Anyone who has ever been to the Provence will remember the beautiful fields, filled with lavender, the aromas of fresh herbs and lovely, old villages, where you can have eat wonderful regional dishes accompanied by vast amounts of cheap, enjoyable wine. A good idea, therefore, to bring a bit of Provencal spirit to Muscat.
This week, the French Embassy and the Muscat InterContinental Hotel organised a Provencal Week, including a Provencal Theme Menu in Musandam Café. Michelin-starred, and Provence-based chef Daniel Hebet was asked to compose a five-course menu (14.000 OMR per person, including one bottle of wine per couple).
It is impossible to feel anything close to a Provencal spirit if you walk into Musandam Café, InterContinental's buffet restaurant. At best, it has the atmosphere of the coffee room of an elderly home. The (complimentary) wine didn't help to get in the mood either. A bottle each of lukewarm white and rosé awaited us. The white, although simple and too old (it was from 2005), was quaffable, but the rosé was a disgrace. It was from 2004, which is about three to four years too old for almost any rosé, and certainly for a simple Vin de Pays d'Oc. Brown in colour, and tasting of rust, this was undrinkable. When asking for a red alternative, we were presented with a J.P. Chenet. Now, we wouldn't expect anything other than simple wine as a complimentary bottle with a menu of this price. And there's nothing wrong with that. But J.P. Chenet!? Surely, they could have done better than that?
It was clear that this evening wouldn't be remembered for its wine, so let's move on to the food. The starter of chickpea soup, infused with lemon oil was a nice surprise. Creamy, yet fresh and light, thanks to the lemon. The second dish, terrine of rabbit with green olive tapenade, pesto and anchovy paste, showed a nice combination. Sadly, it was served too cold, which muted the flavours, and the rabbit could have been more tender. Still, quite nice, and certainly better than the main course: grilled tuna steak, sauteed onions, olive oil mashed potatoes and a light tomato cream. It's not that there's anything plain wrong with the dish, it's just a bit tasteless. The tuna had hardly seen a pan, which we liked, but not all members of our group agreed. Worse, it was short on taste, and therefore easily overpowered by the onions. The fact that Mrs. R found a chunk of the dark, bitter part of the tuna steak on her plate, didn't do any good either. The tomato cream was possibly the best part of the dish. Nice an pure, and a good match with the fish. Cheese consisted of a tasty piece of chevre, accompanied by some sprigs of thyme (rosemary according to the menu) and caramelized garlic. Just like the rabbit, this was served too cold, but very nice otherwise.
Dessert had the best surprise in store: a tasty strawberry, coated with candied sugar, tasted both delicate and lucious. It came together with a well-made crème brûlée.
So, was it a success? Yes and No. InterContinental deserves praise for organising these kinds of events. They bring liveliness to the culinary scene, and that's desperately needed in Muscat. But at the same time, it could be so much better. With just a little bit more care for detail, the overall level of the experience could be much higher. Keep up the good work, but keep improving!