Today Semsom opened their first restaurant in Oman. Their very attractive Coming Soon signs across the way from me at MGM have been intriguing me for months, and I saw Semsom's founder, Christine Sfeir, on a TV show - one of those Undercover Boss type ones - and the company and its boss came across really well; clearly this is a labour of love that has flourished into a franchise, with a bit more heart than a faceless chain restaurant.

It's not something I would normally get excited about, Lebanese food; I know very little about it, beyond what tastes good to me, and what is fresh, and the ability to recognise the most basic dishes. Almost all my Lebanese food has been eaten in shisha places - is that bad? I've had some really tasty hummus in my time, but have never thought to delve any deeper into the cuisine.

The idea behind Semsom is to bring something different to Lebanese cuisine, which Semsom set out to achieve both by exploring and celebrating Lebanon's lesser-known, local food traditions, and by adding surprising twists and tweaks to the dishes. Hence, pink hummus, which is definitely going to be the most Instagram'd dish on the menu and could serve as a symbol of the Semsom concept. It's a beautifully presented Lebanese dish, massively traditional and well-known, but it's a vibrant rose colour from the added sumac. I just learned today what sumac is; I learned a lot today. We were led through the menu by Tino, who was very knowledgeable about all the ingredients and happy to explain it to me - he pitched it just perfectly to my level and gave some excellent suggestions, so we ended up ordering everything he told us to.

Semsom's hummus sumac is not just about its looks. It is absolutely delicious. The sumac adds the colour and, along with thyme, the fresh and zingy flavour, totally distinctive and my new favourite pink food (ousting strawberry Starburst from the list). We also had the cheese osmalieh, which is shredded dough stuffed with mozzarella and deep fried - that ticks a lot of boxes for me, and the dough was ridiculously light. All this is served with a bewildering selection of breads that just keep coming to the table; crunchy bread triangles, hot little pockets under a sheet, cold folded flatbreads. For a main we had the chicken skewers which were lovely and tender, and came with proper fresh chunky roasted vegetables, and more bread - the sort of pizza-y flatbread with a thin layer of fresh tomato sauce and parsley. That was good too. We're carb people.

As zen masters can clear their minds, so too can I always find an empty space for dessert. Tino didn't take an order from us on this, but warned us he would be bringing over a surprise. Just as well, because he brought something I never would have picked from the menu; a cotton candy and rose ice-cream concoction. Granted, it looked amazing on the menu - all fluffy and pink - but I didn't think it would be my cup of tea. And I was sharing with Maurizio, who likes desserts to be manly. 

Now, we didn't get charged for the dessert, which means I didn't get a note of its name, but you can't miss it. It tastes even more outstanding that it looks, I had an almost emotional reaction to it. It is so well-balanced in flavour and texture - sweet but by no means overpowering. If you eat it right, you'll have enough cotton candy fluff to soak up the last drops of rose syrup at the bottom of the bowl, and you'll want to. There's something really comforting and playful and nostalgic about this dish - it takes me back to a Lebanese childhood I never had. Maybe that zen thing has brought on past life regression, but more likely this was just a very, very good meal.






Going out for Italian with Maurizio is probably a bit like going out with me for fish and chips; I have my heritage, I have my opinions, and I can be pretty harsh when I find something not to my liking. See my scathing condemnation of the Dolphin restaurant's chips on the FatSu Instagram account. "Meh", I said, and I meant it. 

So our successful visit to try out Volare, the new pizzeria next to the Ramada, was a relief. The pizza is the main thing and it is extremely good. Thin, proper Italian pizza, perfectly cooked. Tasty and generous toppings. Excellent cheeses - nice to see more than four on one pizza too (at home we have Seven Cheese Pasta), and the menu stresses their use of fresh ingredients. We each had a small pizza and it was a good lunch portion. Neither of us could fault it at all and it has gone on our List of Acceptable Pizzas. Extra points also for their Coke being served out a glass bottle - it always tastes better.

It's a pretty new place and the service was a bit slow, but I never go anywhere that just launched and expect fast service. The service staff were very friendly and nice, although there was some confusion and (civilised) argument about the dessert; two of them on the menu are very similar and the chefs and waiters - and I think the manager - weren't sure which was which. Yes, they all came over and talked to us. It was quite the crowd, but I appreciated them all trying to sort out the issue. In the end I ate what I had been given, which was a cannoli, but that wasn't what I thought I ordered...Maurizio was able to add the stamp of authenticity to my assertions. All the back-and-forth gave me a chance to get a bit more hungry though and the dessert was really delicious, just sweet enough, and I polished off the lot. It's the one on the bottom left corner of the menu. Well, the one on the right corner actually but I think both will get you a cannoli. Order it and enjoy it but don't try and get a definition.














I'm not sure who Google thinks I am. I regularly see ads on the side of my screen trying to sell me or show me: North American sports news (incomprehensible), Filipino girls looking for fun (can't help, sorry ladies), condos in Bangalore (I lack lakhs), and highly specialised construction equipment (maybe because I typed the words "Honda Road" into Muscat Where Can I Find a few times?).

Today one of the links actually seemed to be aimed at getting my attention. The Fungi Mutarium! What a name; you can see why I clicked. I would like to get a Fungi Mutarium for Christmas - it looks like a beautiful, alien cake. It's a glass dome full of egg-shaped pods made of sugars, and stuffed with plastic matter. Scientists add mushroom particles, mycelia - then these fungi-types eat away at the pods and grow, breaking down the non-biodegradable plastic as they work their way from meal to meal, growing into edible mushrooms in the process as a side effect. Now the teams who invented it are working on a way to increase the speed and scope, so the concept could be applied on a larger scale to reduce plastic pollution massively, and presumably produce enormous juicy mushrooms.


My parents came to stay for a week. Not with me. I, and my humble home, can't compete with the hospitality offered at the Shangri-La. They don't let cats in the bedroom there, for a start. I'm not insulted by their preference, but it's left unsaid that in exchange for this daughterly serenity there will be a fabulous meal or two.

This was our first visit to Sultanah for dinner and on Thursdays, there's a jazz band and a seafood buffet. Our expectations were high, based on the Full Moon Beach Barbeque we went to at the Shangri-La earlier this year - that was a fantastic night. This was even better. In fact, am I going to say...yes, I'm going to say this was the best buffet I've had in Muscat. 

A buffet has to be really good for me to like getting up out of my chair to serve myself. And it's rare to find anything exciting at a buffet. The jazz night at Sultanah, though, had each of us pulling at each other's sleeves - come and see the array of sushi! Taste this, it's like a contemporary prawn cocktail! See how many types of smoked fish? Bresaoli done up in little bundles! Unshucked oysters! The cheese board was a thing of beauty. The mushroom soup was unbelievably tasty. I forget what the raspberryish drink was that we were served on seating but it also rocked. The lobsters were superb. I liked the chocolate fountain display with its clever use of pegboard. I like pegboard. This is a delicious spread but just as much it's the beautiful presentation that sets it apart, that and the stunning surroundings and the brilliant band, plus the friendly service and the freshly-perfect weather we had the best night - the atmosphere was just lovely. Couples even got up to dance between the tables (not us, we were too full).
























The Grand Hyatt have flown in Chef Matt from his Jo'Burg restaurant Coobs, along with Denzel Heath, award-winning bartender, and we went along last night to experience their Truly South African food festival.

(Only as I sit down to write up last night's dinner at Safari Rooftop do I realise that I went the whole evening without treating the visiting South Africans to my famously brilliant Afrikaans accent. Shame. I think I said "veld" a couple of times, but that's all. Feel free to read the rest of this post with inverted vowel sounds in your head, you'll get the idea bru.)

Anyway, that wasn't the only shame at the meal; I also skipped dessert. Now this is what happens when you have a truly awesome mixologist at the bar. Clearly a tip-top expert and a very charming guy, Denzel Heath was mixing really fantastic drinks to order, based on preference and always with very cool ingredients. I would never have thought to choose a cocktail made with port and whiskey, but they way he did it (with raspberry syrup and slightly bruised mint leaves, tasting all the time and adjusting accordingly) it came out as my new favourite drink. Of course you can't be in the presence of such talent and just try one, so I also had the Middle Eastern Margerita, spiked with ginger and date syrup. Glug glug glug and suddenly it's half past eleven and really I can't justify ordering a pudding.

Meanwhile, there was the food. Knowing this was a South African themed meal, I had been pondering the morality of eating crocodile. I am still in a state of denial about the ethics of my consumption of meat but I thought I could certainly justify helping, by the enjoyment of one of its juicy flanks, to rid the world of one more terrifying predator. At least I could feel less guilty than if I had aided and abetted the slaughter of a little lamb, plus it's a genuine taste of Sith Ifrica (there, that's the accent). In the event, though, the most exotic meat on the menu was ostrich, and they have those great big innocent eyes, so I went for a dish featuring the least sentient I could identify, which was the crayfish curry. This was delicious - Chef Matt, who patiently answered my questions when we invaded his kitchen, recommended it as a tasty example of Cape Malay cuisine, along with a sweetcorn bake based on his mother's recipe. 

There is a whole load of amazing-sounding stuff on this menu, so much so that we're planning a return trip this weekend. For the rest of the promotion, the temptations of Denzel will be separated off in the John Barry Bar while the food stays up on the rooftop, so we'll probably get through the proper number of dishes next time. I want to order bobotie and chakalaka, if only because they are words I rarely get to say, although the boerwors-spiced ostrich was apparently spectacular, if you can stick your head in the sand and forget about that stupid but appealing face it has.


















Scrolling through Instagram last night, I saw a sad thing. Elevation Burger is closing its doors at Muscat Grand Mall, tomorrow. This is my favourite place for lunch in MGM, where I work; I love the food, and the team there. It was the first place I was ever greeted with "Welcome, FatSu!". More than that though, the opening of Elevation was an encouraging sign that big companies from Abroad were taking those of us in Muscat seriously as consumers of quality products. 

Among the Gulf states, we have a bit of a reputation for appreciating the cheap over the good. I think it's true that a higher proportion of the market in Oman are bargain-hunters than in neighbouring countries. This comes at the expense of quality for those shoppers, and for the rest of us who would actually like to pay a bit more for something that is obviously of higher value - for example, free-range, fresh-ground, organic beef burgers, versus...what is in other burgers anyway? - we suffer because companies whose concepts revolve around selling quality products are not willing to take a risk on Muscat's residents backing their brand. So it's rare that the good stuff comes here.

Every mall that opens starts off in a heady cloud of rumours - this will be the class act! Proper high-end stuff! Gucci's coming, so's LV! Jamie's opening a restaurant! Then we downgrade our expectations as it's borne in upon us that these companies don't have the slightest bit of faith that we as a market will cough up for their products - or if we do, we prefer to do it in the glamour of Dubai or Paris. Next we come to hear of Shops We Love, and can afford. Boots! Debenhams! Nope, sorry. Not them either. They know we'll flock to the stores at first, then baulk at the prices charged, wait for the (ever more frequent) sales, or stock up over summer.

I'm not saying that cheap food can't be good, nor that everyone has an infinite amount of money to spend on their lunch. But I'm sad about the closure of Elevation Burger; I've had great times there. And here and here. There are hints on their social media that they might open elsewhere in Muscat - I really hope so, and I hope it's in a place where they can guarantee a nice profitable flow of people who are prepared to pay for their product. I'll be going for my final lunch there today, and over my extra-crispy-fries with cheeseburger-no-mayo-no-ketchup-just-balsamic-dressing-and-tomatoes I'll wonder whether, by the time Elevation's replacement comes along at MGM, we'll have moved on enough to appreciate that ingredients do matter (maybe more, even, than that extra rial you pay for good ones).


To all my American friends, and those of you lucky enough to have them and to be invited to their homes this weekend, Happy Thanksgiving! I go to the USA twice a year and look forward to fantastic Korean food every time, but I never had good proper American food til today at Di and Ed's. Turkey boiled in Coca Cola! Sweet potatoes with marshmallows! Corn casserole! Seventeen types of pie, I think. All awesome and flavourful, and as a fellow guest pointed out, Thanksgiving tends to be about sharing food with friends, without the gift-giving, family-wrecking pressure of Christmas. I'm very thankful, and just plain full.




The cheese course: perfect for both prolonging an enjoyable meal, and eating more cheese. Here's my wadge of post-prandial Taleggio at the Shangri-La. Taleggio's one of my favourite cheeses and you don't often see it in Muscat. It's so distinctively nutty and I wish you could smell it, but if you want experience it with a less exciting sensory organ, you can read its page on Wikicheese, or join the good people dedicated to the preservation of traditional methods of creating this fine creamy beauty, at the official website of the Union of Taleggio


It's fig season! Or at least it is at time of writing. By the time I hit 'publish', it may have passed by again. These little beauties are so delicate and soft, but there's only ever about two days of the year when we get them, so take advantage. I like them with proscuitto and goat's cheese, or for breakfast as below, drizzled with honey and dusted with cinnamon and served with a dollop of Greek yoghurt.


I love menus, but to live in Muscat is to become over-familiar with what's on each one. Just not enough restaurants, and three meals in the day, with up to three courses in each; it's inevitable, and I'm not even going to attempt the maths. So I'm always happy when a waiter slips a special menu into my hand, whether it's a seasonal promo, a set menu based on a certain ingredient, or the work of a guest chef in situ.

The Chedi Muscat doesn't usually do this, but they should make it a regular thing; they've brought in a chef from one of their other stunning properties. If you follow the Chedi's parent company @ghmhotels on Instagram you'll be familiar with them, and may even use them as I do for vicarious pleasure. I like to look at pictures of the Swiss one in winter...it's like a zen log cabin. In the summer when the sea here is like soup and the air not much better, I picture myself in their heavenly-looking Vietnamese resort. It's the chef from this hotel that The Chedi Muscat has borrowed this week, and there's a dedicated menu featuring some amazing dishes. 

Being totally unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine I based my choices around ingredients I had never tasted - so, banana flower, dalat root vegetables, lotus seeds, rice paddy herbs and clams (I've eaten clams but not Vietnamese ones, and all the ingredients have been flown over specially). Lotus seeds could be the new edamame beans. Really soft and almost sweet, yielding and more-ish, as well as being packed with nutrients. If I had the money to spare, I'd be buying up tracts of land for their cultivation, which is the first financial FatSu tip.

The Chedi Muscat's Vietnamese menu is available now in The Restauran, up until the 8th November.

















We went to a friend's house for dinner - me and three Romans. Maurizio and Alessandra are in the kitchen preparing the meal while I lean back, Martini-and-orange in hand, and watch the experts at work. How many typically Italian products can you spot in the photo? I think it's nine.


Even though sometimes you may not have time to eat properly, you should at least try to eat proper food in a messy, beast-like way. Balance it out - this burger arrangement, with the fries shoved inside, is my efficiently time-saving twist on a regular Elevation cheeseburger. There's no doubt it's an unladylike way to eat, but, it's all organic and free-range, so the primitive wolfing-down of it is actually just rustic and authentic. Also it's nostalgic, because of chip butties.


Food gestures can be so beautiful. Yesterday I flew out of town for a day - constituting an early start and four flights - and arrived back in Muscat at 11pm, starving. Have you ever eaten on Gulf Air? No, me neither. 

Maurizio had been with our friends James and Carla, and when he set off to pick me up from the airport, they kindly gave him a full plate of the roast dinner they'd cooked. So when I fell off the plane, dragged myself through the electronic gates, and slumped into the car, I was greeted with a delicious scent of rosemary and garlic, and devoured the whole thing (meat from the bones and all) on the drive home. 

As if it were needed, this is another good example of why not following the Rules is a good idea. I'd recommend a restorative roast to anyone at any time, in any location, even a moving vehicle. Just what I needed after a long day of travel; tasty and comforting, and the garlic cloves got straight to work on killing off all the germs that four plane-loads of passengers insisted on breathing into the public domain.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this is a pre-used photo - while it is possible, even advisable, to eat roast dinners in the car at night, it's an almost impossible proposition to photograph the procedure.)










Yay, my favourite hidden jewel in the Muscat restaurant treasure trove, Marjan at the Grand Hyatt, has re-opened for the cool(ish) season. I'm here this evening for poolside sundowners, a delicious dinner and a romantic view over the beach. Now it's been a while since I ate here, so this time I won't feel at all guilty if I order their Indonesian slow-cooked, fall-apart beef stew for the hundredth time. Note: Marjan has a lovely atmosphere for couples, but don't get this dish if you're on a first date...you'll inevitably pay more attention to the rendang than to your partner.


This morning I was distraught to miss another fine cooking lesson at the Hyatt - the dessert one was loads of fun, and I really wish I could have attended this one with Chef Mauro, but at 8.30am it clashed with work commitments. I don't really need to know about Italian food as Maurizio is happy to be the Keeper of the Knowledge. But I was looking forward to the opportunity to legitimately eat pasta for breakfast.

Who decides what is eaten when? Why is it that a pain au chocolate is fine, but if I fancy a sticky toffee pudding in the morning it's not? Ditto meats. I'm English, and pork is an integral part of our classic national fry-up, but most of us would baulk at the thought of eating beef or chicken at breakfast. Have you ever seen hash browns on a dinner menu? They're potatoes aren't they? Chips are fine but not squared-off versions?

And why is it that enjoying a bowl of cereal any other time than morning is something we're exclusively allowed to do in our late teens and early twenties? And why does the same not apply to porridge? I'm at a loss as to why the species is not rising up and questioning these mandates.

Thank goodness someone had the sense to invent brunch, giving us a place for all those in-between foods that we must have been unconsciously wanting for breakfast, knowing that to indulge would mean risking the scorn of our peers. Like smoked salmon. And alcohol, come to think of it, in boozy brunches. How did that come about? You'd have to guess it's a Cava conspiracy, for the wineries to crowbar their unlimited bubbly into a mid-morning, yet socially-acceptable framework.

I have Maurizio to thank for opening my mind to the possibilities of breakfast. To the disgust of many and the secret envy of more, he lives the dream of every young boy, and has chocolate cake or chocolate biscuits dunked in chocolate milk for breakfast. He's a visionary. He wouldn't have scoffed if I came back from the Hyatt this morning full of lasagna.




Salads get a bad rap for dullness, and can bring to mind frustrating calorie deprivation and limp lettuce, but I love a good fat juicy salad. Salads have a good thing going for them: you can make them out of anything and you don't even need to cook them. Even I can assembly a salad. And sometimes I do. In theory, you can get more imaginative with less effort, and be rewarded with a dish of which every mouthful is different. 

The key to making a proper meal of salads is just to eat loads and loads. Like a kilo or so of this concoction of refreshing and tasty goodness that we had for lunch, which has in it: grilled chicken, pears, walnuts, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, goat's cheese, wholegrain mustard and honey.


This weekend there's a Mexican Fiesta at Rumba Lattina. Showcasing how well Rumba does this best-known of Latin cuisines, this is the proper stuff; everything homemade with authentic Latin ingredients, and authentic and lovely people on the team too. Here's my sizzling fajitas; the party goes on tonight with all-you-can-eat delicioso-ness. Ay waistline mio.






FatSu tips: inspired by the buzz that went round the table at our last dinner at Safari, when Anne's get-the-ketchup-bottle-to-give-it-up tip drew gasps of joy and astonishment from the guests, all of whom were hard-bitten, world-weary media types.

Like the one I passed on from Anne, none of these tips are likely to come directly from me. I don't really know anything. So here's a tip from Maurizio. For those of us with soft mouths, discarded pizza crusts are a terrible waste of dough. What Maurizio does is to drizzle a few drops of chilli oil onto the very edge of the slice, and tilt it to let it absorb into the crust, softening it up and making it edible. Zero waste and an extra kick from the chilli heat.







What an amateur I am. Last night I ate at the Grand Hyatt Muscat's newly re-opened Safari Rooftop Grill, with its ample opportunities for lingering shots of glistening fresh seafood platters, juicy steaks and perfect chips. And these are the only two pictures on my phone this morning. Sigh. Although, to be fair to me, that's because I was too busy having fun. What I'll do it, I'll just tell you what the food was like. It was awesome. We were a table of twenty, yet when my tenderloin came out of the kitchen it was the most spot-on medium rare meltiness I ever had. Fabulous chips - a far cry from my squidgy Elevation Burger favourites, these were the sort of proper gourmet chips that would get you a nod on Masterchef. 

Now that it's winter (it is, it really is) I plan to spend more evenings at Safari Rooftop. The food rocks, the staff are all lovely, plus, I love deals. The meal packages are a great price for what you get, starting around OMR 27 including all your drinks. I like the ease of splitting the bill if you're with a group, I like knowing how much I'm going to spend, and I like unlimited stuff, especially wine. It all makes for a very relaxed evening out. Also, if you like people-watching, the roof is privy to a great view of the outside of Safari itself - you have to lean over, but all human life is there.

(Anne, by the way, is pictured below about to demonstrate a top tip for getting ketchup out. Apparently you give a couple of sharp raps on the bottle, just where it says either 57 or the word Heinz on the glass.)






And that's it, FatSu USA is no more! Until February. I should try and eat somewhere different there next time, somewhere a bit more typically Vegas, maybe a restaurant featuring live tigers gyrating round a fully-functioning volcano. But when Dubai is so close, what's the point in seeking out the excessive and showy? And I'm a dull sort by nature. Sofa and a cup of tea type. To that end, post-Vegas, I like to visit my family in England in search of such homely comforts, before coming back to Muscat. Here are my food highlights from the family seat.

I like taking my nephews out. Felix is yawning as he waits for his ice-cream at Scrum-Diddly-Umptious, a tea room that brings some Roald Dahlian confectionery frenzy to my home town in Derbyshire.

Max is hanging upside down for as long as it takes to get all the blood into his head, on the way back from a Fruit Gum spree at Waitrose.



Waitrose is another thing I love. Or any nice supermarket, come to that. They sell wine there. Wine without shame. It's so normal that if you forget you can buy wine, and you get to the till, you can send a five year old off to pick it up for you! "Can I get a nice Rioja for my aunty please?" Adorable. And there are loads of organic things. And they look at you funny if you ask for a plastic bag, and you have to school your countenance not to seem surprised that nobody is bagging your goods for you. I spent an hour and a half in Waitrose, buying the ingredients to create a simple, make-ahead dinner for my sister and her partner. It was such a pleasure (those clean, wide, clear aisles) that I couldn't stop, and ended up making a ridiculous feast, which, while it could indeed have been made ahead, was not, because I forgot to do anything except congratulate myself on designing a menu that could be made ahead.


Most of the time I spend at my parents' house, where I grew up, I'm in the kitchen drinking tea. My mother doesn't like the current fashion for the open-plan concept, those sightlines that blur kitchen and living room. She likes clearly delineated spaces, and, understandable for a mother of five, she likes to be able to get away when necessary into a different room. Unfortunately for her, an interloper like myself can render these lines obsolete by cleverly parking myself on the countertop, mug in hand, for the duration of my waking hours.


And it was in the kitchen that me and my brother staged this little food scene. It speaks volumes for my mother's parenting that, as a family, we actually discussed whether the image below was in poor taste, given the conflicts raging in the world today. But then again, she was the one who added the peeler to the potato corpse's belly. And it was her genius stroke, not quite visible in the photo, of the single Superglue tear on the cheek of the father potato.






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