Perfect Weekend at Holiday Inn Seeb.
When I left Dubai and returned to Muscat last summer, it wasn't the glitz and glam of the UAE that I missed the most. What I craved instead was the ubiquitous manakeesh found in many of the Emirate's Lebanese eateries. I missed those little pockets of succulent meats and gooey, melted cheese in their crispy, chewy, crunchy envelopes of unleavened bread that went down well at any time of the day, whether it was for breakfast with a sprinkling of zaatar or with some creamy labneh and a side salad. I never thought I'd find it in Oman, let alone in the Holiday Inn. I arrived at the property a few weekends ago to find that the restaurant was holding a weekly Arabian Night dinner. "What do you have tonight?" I asked the maitre d'hotel, my heart beating a rapid staccato rhythm as I waited for him to say the magic word. "We have a live station outside where we make fatayer, shawarma, chicken and mutton kebabs, grilled and fried fish, sometimes it is salmon, but today it is hammour, and we have freshly made falafel," he told me. And, almost as if fate were toying with me, he casually added, "We also make manakeesh, served hot at the table." 'Dude, where's the fire?' would've been an appropriate question to ask me as I made my excited dash from the hotel's entrance to the restaurant a floor below. What I saw there stopped me in my tracks. The Arabs have a saying: the eye eats before the mouth. It was quite clear the good folks at Holiday Inn had stuck to that tradition. Row after row of tantalising, appetising food were on display, from one corner of the restaurant to the other. From a great smelling macaroni and cheese to succulent chicken stewed in its own jus, to juicy beef cutlets and portions of melt-in-your-mouth turkey, the restaurant had everything a foodie could want, and more. Emphasis on 'and more'. Desserts that tasted as sinfully good as they looked were gloriously arranged in ranks, replete with a selection of exotic fruit, and the centrepiece, a chocolate fountain, complete with spheres of white chocolate and chewy marshmallows to drown in all that decadent goodness. The health nut in you, should turn left at the buffet line and begin the feast with a hearty soup -- lentil or chicken -- before veering off to the massive salad station and cheese bar that occupies a good third of the entire restaurant. Holiday Inn have spared no efforts in making some of the most flavourful and filling salads I have ever eaten, from their zesty tabbouleh to their chunky eggplant salad. They had, of course, kept in mind their international audience, and I developed a particular fondness for the Thai chicken salad. I simply had to go back for a second helping of that. I didn't, though, because the long sought-after manakeesh appeared, eliminating all thoughts of other dishes. See, it's one thing to eat good food, it's another to watch it being made. I watched as a layer of thin, unleavened bread, as silky smooth as a satin handkerchief, was placed on a pre-heated, overturned wok. Bits of seasoned lamb, bell peppers and sauteed onions were folded into the bread, which then began to sizzle on the wok, imparting a myriad of flavours and textures to the meat and bread.
It may have only taken a couple minutes to make, but it seemed like an eternity to me. The wait was worth it, though. My taste buds seemed to dance in ecstasy at the tenderness of the meat, the slight saltiness of the cheese, the bread, which held so well the flavours of all of the ingredients that had been lovingly blended together to produce such a delectable dish. And Holiday Inn made sure they danced all night. The shawarma I ate can certainly give some Turkish cafes in town a run for their money, and there's nothing quite like eating fresh-caught fish that's been roasted on a spit over glowing coals in front of you. Time flies when you're having fun, but I didn't quite expect it to go by so fast. Well-fed and happy, it was about 11pm by the time I was finally done and ready to check-in to my room. Holiday Inn's 185 rooms range from elegantly-furnished single rooms to opulently-decorated one and two-bedroom suites. No matter which category you end up choosing, you are sure to receive a surprisingly fantastic welcome. I opened the door to my suite to find a tray of goodies, including some of the best Omani halwa I have ever eaten, waiting on my bedside table. After sampling the spread, I did something I've always wanted to do-- kicking off my shoes and jumping headfirst onto the bed, which (thankfully for me) was soft and cloud-like, much like the downy towels and bathrobes. Though I didn't want to leave my plush bed the next morning, I couldn't resist the call of the pristine waters of the swimming pool just outside my window. So I emerged to spend the morning whiling away the time in the pool, steaming in the adjoining gym, and preparing myself for another feast.
If Arabian Night was good, Friday's Fizzy Brunch was even better. I have never eaten a turkey so succulent, or had such tender cuts of beef, served with a vast array of house beverages to cater to anything your taste buds might seek out. You wouldn't think their kadai paneer would go so well with a flaky, buttery croissant, but this idiosyncratic combination of breakfast and lunch is just so good that it all seems to work together. And, if deep down you've always wanted to have mac and cheese with hot dogs followed up with an amazing muffin and ice-cream, well, the world's your oyster. At this unassuming business hotel, I found that I was never asked what I wanted. I was offered everything I could have wanted, and more, in a way that I'd expect from a five star resort, but that came as a very pleasant surprise at this four-star all-star. So, if you want to get away from it all, without battling your way out of town, I suggest heading to Seeb for a staycation at the Holiday Inn, where you can eat like a king, get in some serious rest and relaxation, and leave feeling like you got far more than what you paid for. Holiday Inn Muscat Location P.O. Box 1916, Al Mawaleh South, Muscat, 130, Oman Landmarks: 9km from Muscat International Airport and 2km from Muscat City Centre What does it offer? Warm, contemporary rooms offer free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, plus minibars, iPod docks, and tea and coffee making facilities. Suites add separate sitting areas. Room service is available 24/7. Amenities include a bright restaurant offering Mediterranean cuisine, and a casual cafe/lounge. There's also a gym, and an outdoor pool with sun loungers. Where to Book? Holidayinn.com, or in person at the hotel. Alternatively, call +968 8007 7999. Rates Prices range from OMR57 for a single room to OMR123 for a two-bedroom suite. [emailprotected]
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