Meet the women behind the Kingdom's favourite dining destinations

Meet the women behind the Kingdom's favourite dining destinations

As International Women's Day approaches, we spotlight the remarkable female chefs transforming Saudi Arabia's gastronomic landscape, one dish at a time
05 March 24
The Women Behind Saudi's Favourite Restaurants

With International Women's Day within reach, we look to celebrate the resilience, strength, and achievements of women around the world, and here in the Kingdom.

Women are breaking barriers and making significant strides in various fields, including the culinary industry. As the Kingdom embraces change and opens up new opportunities, a wave of female-led restaurants has emerged, reshaping the gastronomic landscape. It is experience, passion and hard work of these women that has have served to put the Kingdom on the map as a culinary hub.

In this piece, we explore the women behind the restaurants we know and love in the Kingdom, and we recognise the vibrant culinary experiences they bring to the industry alongside the creativity, passion, and unwavering determination to thrive in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Roaya Saleh: Villa Mamas, Riyadh

Chef Roaya Saleh, the visionary founder behind Villa Mamas, a Saudi and Middle Eastern restaurant that is described as an extension of Chef Saleh's home kitchen.

Although Bahrain-born, Chef Saleh's cooking style and menu in her Villa Mamas' Riyadh location is influenced by what is grown in the Kingdom; za’atar and olive oil is sourced from Al Jouf and vegetables are bought from farmers in Al Qassim, using locally sourced ingredients to craft distinctive Saudi and Middle Eastern dishes takes centre stage in her kitchen.

Always looking to explore the region, and introduce modern takes on Middle Eastern dishes to the Villa Mamas menu, Chef Saleh says "Saudi cuisine is very rich and still undiscovered...  Saudi cuisine is very diverse."

@villamammasriyadh @roayasalehxoxo
Bujairi Terrace, Diriyah 13711

Nancy Silverton: Chi Spacca, Riyadh

A Michelin-starred chef, Nancy Silverton is the woman behind internationally acclaimed Chi Spacca. Serving up wholesome Italian flavours with a focus on fresh ingredients, flame-grilled fine meats, flavourful seasonal vegetables, the brand's location at Via Riyadh is a sought-after reservation.

“Saudis want more international cuisine, and that’s why I am here. I have opened restaurants in Mexico, London, and Singapore, and I’m finding it easier to find ingredients and tools in Riyadh than there. So, it shows there is a demand,” she said to us in an interview last May.

Learn more about how that Michelin-star truly came to be (reader, it wasn't from skills learned by cooking with her mother at home) head to our full interview with Nancy right here. @nancysilverton
VIA Riyadh, Riyadh 12912

Sareena Songwong: Long Chim, Diriyah

Overseen by the renowned Australian chef and founder David Thompson, Long Chim has gained international acclaim for its innovative approach to contemporary Thai cuisine, and Demi-Chef Sareena Songwong is usually ready behind the pass, greeting guests from the open kitchen as they arrive.

“Come to taste, that’s what the Long Chim experience is all about, and we’re here in Riyadh to welcome you all,” she says. With a passion for cooking that extends beyond her professional culinary years, Chef Songwong thrives in the kitchen, and loves to introduce diners to Thai dishes and the moreish flavours of South-East Asian cooking.

Catering the menu and dishes to Saudi tastes, the culinary maestro ensures a balanced approach to her recipes, by incorporating less spice and reducing the usual amount of salt and embracing cumin: “If I were to add one ingredient from Saudi cuisine it would be cumin, as some Thai dishes feature this spice to add a warm, earthy flavour and aroma to the dishes,” Songwong says.

Read more about Chef Songwong's culinary journey, her passion for her home place and where she finds the small joys in day-to-day life.

Bujairi Terrace, Diriyah, Riyadh 13712

Nihal Felemban: The Lucky Llama, Jeddah

A passionate travel and food blogger turned investment banker, turned chef and culinary entrepreneur, Chef Nihal Felemban has lived numerous lives — each being more successful than the last — and one such success is a Jeddah-based favourite, The Lucky Llama.

A fine-dining Nikkei concept restaurant that elegantly blends Japanese and Peruvian cuisine The Lucky Llama is fast-becoming a go-to destination for diners from across the Kingdom. Chef Felemban's love and fascination with mixing flavours stems from her own blended origins (being Saudi and Moroccan) and is evident in her cooking, embracing complex flavour profiles in a fun, yet masterfully elevated menu.

“I’m interested in food sustainability, and sourcing food from right here in Saudi because we have so much to offer”, Chef Felemban says, acknowledging the growing need to source ingredients locally and prioritising sustainability to further support the local economy and suppliers, and in turn reduce the culinary industry's environmental impact.

Chef Felemban spoke to us about her journey of flavour fusions and restaurant success, and how her past experiences have led her to where she is now, read more right here.
4056 Ibrahim Al-Anqari, Al Mohammadiyyah, Jeddah 23617

Nawal AlKhalawi: Asfar Experience, a travelling concept restaurant

Head Chef of the seasonal dining concept Asfar Experience, Nawal Al Khalawi is an innovative chef, who grew up in Saudi's Hijaz region.

Aiming to champion locally sourced and seasonal ingredients in her culinary endeavours, Chef Al Khalawi said in an interview with us, that it is pivotal for her to "...craft my menu based on what is available in the region. It’s a community-based culinary approach."

Embracing the international interest in Saudi as both a travel destination and as a culinary hub, Chef Al Khalawi wants to encourage more people to visit the Kingdom and immerse themselves in the nation's unique culinary delights. “It’s all about bringing people together on the table, and it’s an honour for me to share Saudi culture and heritage.”

@asfar.experience @nawal.alkhalawi