Café culture is ingrained in Arab communities across the globe, and Riyadh is no different. But gone are the days when a coffee house in Saudi Arabia meant somewhere a few elderly men sat around with pots of qahawa (traditional Saudi coffee), to while away the hours.
Riyadh is now home to some of the Kingdom’s most fashionable cafés: places where bearded baristas serve gourmet coffee with a backstory so deep it needs its own biography, and brunches fit for a king arrive on plates dressed perfectly for that Instagram moment.
Welcome to Riyadh’s café scene. Here’s our edit of six of the capital’s best.
We love the signature black and white murals in this coffee-lovers joint on King Abdul Aziz Road, which also serves up great brunch dishes. Our personal favourite is the savoury Eggs Benedict, although if you prefer something sweeter, don't overlook the fluffy, American-style pancake stacks. The achingly-cool industrial look goes hand-in-hand with a friendly buzz, and the coffee here is on a par with any of Riyadh’s top gourmet caffeine joints. All of which makes Five Elephants the kind of boutique café we’ll keep returning to.
It is all about the Mediterranean, mezze-style spreads at Tao Bistro, a chic eatery in Riyadh's Nojoud Mall. Grilled halloumi, hummus, olives, shakshuka and fluffy falafel are among the delicious bite-size meals served up in tin ramekins on an Indian thali-like tray, flanked with fresh bread. Tao’s interior décor appears to have been inspired by a combination of something French and Louis, and something Japanese, with blooms of cherry blossom suspended above the table. Either way, combined with the relaxing music and low-level conversation, the café has an appealingly chilled ambience.
One of Riyadh’s most luxurious hotels, the Ritz Carlton is also home to some of the city’s most elegant and refined cafés, and well worth the trip out west of the capital. At these prices, it will no doubt be for a special treat. The gourmet coffee served here is sourced from one of the kingdom’s leading roasteries and then ‘cold-dripped’ for almost an entire day before it is served. Sit in any one of six sumptuous, almost regal spaces that evoke European romanticism, Japanese chic and understated elegance, as you tuck into a delectably refined menu prepared by some of the country’s leading chefs.
Faux blossoming trees, and elegant shabby-chic furnishings create a refreshing atmosphere in this low-lit little café close to the city centre. The lightness of the menu, especially the huge salads, and some of the more creative spins, like taco shawarma and avocado hummus, make this a great choice for a spot of lunch.
One of the capital’s very first specialist coffee venues, Elixir is run by passionate baristas who love to do quirky and creative things with their coffee. Beans are roasted on site, and the interior has a predictably stripped back look with lots of sharp, linear angles. But Elixir isn’t just about the caffeine hits; this is also one of our favourite dessert spots. Don’t think about ordering a cortado without a slab of pecan pie to go with it.
Whether it is night or day, be sure to ask for a seat facing out towards the Kingdom Center: the view is the primary reason for coming to Al Masaa, located right in the heart of the capital. Actually, there are several other good reasons to pay a visit, like the excellent coffee, the delicious lunch menu, and the super refreshing mocktails. There’s nothing quite like a virgin mojito, sipped while sat in the shade of Riyadh’s most iconic building.