Even the hottest, driest of places has its sheltered, welcoming haven. So it is in Riyadh – hidden in the heart of the Kingdom, about as far as you can get from the coast – Rosh Rayhaan for Rotana nourishes and refreshes with its sumptuous seafood buffet.
True to Arab hospitality, guests are welcomed from the bustle of popular Olaya Street with a refreshing thyme and lime sherbet. This is a moment to rest, observe your fellow diners, and prepare for the lavish feast ahead. Expect to find yourself amongst Saudi dignitaries sampling the bouillabaisse gregarious groups of young women taking selfies of themselves and their food, and business partners ruminating over the deals of the day.
Start with a meze of orange blossom-infused moutabel, pomegranate-bejewelled hummus and generous portions of delicately-smoked, meaty, creamy salmon. No campfire ashes here.
Now, as for that lobster bouillabaisse – unless my trawling skills were woefully lacking, all the best bits seemed to have been plundered, leaving tomato-flavoured seawater. Either they were not there in the first place or previous guests’ trawling was inspired by the benefits of lubricating the wheels of business.
Thankfully, every other imaginable seafood is also available and displayed artfully at the live cooking station, from where the chef prepares the fish of your choice on the spot. Perfectly accompany your red snapper or meaty hammour with his mellow, liquorice-scented roasted fennel.
However, available is not necessarily accessible. Without a fish knife, crab mallet or lobster cracker, you have to wrestle with a traveller’s dilemma of how to eat cleanly and elegantly– go native using your primal instincts to extricate the delicious, succulent meat from the nooks and crannies, or criminally leave many of the tasty, (but tantalisingly unreachable) morsels untouched and unappreciated. Happily, the appearance of the genuinely warm and smiley Sri Lankan waiting staff offering to make a personalised fresh juice helps (have you ever seen a grumpy Sri Lankan?) – frothy, creamy, orange with mint sweetened only with pineapple – this juice not only aids digestion but also soothes any irritation at not being able to fully do justice to the chef’s superb skills.
Desert dessert, of course, offers endless, inevitably sweet variations with dates, cream or chocolate. But really, there is no merit in looking any further than the comforting, familiar arms of Umm Ali. Liberally sprinkled with crunchy purpley-green pistachios this soothing dish, steels you for the return journey home and the onslaught of Riyadh’s roads. Gaze up at the iconic Kingdom Centre as you leave replenished, appreciate its colored glow, muse on its rather curious accolade of being the world’s third tallest building with a hole, and be amazed that excellent seafood can indeed be found in the heart of the desert.
Olaya St, Al Olaya, Riyadh 12241. 011 447 9888.
Seafood buffet every Wednesday, 7pm to 10:30pm. SAR 249 including water, juice, tea and coffee.
By: A Layla Wa Layla