Even famous foodies like Pavarotti would sing the praises of Bait Al Bahr, which is dishing up some of the freshest, tastiest and most creative seafood in the capital, writes Felicity Glover
Luciano Pavarotti, the late and great Italian tenor, once said that “one of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating”.
While the Maestro’s love of food was well known — he was Italian, after all — it has to be said that he has an excellent point. There is nothing better than taking the time to sit down and enjoy a good meal, no matter how simple.
But finding the time to do so can be a difficult at times.
The 10-day Eid break proved a welcome respite to what has been a busy year so far, giving me time to slow down and head to the Shangri La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa for a spot of rest and relaxation.
I was finally able to sit down and enjoy food just the way it should be, with friends and family in a restaurant with a stunning view.
We weren’t planning to try Bait al Bahr restaurant during our stay at the Shangri La. In fact, the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Capri Court, had won the vote.
But a few spins around the hotel’s lazy river earlier in the day resulted in our interest being piqued as we floated by the restaurant – and there was no looking back.
Bait al Bahr sits on the beachfront between Al Waha and Al Bandar hotels, giving diners a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the Gulf of Oman from its wide, wraparound balcony that is dotted with casual dining tables.
Indoors, there is a quiet buzz and the ocean theme continues, with fishing nets strewn about the dining room, a fresh “catch of the day” section, moody black-and-white photos of local fisherman and the same casual tables.
Because our visit was unplanned, we had no idea of what to expect. On the surface, it looked casual — more so as there were groups of families dining with their children.
And here was the surprise — Bait Al Bahr is a “casual” fine dining restaurant that serves up some of the freshest, tastiest seafood in the capital, while its chefs are pushing the boundaries in terms of creativity.
Warmly greeted at the door, we were ushered to a table by a window by a friendly waiter. Drinks were quickly ordered and served, along with warm sesame seed buns and a delightfully earthy-green olive and sun-dried tomato dip. The saltiness of the olives combined perfectly with the warm tang of the tomatoes, setting the scene for a night of culinary firsts, wonderful flavours and some of the best service we’ve experienced in Muscat.
Next up was a complimentary amuse-bouche, a one-bite delight of smoked salmon wrapped around basil sauce, sitting atop a square of nutty pumpernickel bread that was surrounded by a smattering of black sesame seeds.
Living up to its literal translation of “mouth amuser”, the amuse-bouche did just that – and was another gentle teaser for what was to come.
We decided to share two starters between three of us and settled on lobster carpaccio and prawn tempura.
The most interesting dish of the night was the lobster carpaccio, which had a subtle depth of flavour enhanced by slivers of orange, a smattering of fresh herbs and a burst of flavour from pink peppercorns.
But it was the lobster ice cream (yes, that’s right) on the side that sparked an interesting debate that divided our party.
The verdict? The lobster ice cream was a hit with one of my dining companions. The other, aged 11, refused to try it. And me? It was interesting – the coldness went well with the carpaccio and other flavours of the dish, but the jury’s still out on the taste. I suppose you could liken it to a creamy lobster bisque, only more mild in flavour, not to mention frozen.
The tempura was a trio of jumbo prawns gently tied together with what looked like a string of seaweed. Perfectly cooked, the tempura batter was light, crisp and golden and the prawns went well with the crunchy kale salad.
While some restaurants might struggle to be consistent throughout an entire meal, our mains were just as good, if not better, than our starters.
An Omani lobster thermidor with a creamy saffron risotto and grilled asparagus was a highlight, but this was given a serious run for its money by the sublime olive oil poached kingfish. Served with a tomato compote, eggplant caviar and potato gnocchi, it was a delicate balance of flavours and textures that delighted the palate.
My main, the grilled jumbo prawns with wilted savoy cabbage, caper lemon beurre blanc and jasmine coconut rice may seem like a jumble of East meets West, but the fusion of flavours was perfect. The capers cut into the richness of the beurre blanc, while the cabbage was just right – even though I’d never considered pairing it with prawns.
Dessert was a muted affair as we had eaten too much already, so we plumped for a cooling mint yoghurt sorbet and the labneh cheese roll with orange mint jelly and almond chocolate. I’m not a fan of desserts, but my dining companions gave both a hearty thumbs up.
Pavarotti was right – taking the time to stop and devote our attention to eating does pay off. And there’s no better place to do this than Bait al Bahr.
Five-star food and service
Shangri La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa
Tel: 2477 6565
Opening times: 7pm-11.30pm
Dinner for three with drinks plus taxes, RO113.6
Y Magazine reviews anonymously and pays for its meals