Embraced by the Al Hajar Mountains and the Sea of Oman, the Al Bustan Palace (a Ritz-Carlton property) is a serene oasis, tucked away like a jewel in Muscat, Oman. The soaring, marble and gold atrium of the lobby, with its grand arches, crystal chandeliers, and domed ceiling, call to mind a religious space that is opulent yet tastefully elegant. Frankincense, a local treasure, wafts through the air. Courteous staff, many of whom are Omani men in dazzling white dishdashas and multi-colored turbans, graciously greet their guests. In the afternoons, you might enjoy high tea and quiet conversation here, followed by live performances by a harpist. A piano and violin duo also fills the atrium with a varied repertoire of artists ranging from Bach to The Scorpions.
The hotel’s “garden” grounds soothe the senses with an expansive, immaculately manicured, emerald-green lawn that feels like a soft carpet under bare feet. Hotel guests enjoy sunbathing, swimming in one of several infinity pools, or kayaking. Lime-green parakeets fly overhead to perch on the hotel roof or in the many palm trees that shade the grounds, and tiny white butterflies flutter amongst the colorful pink, purple, and white flowerbeds. The spectacular, sandy beach, with its green waters and foamy surf, hugs the hotel’s sprawling outdoor space, with mountains framing the scene on either side. One could spend all day laying out here, listening to the calming sounds of the surf, and indulging, perhaps, in a piña colada (alcohol served after 12 p.m. on weekdays and after 2 p.m. on Friday,) but eventually, one must eat.
Do yourself a favor and book the daily breakfast along with your room at the Al Khiran Terrace restaurant, which offers indoor seating (including a charming play area for children), or outdoor seating overlooking the hotel’s largest infinity pool, lined with palm trees. An impressive array of Eastern (foul/fava beans, miso soup, grilled fish, Arabic mezze, and dim sum) and Western options (roasted potatoes, grilled cheese tomatoes, assorted cheeses, pancakes and waffles, all manner of breakfast meats, and a selection of tantalizing, flaky pastries) will please every traveler from any culture. Special touches include fresh fruit juices and smoothies, eggs made to order, and exotic fruits such as mangosteen, rambutan, and dragonfruit, sliced to resemble sushi. Coconuts with holes drilled in the top and a straw provide nature’s best thirst quencher. Almost anything one could want for breakfast can be found here, and if not, just ask. The floor manager will graciously arrange for staff to fulfill special dietary requests or whims of fancy. After a hearty breakfast, relax and enjoy your cappuccino as you prepare for a day of additional relaxation.
The BLU poolside grill is the perfect place to grab a casual lunch without leaving the tranquil garden. Enjoy a cheeseburger or lamb kofta in paradise, a light salad or the catch of the day, such as grilled kingfish with lemon aioli. Sip a fruity and festive mocktail and feel refreshed as a Caribbean-influenced singer serenades you with his gentle voice and acoustic guitar.
The Beach Pavillion
What could be more romantic than dining steps away from the pounding surf, under the stars, with the glow of tikki torches silhouetting the mountains on either side of you? Dig your bare toes into the sand, sample a mixed grill of Omani lobster tail, emperor fish, prawns, and calamari, and be sure to try the rich and creamy truffled mashed potatoes.
For a change of atmosphere, reserve a table at China Mood. The small, intimate indoor dining area is decorated with red silk lanterns, dark wood, and rich, purple tables featuring a single yellow orchid. The dining experience is dramatized through a series of rituals, such as a Tea Show performed nightly by a woman from Cheng Du. She expertly wields a ceremonial golden teapot that has a needlelike spout almost one meter long, and, amidst a series of flips and flourishes, fills teacups to the tune of a Chinese flautist. The tea mistress also fills diners’ cups with steaming oolong tea at their tables in a dramatic fashion with the same impressive teapot, in the style of one used only for the emperor during China’s imperial period. Following the dramatic tea service, diners receive lemon-scented towels to refresh their hands. After taking your order, the waiter brings a small plate of glistening, prawn-scented crackers. These dissolve on your tongue with a crunch and a rich oily finish, and are served alongside a trio of sauces (the vinegar sauce with green peppers is extremely hot and spicy.)
The menu features an impressive array of dim sum options in three categories: steamed, pan-fried, or deep-fried. You can make a sumptuous meal of dim sum alone, or order one or two of these dishes to share as an appetizer. There are a variety of steamed fresh fish dishes, as well as that mainstay showpiece of Chinese restaurants outside of China, the crispy duck carved tableside and served atop delicate crepes.
Scallop dumplings and shrimp dumplings arrive in a bamboo steamer basket, their translucent wrappings shaped like seashells and tiny purses, respectively. The shrimp is plump and satisfying; the scallops are pleasingly firm but not tough. Miniature beef buns are first steamed, then fried, for a crispy bite, and served on a bed of scallions, parsley, and onions. The corn soup with crab meat yields bright yellow color but bland taste; opt instead for the thick and flavorful hot and sour soup, which awakens the senses and the sinuses.
Kung pao chicken with a spicy-sweet, citrusy sauce is artfully served within the hull of a giant yellow pepper. However, the chunks of hot dried peppers in the sauce assault the mouth like a firebomb. Generous sips of oolong tea and dry, crisp, vino del sol can quell this fire. Savory, stir-fried hefeng with vegetables, rice noodles, and egg is rich in texture and also provides a buffer for the spicier bites. Sizzling beef, true to its name, is served with a theatrical crackle and hiss, and delights the palate with the taste and scent of ginger and garlic.
A duo of desserts—a colorful fruit soup made with sweet cream and tapioca pearls, and a layered puff pastry stuffed with a surprise morsel of barbequed chicken—pay homage to traditional Chinese cuisine.
Taking time to chat with the waiters, many of whom hail from China and are knowledgeable about the history, geography, and style of the dishes on the China Mood menu, makes the dining experience richer and more gratifying.
Time to Sleep
After your delicious dinner, a nightcap at the Al Marjan bar’s outdoor terrace, and a walk on the beach, retire to your beauty rest in one of the Al Bustan Palace’s well-appointed rooms. For a weekend couple’s getaway or for those who love an early morning swim, consider a Lagoon Room, which features a private deck that opens directly into the infinity pool. Families with small children might consider an Executive Suite, with its separate living area and dining table set for four. (Note to parents: The hotel can book a babysitter with advance notice.) Deluxe Rooms features luxury touches such as espresso machines, a complimentary mini-bar stocked daily with juices and soft drinks, and a balcony with sweeping views of the majestic mountains, the sea, or a combination of the two.