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ONE of Bahrain’s most popular expat clubs has transformed its iconic Bulls Head outlet with a major refurbishment and expansion for the first time in more than a quarter of a century.
Its official opening extravaganza will be staged tomorrow evening but GulfWeekly was invited in just 24-hours after the doors reopened to sample the ambience of this delightful new meet-and-greet lounge and dining destination, alongside, of course, comforting cuisine on the menu.
Delighted general manager Stephen Chartres says he has been ‘overwhelmed’ by the positive feedback from members and guests. He admitted to being extremely anxious as to what the reaction might be for such dramatic changes at the hostelry but the start of the migraine he was suffering had more to do with an earlier long and arduous shopping excursion with his young family to IKEA.
“It was 26 years old, it was tired and dated and desperately in need of a refurbishment. I wanted to capture a clean, modern look while still retaining the feeling of historic home comforts,” he explained.
Founded in 1974, the Dilly grew from humble beginnings when a trio of expats were looking for somewhere to relax after a hard week working at smelting giants, Alba.
They struck upon the idea of creating a club that was initially hosted in the front room of a house in Budaiya Gardens. It was called the Bulls Head and meetings were held twice a week. As the club started to grow a small villa was rented and the members took it in turns to work behind the counter and light up the BBQ. Expansion continued so its executive committee took a risk and relocated to where the Country Club is today.
The move paid off sweetly and the club finally settled into its current premises in Saar in October 1988 with the blessing of the kingdom’s ruler at the time, the late Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, and opened under his patronage.
Working on a collection of cut-out photographs of happening hostelries back home in the UK Stephen had taken a shine to, the baton for the new Bulls Head was passed to Projects Construction, the company which has successfully rebuilt the club’s adjacent sports lounge.
Deputy GM John Beddall, a club member, worked closely on the concept with his team and the project took just an astonishing four weeks to complete.
“All the cast iron table legs have been taken from the old Bulls Head tables and been recast and placed on new handcrafted furniture,” said Stephen. “We have a Tudor-esque style ceiling for the dining area above a Georgian-style lounge giving the feeling of a ye olde traditional travellers’ inn, one that had naturally been extended over the decades.”
The expansion has been facilitated by pushing into former changing rooms (replaced by upgraded facilities poolside) and a large store area, creating 40 per cent extra floor space and doubling the seating available to diners. Outside, a new terrace complements the one created by the sports lounge, and also acts as a viewing area for the children’s play area as well as the tennis and netball courts.
The good lady wife, Kathryn, and I found a cosy table inside overlooking the terrace and the tennis action taking place in front of a giant hording highlighting the latest Mercedes-Benz models.
We settled down and I decided to keep within the theme and go for some traditional British cuisine (although the menu caters for all tastes with an extensive Asian and Italian section too), and most of the main courses are priced between BD3 and BD4.
The tables, by the way, were terrific; wood cleverly split by a resin which appears to flow like a river, well in keeping with the numerous black and white framed images of Blighty, including one of the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament.
The Bulls Head decoration is delightful throughout with flowers on display, distinct lighting, cool clocks and comfortable chairs.
The kitchen team is led by Executive Chef Tej Tamang but on Saturday night we were looked after by his colleague, Chef Lijesh.
I went for a prawn cocktail starter. This seafood standard was at one point top of the pops in British gastronomy. Today, no one can say for sure how it came to life, however, it was most certainly boosted in the UK by the popular 1960s TV chef Fanny Cradock. Shortly afterwards, just about every restaurant, whether it be a pizzeria, steakhouse or something else, served you a prawn cocktail as a starter.
The Dilly’s offering (surprisingly delivered on a plate rather than in a glass) featured a generous helping of delicious prawns placed on fresh salad, covered with a dollop of Marie Rose creamy tomato and mayonnaise sauce.
Kathryn, one of the billions of people currently on the crazy Keto diet, went for the tom yum soup, carefully putting aside the divinely-smelling slices of garlic toasted bread, and chose a meat dish with vegetables and an egg for her main course.
I’ve been supporting her Keto-calling at home and, as a result, have been craving carbohydrates, so used this dining out experience as another excuse to go wild. I chose a meat pie and chips. Thick gravy to accompany it was placed in a pot but they could have saved on the washing up by pouring it over the meat pie in the kitchen!
The service was swift and top marks go to waitress Brendah for bringing her friendly smile and slick style to the table.
The superb service matched the venue’s new look. Stephen said the reactions to the changes were better than he could ever have dreamed of. “On the first night that I had to take myself away for 10 minutes and sit in a quiet office to regain my composure,” he said. “I must admit I had suffered some sleepless nights because so much of the design was mine and, of course, the venue had been the same for such a long time … and here we were dishing up a radical new look.”
He need not have worried. The smiles on all the faces of staff members and customers prove he has a winner on his hands.
They’ll be more smiles tomorrow night with a grand opening family festival kicking off at 8pm. They’ll be a bouncy castle for the kids, live music from Paul Taylor who pays homage to Robbie Williams and Freddie Mercury, along with Latin party diva Mikaela Carrizo, plus beverage product tasting, a curry buffet and BBQ.