What's On Riyadh Awards 2023: Here are the winners...

Drum roll please…

Last night, at the stunning JW Marriott Hotel Riyadh, we were joined by 300 of Saudi Arabia’s brightest lights to announce the winners of the first ever What’s On Riyadh Awards.

Taking place in association with Neoleap, we honoured Riyadh’s finest places to eat, the greatest concerts from the last 12 months, fabulous hotels that deserve your Riyals and so much more. We dished out a total of 24 awards to our winners and 21 plaques to our highly commended outlets. For the majority of the categories, we deferred to the wisdom of our loyal readers, but there were also three big prize winners, chosen by us, the What’s On team. These awards went to venues deemed to have made outstanding contributions towards Riyadh’s leisure and entertainment scene, adding to the reasons that make it such an incredible place to live.

A special thanks to all of our sponsors: Neoleap, Etihad Holidays, Lyre’s and Jacobson’s.

Here are your first ever winners of the What’s On Riyadh Awards 2023. 

Grand Prix

Restaurant of the Year – MYAZŪ

If you ask anyone in Riyadh where to go when they’re looking to impress, MYAZŪ comes up. The impressive menu of daring Japanese gastronomy is a masterclass in marrying timeless traditional techniques with inventive modern practices, and the result is a restaurant that rarely gets it wrong. The creative menu, executed with finesse by chef Ian Pengelley and his team, is what draws people here, but it’s the top-notch service and stunning setting that also keep them coming back time and again.


Newcomer of the Year – Scott’s

Few restaurants have been as hotly anticipated in the Riyadh dining scene as Scott’s. The renowned London restaurant chose the Saudi capital for its first international expansion, and with one chance to make a first impression, has hit the high notes from day one. Despite being open mere months, it has quickly become the restaurant on everyone’s lips in Riyadh, and it’s already got its expert formula of timeless dishes, slick service and dazzling décor down to a fine art.


Homegrown Restaurant of the Year – Takya

The creators of Takya, sisters Hadeel and Hissa Almutawa, travelled the breadth of the Kingdom, drawing inspiration from across the regions of Saudi Arabia and putting a fine-dining spin on generations-old recipes. After the success of the first restaurant in 2019, the restaurant has since gone on to open in Bujairi Terrace, where it sits confidently alongside internationally renowned brands. Put simply, this is Saudi Arabian cuisine like you’ve never seen it before.


Restaurants in Riyadh

Winner: Favourite All-Day Dining Restaurant – L’ETO

Putting a pretty and sophisticated spin on all-day dining is L’ETO. Bright and breezy interiors make for the perfect spot for a breakfast catch-up, long lunch or a relaxed evening meal, with the menu filled with something for everyone. L’ETO’s impossible to resist cakes and pastries – freshly made in-house and neatly displayed in open counters – are the real stars of the show.


Highly Commended: Favourite All-Day Dining Restaurant – Falla

Vibrant artworks, pops of mustard and turquoise and monochrome tiles make Falla a colourful pit stop for a mid-retail therapy break at Park Avenue. But this trendy all-day eatery is a dining destination in its own right, and draws loyal guests to enjoy loaded fries, burgers and bowls of homemade pasta.


Winner: Favourite Asian Restaurant – Yauatcha

Yauatcha Riyadh is located on the rooftop of Mode Al Faisaliah, giving panoramic views of the city. As beautiful as the views are outside, there’s plenty to enjoy inside too, as the chic space is adorned with stunning cherry blossoms and lime green furniture. The unmissable menu includes a huge range of speciality dim sum, each with their own individual history and character. The spot also has its own patisserie, which carries an exquisite selection of cakes and Chinese tea.


Highly Commended: Favourite Asian Restaurant – Billionaire

There’s a beautiful grandeur to Billionaire Riyadh:  the lavish bar, the grand main area, ascending the stairs to the restaurant’s various nooks, and the open fire grill that provides dining-room drama. Billionaire Riyadh is unreservedly grand and unapologetically glitzy – and its modern Asian menu matches the luxurious surroundings. There really is nowhere quite like it.


Winner: Favourite Café – Urth Caffé

What makes Urth Caffe so special? Just ask its legion of fans across the Kingdom. A stalwart on Riyadh’s café scene, Urth Caffe has proven so popular that they now have six branches across the city, from the original in Sulimaniyah and shopping centres, including Panorama Mall and Riyadh Park, to the latest one in KAFD. The all-day dining café offers freshly baked bread and cakes, as well as breakfast and lunchtime light bites.


Highly Commended: Favourite Café – Cova

In the beautiful surrounds of Bujairi Terrace you’ll find Cova, a Milan-born Pasticceria that oozes Italian flair. At this elegant cafe, you can look forward to classic breakfasts and sublime brunches, to the finest selection of sweet treats such as panettones, chocolate gems, cream pastries, and succulent fruit tarts.


Winner: Favourite European Restaurant – Chez Bruno

What makes this restaurant special is the passion from the family behind it, who created the original on the French Riviera as an homage to an ingredient they adore, the truffle. The brainchild of Clement Bruno, the restaurant is now in the charge of his two sons, one of whom, Benjamin, now helms the kitchen. The menu, much like the original devised in the 1980s, is an ode to the truffle, and is as decadent as the setting it’s served in. Spread over two floors, the Bujairi Terrace restaurant brings a fabulous piece of Provence to Riyadh.


Highly Commended: Favourite European Restaurant – Bagatelle

A brand known and loved around the world for its joie de vivre (exuberant enjoyment of life), Bagatelle made an instant impact when it opened its chic Riyadh outpost at Laysen Valley. Bagatelle is known for its lively atmosphere, upbeat music, and of course, delicious food. Expect a strong focus on fresh, clean flavours and ingredients as the centre of the concept, with French classics enlivened with innovative flavours and a lighter approach to dining.


Winner: Favourite Italian Restaurant – Il Baretto

London’s II Baretto set up shop in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District, and made an instant impact when it opened in 2021. The cool Italian restaurant is a firm favourite among Riyadh diners owing to its menu of authentic dishes, drawing influence from the speciality dishes and regional Italian produce. The menu includes a curation of Italian favourites and modern classics such as veal Milanese, whole seabass, lobster linguine, and salmon carpaccio.


Highly Commended: Favourite Italian Restaurant – Signor Sassi

An Italian restaurant housed in a grand villa in the middle of Sulimaniyah, Signor Sassi has charm in spades. The décor is elegant, with beautiful, sumptuous interiors and colourful florals that make for super chic surroundings. There’s a charming bar which serves as a lovely spot to sip mocktails, and you’ll fall in love with the expansive dining room, bathed in warm, flattering light. That’s all before mentioning the food, which is beautifully presented, flavourful, and authentic.


Winner: Favourite Japanese Restaurant – Nozomi

Nozomi returned to the capital earlier this year with an excellent pedigree. Setting up shop at the Century Corner complex, an exquisite dining experience awaits at this opulent restaurant. Here, Japanese classics are made with finesse, like signature dishes such as Nozomi gold-seared salmon roll with truffle cream and baked miso-marinated black cod. Set over two floors, the atmosphere is buzzy, and the mocktails are also delectable. It’s a delicious blend of the authentic and the innovative.


Highly Commended: Favourite Japanese Restaurant – Roka

Fire up your senses at ROKA, a trendy restaurant serving contemporary Japanese robatayaki cuisine. The highlights of the menu read like a who’s who of the finest Japanese flavours: yellowtail sashimi splashed with yuzu-truffle dressing, crispy baked potato, miso black cod, and juicy Korean lamb cutlets. Don’t miss the robata-grilled delicacies, too – best enjoyed at the counter seats. But, if you prefer alfresco dining, park yourself on the beautiful terrace upstairs.


Winner: Favourite Latin American Restaurant – Brute

Set in the gorgeous foodie hub of Ramla Terraza, Brute puts a contemporary fine-dining spin on Latin American flavours. It might be one of the city’s newer openings, but that hasn’t stopped this chic eatery winning a legion of fans, who flock to its dining room for delicious Latin American and steakhouse specialities such as braised beef back ribs, empanadas and the star ancho ribeye. The sprawling outdoor deck area is the place to be when the weather permits, or perch up by the bar or near the open-kitchen for a side of theatrics with your meal.


Highly Commended: Favourite Latin American Restaurant – MNKY HSE

MNKY HSE is an intimate restaurant serving contemporary Latin American cuisine. The lighting is dim, and the décor is plush with modern artwork that adorns the walls and makes for a luxuriant atmosphere. Here, music is just as important as the menu, and if you’re after a fun night out, you don’t need to look any further. Their new resident DJs turn up the hype with the best of house, drum and bass, hip-hop and reggae.


Winner: Favourite Middle Eastern Restaurant – Zo Eatery

Born in Kuwait, this casual Middle Eastern eatery showcases an extensive menu of Arabic fare that ensures there’s something for everyone. Dine in or take away for breakfast, lunch or dinner on dishes such as flavourful pides fresh from the oven, crisp falafel bites and mixed mezze.


Highly Commended: Favourite Middle Eastern Restaurant – Balcona 99

Balcona 99, a bastion for traditional Egyptian cuisine for more than 13 years, its first international outpost opened in Riyadh in early 2023. Terrific servers and an unstuffy menu are all the reasons you need to come by this cool kid at Century Corner in the hip Olaya neighbourhood. But the restaurant has lots to love on the food front too, like its traditional Egyptian dishes and extensive grills.


Winner: Favourite Outdoor Restaurant – Santini

For dining alfresco, few restaurants excel both in the design and culinary steaks like Santini. This gorgeous venue, a love letter to Italian flavours, is in the up-and-coming Laysen Valley, and serves a delicious array of pasta, pizzas and more, plus gluten-free options too. But it’s the setting that really makes you go ‘wow,’ with the terrace adorned with twinkling fairy lights and surrounded by planters filled with pink, purple and white florals.


Highly Commended: Favourite Outdoor Restaurant – 10:10 Lounge, Marriott Riyadh Diplomatic Quarter

A relaxed poolside spot for making the most of Riyadh’s alfresco season, live music nights, an extensive array of shisha and a crowd-pleasing menu of international dishes are an award-winning formula. Come for a sunset shisha and stay into the evening, where the inviting ambience creates a chilled-out spot for dining outdoors.


Winner: Favourite Saudi Arabian Restaurant – Maiz

A completely authentic celebration of Saudi Arabian cuisine and culture, Maiz is a stylish space with grand interiors befitting the beautiful historical setting of Bujairi Terrace. On the menu, traditional Saudi recipes from each of the Kingdom’s 13 provinces are reimagined with contemporary finesse, redefining what diners may have grown to expect the local cuisine to look and taste like.


Highly Commended: Favourite Saudi Arabian Restaurant – Al Mutaka

If you’re looking for fuss-free local fare, Al Mutaka is a top option putting Saudi Arabian flavours firmly in the spotlight. Service is something that Al Mutaka prides itself on, and the team know their stuff when it comes to authentic hospitality. The menu focuses on farm fresh ingredients and thoughtfully made dishes – feast your way through the ‘Saudi Journey’ dishes to really experience the best bits of this extensive menu.


Winner: Favourite Steakhouse – JW Steakhouse, JW Marriott Hotel Riyadh

Upscale, contemporary, and glamorous are just some of the words that come to mind when we think of JW Steakhouse. The aesthetic is dark and grown-up, with a masculine feel thanks to expensive looking woods, crisp tablecloths and warm globe lighting. The expansive menu extends beyond steakhouse classics, tempting diners with sensational seafood options. But the dedicated ‘butcher’s block’ of premium cuts designed to share are the true showcase of just how good this steakhouse is.


Highly Commended: Favourite Steakhouse – Oxar Prime SteakHall

This Medieval-inspired steakhouse at The Esplanade is as known for its unique experience as it is a collection of delicious steaks. Black Angus beef is the star of the show, and cuts like the grilled Tomahawk, T-bone and Porterhouse prove popular. Away from the meaty menu, diners can tuck into salads, pastas and sandwiches – plus an array of starters and decadent sides, including potato and raclette cheese, truffle fries, and corn puree.


Food Concepts

Winner: Favourite Breakfast – A.O.K Kitchen

Few venues are more popular than A.O.K Kitchen when it comes to breakfast in Riyadh. The spot is known for its inclusive menu which features limited gluten, dairy and refined sugar. Frequent diners at the hotspot will tell you to run and order the Chilly Fried Eggs served with toasted sourdough, grilled pepper & tomato and the super Instagrammable signature A.O.K Pancakes which come with organic maple syrup, coconut chantilly cream, and fresh berries.


Highly Commended: Favourite Breakfast – Brunch and Cake

Brunch & Cake is known and loved for its beautiful interiors, wholesome dishes, generous portions, and a place that provides one-of-a-kind experiences. The Bujairi Terrace venue is the first Brunch & Cake location in Saudi Arabia, and its all-day breakfast menu boasts hearty dishes that are as Instagrammable as they are tasty. From the famous avocado toast and açaí bowls adorned with fruit to a more extravagant lobster croffle benedict.


Winner: Favourite Brunch – Chef’s Brunch, Al Orjouan, The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh

If you are looking for an upmarket Friday brunch in Riyadh, Al Orjouan at The Ritz-Carlton is a sophisticated and grand all-rounder. Savour delicious antipasti filled with a selection of cold cuts, smoked salmon and marinated vegetables, a selection of fresh patisseries, and a hearty spread of contemporary dishes and local delights. Junior guests are not forgotten, with special-sized entrees and dishes.


Highly Commended: Favourite Brunch – Teatro, Hilton Riyadh Hotel & Residences

It’s all about the quality of the ingredients here, with an extensive culinary experience featuring European, Middle Eastern, Asian and South American cuisines. Alongside live cooking pasta stations and hot dishes, Teatro Friday Family Brunch also presents an extensive selection of hearty healthy dishes and a smoothies’ station for health-conscious guests. Plus, there’s a dedicated kids’ buffet, and a sweet corner filled with international and Arabic pastry masterpieces.


Winner: Favourite Burger – Black Tap

In oh-so-cool KAFD, Black Tap is impossible to miss with its industrial-cool decor and pumping tunes.  You’ve likely seen the Crazyshakes topped with everything from doughnuts to slabs of cake on their feed. And while these Instagrammable concoctions may make people come, they surely stay for the burgers. Fully stocked with veggie and vegan options, as well as classic American cheeseburgers and fried chicken options too, they’re a stalwart on Riyadh’s burger scene.


Highly Commended: Favourite Burger – Section-B

A casual modern spot with multiple branches in the capital, Section-B is a fuss-free spot with industrial-style decor serving sliders, cheeseburgers and french fries. Dig into Angus and Wagyu beef burgers, a vegan option, and fried chicken burgers too. Dine-in or order online – their juicy patties and crispy buns are designed to be enjoyed wherever – and whenever – your cravings hit.


Winner: Favourite Business Lunch – LPM Riyadh

A restaurant Riyadh’s foodies return to time and again, there’s no bad time to head to LPM. If you and your coworkers are after a top-tier restaurant to stop by for a power lunch break, then look no further. There’s two- and three- course options, both of which present some of LPM’s most beloved dishes of refined French Mediterranean fare.


Highly Commended: Favourite Business Lunch – Meraki Riyadh

This contemporary Greek eatery serves up mouth-watering dishes in a chic and vibrant atmosphere. The restaurant’s lush and elegant space, draped in foliage, feels as if it could be one of Greece’s most famous islands on a balmy afternoon. Chef Athinagoras’ take on contemporary Greek cuisine includes a delectable three-course lunch set menu, that showcases the best bits of this progressive Grecian eatery with style and finesse.


Winner: Favourite Pizza – Crazy Pizza

Thin, blistered, decadent, and cool – that’s the way of the yeast-free pizza at Crazy Pizza. Wood-fired pizzas – all made from a secret recipe – come with tasty toppings like truffle, burrata and zucchini flowers. And if you still haven’t checked out the venue in Diplomatic Quarter’s Oud Square, you’ll love the mix of local Arabian architecture and modern, rich brick-coloured exterior.


Highly Commended: Favourite Pizza – Brunch and Cake

The décor at Brunch and Cake is undeniably beautiful: neutral and pastel shades, marble- and terrazzo-top tables, and ornate Bohemian-style trinkets are illuminated by light flooding in from the floor-to-ceiling windows. And as beautiful as it is inside, the outdoor space allows diners to enjoy an alfresco experience while soaking in the cooler weather. If you love pizza, get the freshly baked Diavola pizza (SAR79) with chorizo, pepperoni, and beef bacon, drizzled with chilli honey.


Restaurants in AlUla

Winner: Favourite Restaurant in AlUla – Saffron, Banyan Tree AlUla

Saffron Restaurant is a Banyan Tree signature culinary experience, with the restaurant an unmissable dining option in AlUla. Renowed for its inventive Thai dishes, the Banyan Tree AlUla restaurant benefits from stunning views of the dramatic Ashar Valley, found at the hotel’s north pavilion. From humble beginnings as a curry house, its menu is now a gastronomical journey of true Thai flavours served up an intimate atmosphere that puts AlUla’s breathtaking landscape in the spotlight.


Highly Commended: Favourite Restaurant in AlUla – Tama, Habitas AlUla

The main restaurant at Habitas AlUla is Tama, which means ‘here and now’, designed as a space for bringing guests together, with big lounge spaces and lots of long tables for dining in big groups. On the menu, nourishing dishes are globally influenced with a strong Middle Eastern presence, and ingredients sourced from local farms take centre stage. There’s a separate, open-air seating space, which leads out to a shimmering infinity pool: it’s the perfect spot to dip between the water and the relaxing ambience of the lounge.


Entertainment and Leisure

Winner: Favourite Concert, Show or Festival – MDLBEAST Soundstorm

Known as the Middle East’s biggest and loudest music festival, MDLBeast SoundStorm has established itself as a must-attend for music festival goers. It all started in 2019, and every year, it returns with a revamped artist line-up and festival site. Some of the biggest names in the music industry have performed at the festival, including Bruno Mars, David Guetta, Tiesto, Marshmello, Post Malone, Steve Aoki, DJ Snake, and DJ Khaled, alongside local and regional stars like DJ Cosmicat, Dish Dash, Myriam Faris, Majid Al-Muhandis, Modi Al-Shamrani, and rapper Moayad Al-Nefaie.


Highly Commended: Favourite Concert, Show or Festival – Live Nation presents Born Pink World Tour, BlackPink

K-pop fans in Riyadh were treated to a spectacular concert by the wildly popular Korean girl group, BlackPink. The concert had to be moved to a bigger arena  to accommodate extra demand, as more than 25,000 people saw the quartet deliver their hits backed by sublime choreography. The sold-out show – the group’s first in the Middle East – attracted visitors from across the Kingdom and overseas, and ended with a massive fireworks display.


Winner: Favourite Sporting Event – 2023 CORE Diriyah E-Prix

As the only night races on the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship calendar, the CORE Diriyah E-Prix has enjoyed massive success – be it the racing and results or the music events – which were attended live by tens of thousands of motorsports fans and watched by millions on local and global TV networks. It’s such a special event, especially with the fast and flowing 21-corner, 2.49-kilometre circuit flanking the stunning At-Turaif Unesco World Heritage Site in Ad-Diriyah. But the action didn’t stop when the chequered flag dropped. There’s plenty more entertainment after the race on the podium stage as headline concerts closed each night of the Diriyah E-Prix in style.


Highly Commended: Favourite Sporting Event – Gamers8

It’s the ultimate gaming and e-sports festival in Riyadh featuring gaming tournaments, concerts, workshops and more. This year’s Gamers8 had a $45 million total prize pool, tripled from its inaugural event. The festival also saw 15 tournaments from a list of top-12 video games at its purpose-built venue, in addition to global concert lineups and various entertainment zones and activations.


Winner: Favourite Spa – Tips and Toes Riyadh

A true gem, Tips and Toes Riyadh offers an intimate, relaxed atmosphere. It has a calm Balinese-inspired décor, with authentic bamboo and rattan woods, plenty of greenery, and soft rippling water that winds its way around the central room where the nail services are offered. Across the spa’s five treatment rooms, there’s an impressive array of beautifying and pampering treatments, from facials and luxurious massages to a range of traditional beauty services, including hair treatments, eyelash extensions, and waxing.


Highly Commended: Favourite Spa – Sokoun Spa and Fitness Centre, Hyatt Regency Riyadh Olaya

No one would know that nestled within the five-star hotel lies Sokoun Spa and Fitness Centre, a calm haven to totally unwind in. Robe up to roam around and alternate between the dry and wet sauna to improve your blood circulation, clear your airways and skin, and increase that sense of relaxation. You could while away an entire day loafing and dipping in and out of the jacuzzi, but if all that sounds a bit soporific, then there’s a gym on site with the latest equipment for health and recreation, from cardiovascular exercise machines to strength-training equipment. The spa also has exotic and traditional facials and body treatments, plus salon services – complete from hair styling to manicures and pedicures – if you want to make a day of it.


Winner: Favourite Luxury Hotel – Mansard Riyadh, a Raddison Collection Hotel

Mansard Riyadh is an elegant and refined property in the northern neighbourhood of Ar Rabi. This impressive property hits a new height of luxury in its design statement, with classic European architecture seamlessly combined with contemporary aesthetics. The interiors are luxurious and flawlessly finished, with accents of blue and beige, creating a calming and timeless atmosphere for guests. There are 191 rooms, suites, serviced apartments, and duplex villas – each exquisitely furnished and decorated to the highest standards. Guests can already dine at New York hotspot Sadelle’s, a brunchtime favourite, with Michelin-starred Carbone set to add to the restaurant portfolio later this year.


Highly Commended: Favourite Luxury Hotel – Banyan Tree AlUla

In a neat enclave in Ashar Valley you’ll find Banyan Tree AlUla, which has given a welcome glow-up to the former Ashar Resort while still maintaining that Bedouin-inspired luxury. All villas have the same earthy palette of warm creams, terracotta and sand reflective of the surrounds, with rolling desert vistas enjoyed from floor-to-ceiling windows. Many rooms also have their own private pool, but a dip in the jaw-dropping Rock Pool, nestled between the rugged rocks – is an unmissable part of this resort. On-property, an array of activities include star gazing and horse riding with local guides. As is customary with Banyan Tree, there’s a big focus on wellness – and even the spa has been designed to blend effortlessly into its desert surroundings.