by Robin Freeman October 18, 2016
Millennials, unlike their parents dine out often, and nowhere can sate their expanding pallets like Jeddah’s array of cuisine. Big name western style franchise restaurants, which boasts contemporary design, and methodically prepared meals, have become the trend here. Unfortunately, some of the local restaurants that have been a staple of the community often gets overlooked in the search for tasty fare. One such restaurant my husband and I discovered has become our absolute favorite go-to place in Jeddah. IL Castello (The Castle), was founded by an Italian chef in the 1980s and was one of the first European restaurants to open in Saudi Arabia.
Although dated the atmosphere and charm of an old Italian castle still exists. Narrow hallways, smaller rooms, wood ceiling beams, and Italian artwork line the walls. It’s cozy and offers a welcoming warm feeling. The large Italian expat community has moved on and been replaced by those who still desire the relationship only a local restaurateur can offer. A Lebanese gentleman now operates the restaurant and shares both classic Italian and Lebanese fare.
Today we visited for lunch. Upon entering you are promptly greeted and escorted to your table. They offer separate rooms for families and singles. The staff is friendly, experienced, and professional in every manner including the uniforms they wear. After our first couple visits they recognized us and remembered drinks filled with ice and the type of dressing we liked on our salads.
We ordered the lunch specials: white beans with lamb, and roast beef with mashed potatoes. Both choices were served with fatoosh salad, pita bread, and drinks. After meal, desserts and cappuccino, included in the price, where served.
Fatoosh salad at IL Castello is our favorite. A mix of greens, mint, parsley, and in-season veggies, then topped with thin crispy-fried pita chips. What makes this salad so special is the dressing: sumac, salt, pepper, mashed garlic, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. The twang of sour and sweet molasses comes through in every bite. We always ask for more of the pomegranate molasses, the sweet and tart flavor, takes the fatoosh to another level. The traditional white bean stew was served over rice. No surprises as the dish tasted as authentic as my Lebanese friends serve in their homes. The correct mix of spices and tenderness of the lamb left my husband satisfied.
Tender slices of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and brown gravy arrived at our table as we finished our fatoosh salads. I’m not sure if this is considered an Italian dish, but I love the simplicity of the restaurants all-inclusive meal option and usually choose the daily special, as we enjoy the surprise of new flavors. The freshness comes through in each dish I’ve eaten at IL Castello’s this last year.
Last comes the daily dessert special and a hot drink of your choice. Today we had a warm tasty puff pastry dessert filled with sweet cheese, and topped with honey. My husband who is the most persnickety cappuccino drinker there is rates the espresso drinks as exceptional.
Our bill came to 76 SAR ($20 USD) for two lunch specials with salads, bread, drinks, desserts, and cappuccinos. The dinner menu is pricier and in line with the larger food chain restaurants throughout Jeddah.
To Tip or Not
We have discovered that tipping is not part of Saudi Arabian culture. However, my husband and I have decided if we receive good service and are treated friendly, we will tip just as we would anywhere else in the world. The workers here in the kingdom, mostly all expats from the Philippines, Yemen, Pakistan, and India work hard and struggle to make a living. That is not lost on us and we find it important to show our appreciation when we are treated well.
Today, when we were walking out the door, one of our servers handed me a small box wrapped with pink ribbon. I stopped, surprised and said, “Are these for me?” He just answered, “Thank you.” It was full of date cookies that were absolutely delicious. Soft and just the right level of sweetness.
One of the life lessons I have learned is to find a local restaurant, gas station, grocer, etc… and stay with them, be a part of a relationship in your community. The kind gesture from the two servers who now know us made my day.
After numerous visits, we have never left IL Castello’s disappointed. The food is classic and simple. We have tried both the Italian and Lebanese dishes, ordered from the menu and the restaurant’s daily specials. If you are looking for more complex dishes, IL Castello may not be for you. I recommend going for lunch first, and order an all-inclusive special. No matter what, you will find value and leave full. Then decide if you’re happy and want to return again.