original essence of a classic diner and make it more accessible for our modern age. Diners usually serve greasy fast food but we are going to be a bit more conscious about the quality of ingredients we use.
The burgers will still be saucy and the chicken tenders will still be crispy and golden, but we would focus on non-GMO and grass-fed protein sources to make sure that it’s both good for the environment and for our customers. We also are experimenting with vegan & vegetarian options so that everyone is welcome at the diner! Keep an eye out for our blue plate specials that change throughout the month!
Why are you choosing to serve comfort food at the restaurant?
During the early stages of the pandemic almost instantly everyone turned to comfort food. I certainly was one of them. I made my “curious burger” for myself in March 2020 because I was craving a burger and most of the restaurants were closed. It was a very uncertain time and all I knew for certain was that I wanted a good burger. The real accident was when I was convinced to sell it by my cousin and then things really got interesting. Orders came in on my Shopify website faster than I could keep up.
Weekly sellouts were the norm and I just felt like I had to be able to serve everyone and not let anyone down. I didn’t necessarily feel that there was a gap in the market that I could fill; I knew I had to start, because life is too short and if not now, when? And that almost everyone was craving some form of comfort food from time to time, so I wanted to be able to serve that year-round. It is also a chance for me to explore comfort foods from around the world and have a monthly blue plate special menu based on a country we are curious to explore.
Whether it’s our local Mathrooba, Chicken Adobo from the Philippines, Korean Fried Chicken, or even the ubiquitous Fish and Chips, I just feel like comfort food is what makes us happy and I’m in the business of making people happy, using food as my medium.
We certainly relished your Curious Burgers! What are some of your other signature dishes we’ll get to try at Curious Diner?
You’d be surprised to know that the kids’ menu is more thought out than the adults’ menu. That’s because I think children are the most loyal and honest customers and if they like or dislike something, they will let you know! So the signature dishes are modelled after childhood favourites like Mac n Cheese, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Tomato Soup, and of course Chicken Tenders.
But with the Blue Plate Specials, which is a model from the 1920s-1950s in US Diners during the Depression and WW eras, of serving a hearty meal on a Blue Willow Chinese plate, we get to serve quality meals at an affordable price. So for the adults, the specials are basically what I like to make for myself; like the Okonomiyaki (a delicious Japanese savoury pancake, mine is Osaka style), my Crack Noodles (which is a Chicken & Tahini Soy infused pasta dish), and of course the Patty Melt (every diner should have a patty melt and we are no exception.)
What’s your take on the food scene in Bahrain and its evolution since the pandemic?
Resilience is often a word used to describe overcoming difficult situations, and so I feel it is apt to use it in this instance. The way that the F&B sector in Bahrain managed to weather the pandemic with minimal closures is nothing short of miraculous. Even the closures of some of our favourites are not necessarily a bad thing, just a redirection.
We are seeing a number of cloud kitchens as well and that speaks to the evolution of the market. Customers value convenience and eating in as opposed to getting dressed and dining out. I feel that for the age of eating out to return, restaurants must provide not only good food but rather create an atmosphere and experience around the whole affair. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of that soon.
What’s your favourite thing to do aside from cooking and food blogging?
I recently got back into Tai Chi. I try my best to practice every morning, it’s really calming and gets me ready to face the day. I also love playing Padel and going to spinning classes. It’s so much fun and being active helps me really focus on the present moment rather than worry about the future. And when I get the chance, I love to travel. Just exploring new places and old favourites always sparks my imagination and curiosity to bring back ideas to implement in the kitchen.