You know how sometimes you just have a craving for a certain kind of food and can’t rest until your yearning has been satisfied? Well that was me over the weekend. The cuisine in question? Chinese.
I’ve not yet discovered my go-to Chinese restaurant in Muscat and so took to some research to find and test another contender for the title. Chinese Garden was a name that popped up a few times and given its convenient location in Al Khuwair between Al Zawawi Mosque and City Seasons Hotel Muscat, I figured it was worth a shot.
Nothing but a small sign marks the restaurant from the outside and the big red door was closed, giving no hint of what lay behind it. Somewhat sheepishly pushing it open, I peered into the dimly lit interior and it was like being transported into the heart of China, right here in Muscat.
Bordering on the kitsch, the décor includes just about every Chinese cliché or stereotype you could imagine, from red drapes, hangings, lanterns and artificial flowers through to a fish tank that I didn’t investigate fully, but wouldn’t have been at all surprised if it contained koi carp. The soft musical soundtrack – played on bamboo pipes and gently plucked string instruments – also had a suitably oriental feel. Okay, so as far as ambience and setting the scene for a Far Eastern experience goes, Chinese Garden certainly hits the nail on the head.
The menu offers your fairly standard Chinese fare, from beef in oyster sauce to chicken chow mein, but to its credit, Chinese Garden does offer a wide selection, with sub headings including chicken, beef, lamb, prawns, lobster, crab, squid, fish, duck and vegetables.
We opted to start with a classic sweet corn soup with chicken and thread prawns, deciding to select our mains after the appetisers were done. The soup was first to arrive and it was suitably thick and hearty, with a strong taste of sweet corn and small strips of pulled chicken here and there. So far so good, but the delay on the arrival of our second starter was starting to cause concern.
A good five minutes later, my prawns appeared at the table. This may not sound long, but when one person is eating on their own, it can seem an eternity. Covered in a light threaded batter, it was hard to count the exact amount, but I think there were around six large and meaty prawns, served with a warm dipping sauce that offered hints of sweetness as well as slight spice kick.
With my visit to Chinese Garden coinciding with the 151st birthday of Wilbur Scoville, the man responsible for creating a scale for the hotness for chilis, I felt it was only right to opt for something spicy when the time came to reassess the menu for mains. I’m a sucker for duck and as soon as my eyes wandered down to that part of the menu, my choice was all but made. Duck in hot garlic sauce was the dish for me, which my dining partner, partially defeated by a combination of soup and the size of those prawns, opted to share, along with a small portion of Garden special fried rice.
Unfortunately, our plates from the first course were not cleared until the mains arrived, forcing our waiter to do a fair bit of crockery juggling as he attempted to both serve and clear at the same time, but he seemed up to the task and soon retreated back to the kitchen with full hands.
There were no frills with the presentation. The meal was served in a deep bowl and the duck was a strange amalgamation of on the bone and breast. As a small bird, scraping duck from the bone can be a fiddly process, but ironically this yielded the best meat, with the chunks of breast seemingly a little overcooked, making them a tad stringy. The sauce hinted at spice, but the addition of a few fresh chilis from the condiment selection helped to boost this to my liking.
With around three quarters of the dish gone, I put my knife and fork down out of sheer boredom more than anything – a few vegetables, even just some onions may have been nice to mix up the taste and texture.
Chinese restaurants are not often famed for their desserts and so we quickly paid the bill – a modest RO10.3 – before heading off into the night.
According to its menu, Chinese Garden opened in the 1990s, which means they must be doing something right to have survived this long. As far as I’m concerned, however, I think it’s fair to say that my search for a favourite Chinese restaurant in the capital continues.
Service: 6 /10
Food: 6 /10
Ambience 8 /10
Good ambience, but food is average.
Al Khuwair Street
Tel: 2448 9414
Opening Hours: Daily from 12pm-12am
Dinner and drinks for two: RO10.3
Y Magazine reviews anonymously and pays for its meals