It's been years since we had last been to Come Prima, the Italian-styled restaurant of Muscat's Crowne Plaza Hotel. We didn't even live in Oman yet, but were guests in the hotel. We remembered the food being decent, but nothing special. The atmosphere wasn't anything special either. It resembled a dressed-up classroom. At best.
What a surprise when we walked through the doors of the restaurant this week. Come Prima is completely revamped and now boasts a modern, sleek look. Very nice. The friendly staff serves a plate with a tasty variety of breads, accompanied by tapenade and olive oil.
It is impossible not to compare this restaurant with Tomato, the terrace restaurant of the InterContinental Hotel. Both are Italian-styled, and both are (more or less) in the same price range. So let's compare: Tomato is very nicely situated, but Come Prima has outside seating with a beautiful view (both are closed during the hot summer months), Come Prima serves better bread, and has an attractive wine list, something Tomato lacks. And most important: the food at Come Prima is much better.
We start with a carpaccio of bresaola, which is served with rocket salad, and parmesan cheese. It's seasoning is perfect in its simplicity: some good olive oil, lemon juice and fresh pepper. A dish that is true to Italian heritage. Pure and simple food, that gets its flavour from good ingredients. No unnecessary stuff on your plate. Where Tomato's carpaccio is spoiled by a big pile of mushrooms, this only gives you what you need. And that's more than enough. Mrs. R enjoys a dish of seared scallops with porcini and red wine reduction. A nice set of flavours, but a little high on salt. This is probably due to the fact that the scallops were salted before they went into the pan. Not only concentrates this the salty flavour, it also withdraws the juice from the scallops, making them drier than they should be. Still, it is a fine dish.
Mr. R tests one of the pasta dishes (open ravioli, with scampis, squid and tomatoes, served with bisque), and Mrs. R tries the loin of lamb with a crust of basil and pine nuts, served with green asparagus. The ravioli is divine. Lovely, ultrathin sheets of pasta, with a good dose of seafood. The star of the dish is the bisque. Strong, concentrated and packed with flavour. It could easily be too much to handle if there weren't a couple of tomatoes and some leaves of basil to add freshness. Mrs. R's lamb is seared to perfection, and the dish would have been a winner if the asparagus weren't overcooked and if the jus would have had a bit more character.
Although we were pretty stuffed at this point, we couldn't leave without dessert. The Tiramisu is another winner, and bodes better than the Crème Brûlée, which suffers from an overly thick sugar crust. But thenagain, who would actually want to order a French dessert in an Italian restaurant?
Coffee is on the house. A very nice gesture, but even without this, we were already won over by the Italian charm of Come Prima.
From the well-sorted wine list, we drank a Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2006, from Chéreau Carré. A fresh and affordable white from the French Loire Valley (18.000 OMR on the wine list). There are many mediocre, acidic wines from this region, but this is a good example. The wine shows some pretty fresh citrus fruit, and is slightly silty and spicy.
It is clear. Come Prima wins hand down from Tomato. And we will be sure to come back in the cooler months. A dinner on the balcony looks very tempting. A good glass of wine, a great view and a true taste of Italy. We can't wait.