Saturday, 16 January 2010

Restaurant Review - Bait al Bahr

We love fish. Given Oman's incredible richness in seafood, it is surprising to see only a small number of specialised seafood restaurants. Sure, there are numerous grill restaurants that will serve you cremated kingfish, but that's not what we mean.

One of the few is Bait al Bahr, on the beach of Shangri La's Barr al Jissah Resort. Our last visit to this restaurant was almost a year ago. Our best recollection of that evening was the platter of fresh seafood; a wonderful collection of raw mussels, clams, oysters etc. on ice. Combined with a fresh white wine, life could hardly be better.

But we also remember disappointing main courses: overcooked tuna and a confusing dish with koffer made that we left with a double feeling. About time for a second visit. It was quite disheartening to see that the menu hadn't changed in a year's time. A restaurant with a limited menu, such as Bait al Bahr, should be able to offer their guests something new every once in a while, don't you think?

We didn't like the look of the catch of the day, which –quite frankly– looked like the catch of a couple of days before, so decided to order some dishes of the menu. Mr. R's prawn cocktail with three types of dressing was refreshing and fine. Mrs. R was less pleased with her starter of grilled scallop on a spicy mango salad. The sweet mango completely swept away the mild sweetness of the scallops, leaving only a salty and smoky grilled flavour. Not bad per se, but a pity of those beautiful scallops. They were –we must add– perfectly grilled.

Mrs. R decided to give the main course of Omani koffer, with harissa and fried parsnip a second chance, while Mr. R chose baked hammour with zatar crust. We can be short here: we disliked both. One of the delights of fish is that it is perfect to create light dishes, delicate and refined. These were heavy and filling. It seems the chef tried to create meat dishes out of fish. You'd wonder why.

The wine we drank with the food was good. A lovely crisp and dry Riesling by the Alsatian top producer Hugel. The high end wines of this producer belong to the best in the world, and while their entry level wines are nowhere near as good, they do provide a good introduction to the wines of the Alsace and offer fair value for money. The wines of Hugel are available through African & Eastern.

Luckily, desserts saved dinner from ending in complete disappointment. Date pudding, with caramel pecan nut ice cream tasted very nice, although the date pudding wasn't technically a pudding but a cake (and tasted more of chocolate than date, oh well, at least it tasted good). Mrs. R was very happy with her vanilla pannacotta, with pink grapefruit jelly and rhubarb granite, which was very refreshing, although perhaps overly sweet.

Service was fast. Too fast. It took the staff less than an hour to serve us three courses, including coffee and tea. A bit of time in between courses wouldn't have hurt at all.

We are still not convinced by Bait al Bahr. As a true seafood restaurant it is disappointing. We would rather spend some extra money and go to The Beach Restaurant or choose one of the fish dishes in Come Prima. But for a fresh seafood platter and a glass of wine this place is perfect. Ideally, we'd enjoy sundown in Bait al Bahr and then continue our dinner somewhere else. A pity the restaurant only opens at 7PM.

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