I love social media. Caught by a craving for Indian food while stuck in traffic, I posted an enquiry on cult Facebook page 'Muscat - Where Can I Find?' to find a place we hadn't tried yet, and, from the number and enthusiasm of the recommendations, it soon became clear that it would be seriously remiss not to give Begum's a go.
We (that's me and my husband) got there a few minutes before opening and we were not the only ones waiting. That was the first good sign. Begum's is a small, intimate restaurant with seating for 30-odd guests, with an almost cafeteria-like atmosphere as you're quite close to other tables, wherever you sit. That actually added to the friendly ambience.
Second good sign for me was the compact, focussed menu. I love restaurants who know what they do well and stick to that. We started with banjara kebab - chicken with ginger. The waiter tried to warn us off, giving us less spicy options, but we were hooked by the promise of a hot gingery starter so we went ahead regardless, and it was worth it. Delicious and tender and just on the right side of spicy for me. Just. As a precaution, we'd ordered cucumber raita to cool off - it was exactly as it should be, fresh and simple so it didn't mask the flavours of the main attractions.
Smoked aubergine with burnt garlic caught my eye on the menu next, and for a curry we got the chicken malvani, which came in a beautiful gravy, and the meat just fell off the bone. It's all served in copper dishes, which I am always charmed by. Because you never quite know what portion sizes are going to be like when you're eating in a new place, we also got a couple of naan (kulcha, which is embossed with seeds and herbs) and lemon rice. The rice was awesome - yellow and glossy, with fresh curry leaves that I think were flash-fried, studded with mustard seeds. Our plates went back clean, which the waiter noted with approval.
We're a very efficient couple - in just under an hour we had finished up a fantastic meal (for which we paid less than OMR 10 for two) and found a new favourite local.