The view is pretty spectacular and the food isn’t bad either at the new Alila hotel up Jebel Akhdar, says Kate Ginn
Let’s be clear from the start, lunch at the grand Alila Jabal Akhdar Oman hotel is going to cost you, one way or another. The food isn’t particularly cheap and the drive from Muscat takes around two-and-half hours, winding up the Green Mountain, and you need an SUV to make the journey. It’s well worth it, though. When you arrive, you’re rewarded with a hotel set quite simply in one of the most breathtaking of locations, perched 2,000 metres about sea level on the edge (literally) of a dramatic gorge with the Hajar mountains all around you.
It’s fair to say that even if the food being served wasn’t up to much, I would still travel all that way just to take in the awe-inspiring view.
Luckily, the food in the hotel’s restaurant is not bad at all. We arrived at lunchtime a few Fridays ago, the cool mountain air a refreshing change from the oppressive heat and mounting humidity below.
As you turn off to the right and head down the track, the hotel appears in the distance. Made of local stones using traditional Omani construction methods, the Alila blends so perfectly with the landscape that you might imagine it was an organic part of the scenery, crafted by the weather and time.
It gives no hint of the secret that lies on the other side. A wide terrace and infinity pool (giving the impression that you are swimming off the mountain) lead down to the edge and that vertiginous drop.
You can dine outside, but we opted for the refined atmosphere of the Juniper Restaurant, named after the evergreens that thrive at high altitude.
The restaurant is open for business from breakfast through to dinner and serves an international menu inspired by the golden age of Arabic cuisine.
We were the only ones inside, so managed to grab a plum seat sitting right next to the window with the mountain horizon to gaze on. Being the lone diners, the waiter was over like a shot and rustled up some drinks pretty sharpish, a still and sparking water (the Alila has yet to get its liquor licence) while we browsed the menus.
My fellow diner had been here before and had raved about the pumpkin soup all the way up the mountain, so it only seemed right that I tried it out for starter. It was, as promised, deliciously spicy with roasted nuts and seeds. The accompanying bread was fresh and warm, melting the butter so it slid off the slice. The Omani pomegranate and feta cheese salad also sounded good.
The restaurant’s décor is minimalist chic with dark wood and stone but to be honest, I only had eyes for the view outside. While you don’t see the drop of the gorge, you can see the expanse.
For mains, I ignored the pastas and went for the lamb kebab from the Meat Lovers section. There’s also a Seafood Selection – the Omani lobster must be worth a try – and From The Local Farm, from where my companion went for the crumbed chicken. Vegetarians have two dedicated dishes.
Everything is locally sourced where possible and knowing the provenance of your food makes it taste better. The kebab, chargrilled skewered minced lamb, served with mint yoghurt and date-tamarind sauce was nicely seasoned and cooked, but looked very lonely on its plate. I was surprised that it didn’t come with rice or vegetables, so ordered a side of mashed potato to keep it company.
Across the table, the chicken, which had been marinated overnight with yoghurt, ginger, chili and paprika, and came with potato mash automatically, was polished off faster than a mountain goat scaling up a rock. It looked the best choice.
I’m told that the new head chef is revising the menu, so I’d like to see how it looks in a few months.
For sweets, we shared a vanilla panna cotta with blueberry compote and homemade strawberry sorbet, which hit the spot.
Two coffees later and it was time for a stroll on the terrace.
Lunch for two tipped over the RO40 mark (just) and be aware that all the prices on the menu are subject to 17 per cent tax and services. That aside, I would come back time and time again for the serenity and that incredible view. It’s well worth the pilgrimage from Muscat.
The food is nothing special, but the setting is incredible
Alila Jabal Akhdar, Plot No.4 Al Roose, Jebel Akhdar
Opening hours: 7am-11pm
Tel: +968 2534 4200/9910 4204
Lunch for two: RO40.9 (including tax)