A drive down Al Olaya District in Riyadh will show you some of the city’s most luxurious skyscrapers, fancy hotels and major financial buildings, as well as a number of speciality coffee shops and artisanal cafés. While coffee has been an essential part of Saudi (and Arab) life for centuries, artisanal coffeeshops and cafés have only become hugely popular throughout the Kingdom only in recent years. And, just as it has been since generations gone, coffeeshops and cafés are not just about the coffee they serve, but the culture within them. They are a place for people to socialise with strangers and friends alike, to rewind from their busy lives for a bit and engage in interesting and unorthodox conversations.
Because of how relevant café culture is to Saudi life, it just makes sense that the world’s largest one would be in Riyadh – it is, after all, one of Saudi Arabia’s most happening cities.
But don’t expect Al Masaa to be like all the other cafés in Riyadh (or the rest of the country, for that matter). While, for the most part, it has the same energy as the rest of them – comfortable, productive, and welcoming – there is a lot of opulence here.
The café, which can seat 1,050 people, boasts one of the best views of the city and is one of its biggest attractions. A lot of people, especially in the evening, tend to visit just for the view.
Al Masaa offers indoor and outdoor settings that manage to capture that signature airy, yet private, feel of a well-designed café. The subtly elegant interior is decadent, but far from pretentious. Its somewhat sophisticated atmosphere attracts a large high-end leisure audience, but there are always plenty of students and other young people socialising, working or studying.
The seating, however, is clearly more about the appearance than the comfort, so it’s probably not the best option if you are looking for a place to spend more than an hour or two working hard.
As you’d expect, Al Masaa’s food and beverages are a little more extravagant than a regular café. Expect hearty burgers and sliders, elegant club sandwiches, shrimp cocktails, pasta, a variety of mocktails and all sorts of desserts with chocolate oozing out of them.
The menu reflects both an Arab and international touch and there are a lot of choices that combine the two. A popular dessert snack is the date cake that combines a chocolate and date-flavoured cake with date syrup and a sauce filling.
There are plenty of teas and coffees to choose from – besides the classics, you can find a variety of speciality coffees and exotic teas.
Their flavoured lattes and cold blends are popular favourites but for the most ardent of coffee fans, their options won’t exactly feel like something they haven’t already tried before for those prices. But most people aren’t there for the coffee but the atmosphere and the view – and it is absolutely a must-visit, at least once.
The café is open from 6.30 am to 1 am.
Note: The menus are in Arabic only, but most waiters have a basic understanding of English and are glad to help with translating it.