Semsom

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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.






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