I had passed by Al Forn on Al-Rawdah Street many a time, but never before eaten there. Recently, a couple of friends and I went there on a weeknight in search of a light dinner. My first impression of it actually formed before I even entered the restaurant. The aroma of hypothetically scrumptious food wafted in the air as we approached the entrance. Inside, the restaurant is reminiscent of a European bistro – a warm, cosy air about the place made slightly rustic by the loaves of fresh baked bread on display. The staff was extremely friendly and immediately made us feel welcome. They helpfully told us what was on offer and let us take our time to decide what we wanted to order.
The atmosphere in the family section was a little dead since we were the only ones there and it is isolated upstairs. So we chose to sit downstairs, which our waiter assured us was fine too. The ambience downstairs was a lot better. The place is well-lit and has an open plan kitchen. It is interesting to see your food being prepared in front of you, as well as reassuring that the kitchen is clean and hygienic. I did, however, think that the choice of furniture could have been more functional. The tables are round and too small – being ideal only for a pair of diners each. If your group is larger than that they will join two or more tables to accommodate you – except since the tables are round it doesn’t work very well.
The menu consists of mostly café – type fare, namely soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, paninis and dessert. We ordered a Four Cheese Pizza (SR 43), a Pesto Chicken Sandwich (SR 26), a Roast Beef and Pepper Jam Sandwich (SR 27) and soft drinks (SR 5 each).
The wait for the food was not very long and felt even shorter as we could watch the staff preparing our food right in front of us. The choice of music, although incongruous to Al Forn’s European theme, was a flashback to my adolescence in the early 2000s and therefore pleasant to listen to. The staff also seemed to like the music as a couple of them sang softly along to Breathless by The Corrs and All or Nothing by Westlife while they prepared our food. This definitely made the wait more amusing.
The Four Cheese pizza arrived piping hot from the oven and was of the traditional Italian thin crust ilk. A word to the wise though – Gorgonzola is one of the four cheeses Al-Forn uses on this pizza so if you’re not fond of blue cheese you may want to ask the waiter if they can swap it out with some other cheese which I think they would be perfectly willing to do. One of my fellow diners does not care much for blue cheese and found the taste of the Gorgonzola a little overpowering. Although this pizza does not have a “wow factor”, it does have a “yum-that’s-good factor”.
You can choose from a variety the kind of bread that your sandwich is served in. We asked for the Roast Beef and Pepper Jam sandwich to be served in a brown baguette. The size of the sandwich was good for the price and the baguette was fresh and delicious. However, I personally didn’t much like the sandwich as a whole. It was a little too sweet for my taste and I didn’t feel they delivered on the pepper jam. Pepper jam is supposed to be, in my opinion, a combination of hot, sweet and savory but all I really got from Al Forn’s pepper jam was “sweet”.
The Pesto Chicken sandwich which we asked for in ciabatta bread was immensely better. The chicken was well-seasoned and succulent and tender. The pesto sauce was deliciously tasty and slathered generously, soaking just enough into the ciabatta to provide a nice contrast in textures. The ciabatta itself deserves praise. It had a perfect crackly, crisp crust and a moist crumb. Like the roast beef sandwich, the size was very good for the price. Both sandwiches however, came with what I can only assume were Quavers on the side. This, I thought, was a bit of a tacky short cut. Surely, if Al Forn can take such trouble over the bread the sandwiches are served in, they can come up with something a little classier than opening up a packet of store bought (and extremely well known!) chips and arranging them on a plate.
While all the desserts listed on the menu do not seem to be available every day, the nice thing about ordering dessert is that you can see what they have on offer that day in the glass display cases. For instance, I was considering getting the Red Velvet cake but saw that it was a multi-layered affair, not exactly what I had in mind, and so opted to get the Marble Cheesecake (SR 18) instead. The Marble Cheesecake was good – with a layer of chocolate cheesecake, then a plain cheesecake layer on an Oreo cookie crust. However, I did think the price a little high, considering that The Cheesecake Factory’s basic cheesecake slices retail for the same price give or take a riyal, tastes even better and is a much more generous portion to boot.
I also tried the Chocolate Sable (SR 6) which I didn’t like at all. It completely lacked the signature crispness of a sable cookie, which makes sense as it didn’t taste fresh. You could also taste the low quality in the chocolate covering the sable, as it was a little greasy.
The show stealer at Al Forn is definitely the bread. From the ciabatta to the focaccia – they bake it all themselves and you can taste the freshness in every bite. Al Forn is good for a light bite to eat at lunch or dinner especially if your dining party consists of a couple of people. I would recommend it more for takeout rather than dine in and that is probably what I will do next time.Al Forn,
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