In Australia, brunch is a relatively new concept. We are fairly black and white – it’s breakfast or it’s lunch. The only exception being yum cha (dim sum) which kinda starts at 11am mainly because we all want to bag a table. Although there was a time in the 2000s when “Girl’s Brunches” were all the rage. I blame Sex and the City (for that and the whole cupcake phenomenon). Plus, did Samantha ever finish her fruit platter? Seems she was eating it for six seasons.
In the Gulf however, more explicitly the “Expat Gulf”, brunch is taken very, very seriously. It is, in fact, an art form to be studied and perfected. It’s “Brunch” with a “Capital B” and nearly always involves a buffet (another b word) of some description, bubbles (“b” again) and and lots of bollocks (talk there of).
There are people in Dubai, Doha and beyond who can cite the specifics of each “Brunch” down to alcohol offerings and what time they stop serving it. People dress up for it, bookings are made weeks in advance and the hotel limo services do a roaring trade getting rolling expats back home without the intervention of the law.
Having lived in the region for some time, I have been known to indulge in the odd spot of brunch and know my way around a buffet without a GPS. In the Middle East, brunches tend to be housed in five star hotels, because of the restrictive liquor laws. This of course, is no hardship, but it does ensure your food is first rate and the service equally so.
I am a semi regular traveler to the neighboring city of Muscat (I call the 3pm Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Muscat the “Muscat Bus”) and while I am always embedded in Grand Hyatt Muscat I hadn’t done a “proper” brunch there. So, last Friday I found myself at Cafe Mokha with three charming (they made me say that) gentlemen – one Muscati, one almost Muscati and a visitor from the UK.
This brunch, as is the fashion at the moment, had a theme – the Beverly Hills Brunch – the link between the 90210 postcode and Muscat was tenuous but there was a low key DJ with obligatory hipster crazy hair. I did speculate that perhaps someone had confused Beverly Hills with Muscat Hills but I have no solid proof.
The buffet itself is compact yet is a tour de force. Any buffet with a Salmon En Croute station – complete with a meter long en croute – is a place close to my heart. I would have taken a photo of this, except that others shared the same sentiment and devoured it within minutes of a fresh one being installed.
Local and international seafood really shines at this brunch. oman is known for its ocean catch – lobster, tuna and hammour (a meaty white fish). The sushi and sashimi station served up both items made to order including a tempura shrimp roll and California rolls. An extensive raw bar and seafood selection kept me busy for a a while as did the tempura prawns which with also made a la minute and served with a dipping sauce. Meanwhile, a European-style platter of smoked fish provided an interesting counterpoint.
A pasta station, a “pork room” housing a huge road leg with condiments and cold cuts, an extensive (and imaginative) selection of salads and Arabic food and a roast beef and pasta station rounded out the savory offerings.
Brunch requires a strategy of military precision – I usually stick with seafood, sushi, cheese and champagne – because I know all will be fresh, tasty and frankly a little bit decadent. You can go too hard on the starters and not leave room for the main attractions. Others actually line up their desserts first. I’m a traditionalist.
This brings me to the desserts. While I am not sweet of tooth, the selection was dazzling in its decadence.
I personally think dessert takes up valuable room in the stomach which could be used for more rewarding pursuits like…cheese (more of that later), but even I was tempted.
But for me, the main event was the cheese. Upon arrival my eyes were like saucers at the cheese selection. I won’t go into too much detail, after all my other day job is as a cheese blogger, but suffice to say the selection was incredible.
You will be able to read more about it on another post, but the selection included raw milk goat and cow milk cheeses and a sinful selection of blues. One of my dining companions was a fellow traveler in the cheese department, and even he was rendered speechless. All was accompanied French-style by bread and an Italian truffle honey that should require its own Facebook fanpage it’s so good.
As with all brunches in the region, you can choose to have yours with our without alcohol. This brunch offered a lovely Australian white and red as well as, the Moet option.
A word of warning about the alcohol option. On Fridays, under Omani law, alcohol cannot be served until after 2pm. Brunch starts at 12.30pm, so if you want to get your money’s worth, plan ahead. I would suggest arriving around 1.30pm so you can enjoy the fantastic food on offer. Then spend the back end of the brunch with a couple of glasses of bubbly and some witty repartee.
The room itself has floor to ceiling windows with a view over the gardens to the sea. While from late-May onwards it’s too hot to sit on the terrace, the restaurant is spacious yet doesn’t feel spread out. Those with families have the option of a kid’s corner with food and entertainment – who doesn’t love their face painted? Service is attentive yet discrete and the chefs, including Chef Jason, are clearly passionate and well informed about their produce and offerings.
Verdict: The most established and lavish brunch in Muscat, this is an unpretentious yet foodie-inspired spread. A must for visitors, locals and fellow travelers
Friday Brunch, Cafe Mokha, Grand Hyatt Muscat
Shatti Al Qurm,
Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
Tel: +968 24 64 1234
Package 1: OMR 22 for brunch and soft drinks
Package 2: OMR 35 for brunch and selected spirits, beers and house wines
Package 3: OMR 49 for brunch, all the above and free flowing champagne.
Children under 12 years eat for free. Brunch is served from 12:30 and has been extended to 16:30. Alcholic beverages are only served between 14:00 and 16:30.