I bet everyone has this - a food that they just must have when they feel super-starving. Not a comfort food as such - more a re-fuel for when you've been working like a mule. Mine is the chicken kabsa from Taza, and luckily there's one of these outlets in the food court at Muscat Grand Mall where I've just finished launching my shop. The fit-out process has featured a fair few long, wearying days of box-lugging, mannequin-wrestling and bulk steaming, and at the end of each of these I head for that kabsa. It's full of little taste surprises like fresh orange rind shavings, cloves, and the cooling zing from the tomato relish it comes with (ask for an extra one, you'll need it). And, it works out at OMR 2.9 for a portion that feeds two mules.






Chlorophyll. Not the most enticing-sounding component of a meal, but as chlorophyll is the green in plants (including the locally-grown rocket and basil used in this pesto dish) produced by photosynthesis, what I am eating is essentially Omani sunshine on a plate. Although roughly blended with olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and lemon juice, the aroma is more like Italy on a plate, and it's filled the whole house.

This is one of a few homemade pestos that Maurizio makes and one of my favourites, not only for the beautiful rich colour but the perfection with which it sticks to the spaghetti. His innovative Yellow Pesto is a show-stopper too; we're working our way through the rainbow.







Serendipity at the Shangri-La: sometimes everything just works out perfectly and all elements come together for a beautiful dinner. Yesterday the Shangri-La somehow arranged for a storm in the morning so that the sky would be clear, the breeze cool and the mosquitoes swept away for their first Full Moon Beach Barbeque Dinner, held on the sand at the Bandar Beach with great company all around, while the band played cool, low-key swing and samba.

This was the first Full Moon Beach Barbeque from the team at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort, and I really hope they make it a regular thing. The set-up of the event, on that beach - one of the most beautiful in Oman - nestled in the cliffside with the moon beaming down on candlelit tables, is a bit magical. And, much as I love Muscat, being at the Shangri-La feels like you've left town, which makes it even more special.

Romantic as all that ambience stuff may be, however, the highlights of the night for me were the Oscar-style selfie a bunch of us ended up taking, the warm cherry crumble with vanilla bean custard (sour-sweet and creamy-crunchy), and sucking the hell out of far too many succulent, lemony crab legs.





It's the morning after Muscat's Canadian Stampede, my favourite party of the year, usually the last big outdoor event of the season and definitely the most fun. For a start, you're in jeans and a plaid shirt on a hay bale, rather than a stomach-pummeling gown in an overlit hotel lobby. Everyone is only there to enjoy themselves. And the food is good. The chilli con carne is really good; tasty, just hot enough, fresh and warming. We have really good chilli at home, but the Stampede Chilli is something I look forward to all year. Maybe it's improved by the feeling that you're saying goodbye to outdoor comfort food for another year as the weather starts to hot up. Or the cowboy appeal of mopping up the last of the chilli sauce under the stars as you perch between a Serbian Sheriff and a huge fake cowpat.




Inspired jointly by this week's discovery of Elevation Burger and my lovely gift of Gruyère, we had this for dinner last night. What is it? I don't know what to call it. It's got a toasty bun brushed with a little olive oil. It's got Gruyère cheese stuffed into the middle of the lovingly-crafted juicy beef patty, and more Gruyère melting on top of it. And it's got a FRIED EGG on top of all that! I think I'm going to call it the Love Bun.










You know you really like cheese when your friend returns from a Swiss mini-break and your souvenir is a huge hunk of Gruyère. Also, you know you have intelligent, right-thinking friends.

Now...how best to eat it? Hmmm...



Look at this. Ridiculously good. I went to a dear friend's baby shower and a fellow guest turned up with this most beautiful concoction. Has anyone else noticed that the standard of home-cooking is inordinately better than when we were kids? I can't remember the last time I saw a limp sandwich or fallen flan at someone's house. Is it the number, quality and variety of food-related TV shows we've seen debuting in the last decade or so that has improved our kitchen skills? Or has the bar been raised by social media - our cakes and other creations are now in the spotlight and so must be better; and better than the next person's. Certainly when this beauty arrived on the tea table, everyone got their phones out and started snapping pictures. And then demolished it. It was perfect; springy, melty meringue and tumbling fresh fruit and plenty of cream.

(We celebrated the baby's imminent arrival, not just the cake, by the way.)





You know what there should be? There should be an International Day dedicated to That Place You Keep Meaning To Go. It would provide us with the little push we sometimes need to visit all the restaurants, shops, beauty spots etc. about which we have said "Oh that place, yes, I keep meaning to pop in there!"

I've been excited to try Elevation Burger ever since it got its enticing Coming Soon signage up at Muscat Grand Mall. (Remember it? It had an enticingly hi-resolution image of a huge juicy burger, and the tagline Ingredients Matter - appealing to my tastebuds and my mind simultaneously.)

We went along last week (and in doing so inaugurated International Day of That Place You Keep Meaning To Go, March 6th). It was a good day to go because the Elevation Burger team had an event on, aimed at educating us potential customers as to what it is that their restaurant is all about. We got to visit the kitchen, hairnets and gloves in place, and had a go at making our own burgers. I was a bit daunted by the equipment at first but soon came around when I discovered the cathartic joys of the potato chipper. 

Elevation Burger is one of those places that has real ideas behind it. It's all about organic, free-range foods being made into simple, tasty burgers and fries. What I liked most about the kitchen tour was all the actual ingredients - they use real food! Example: the fries are made of potatoes! I mean, they get fresh potatoes, on the day, and, right there in the restaurant, cut them up, skin-on, and fry them. Nothing frozen, nothing chemically enhanced, nothing out of a packet, no "potato-flavored chip substitute". It makes me quite sad that this is even something remarkable, but it is. Real food should be something you can legitimately expect in a restaurant but all too often that's not what we are served. The staff at Elevation Burger really seem passionate about trying to raise that standard.

Maurizio was hard to get out of the kitchens once he had the burger-flipper in his hand, and in between triple-stacking his own patties he made me a burger. I confess here that due to my (entirely justified) loathing of horrible synthetic empty food, I very rarely eat burgers except at home. I'm glad I made the exception at Elevation. Just the right amount of bite, a nice toasty bun, and the meat itself was allowed to shine and be the hero of the burger. I hadn't realised quite how different beef can taste - whether it's the grass-fed, free-range element or some other quality I'm not expert enough to discern, but I can tell you that it was flavourful and juicy. The cheese, of course, is actual cheddar.

And the fries! Fries are one of those things that everyone has an opinion on. The Elevation Burger version is as close as I've ever tasted to my idea of the perfect chip. The skin is left on for tastiness and nutrition, and they're twice-fried - in olive oil - to add a little crunch. (If you like them crispier, you can just ask the staff and they'll flash-fry them for an extra 20 seconds.) Best chips in Oman in my opinion, full of flavour, with a bit of bite. I'll be popping in a lot more often.




 




I fell in love with Oman pretty much the day I first got here, ten years ago, a spontaneous, irrational feeling of belonging that never left. Deciding to leave my life in England and move out here obviously required more logical applied thought, and so took some time. About as long as it took to write a list of Reasons To Live In Oman. Once complete, this list numbered one hundred and nineteen items, from the very important ("always sunny") to the seemingly trivial ("no need to buy plug adaptors"). 

One thing on the list is a bit embarrassing. But blogs are about sharing. You know how at the supermarkets here, you have to weigh your fruit? And you don't have to weigh the fresh herbs you get? I thought that that was because they are free. So item forty-three on the list is "free herbs". I don't know, I thought maybe supermarket bosses had calculated the labour costs involved in the time taken to weigh such an inexpensive item and deemed it unproductive. Or it was just further evidence of item seven on the list ("people here are nice").

So that's my first FatSu confession, and yes, I now pay for the herbs, but every time I do I blush a little bit.


Being passionate about food has its ups and downs. I get to eat a lot of lovely food and think about it and write about it. But as with any passion, I can be infuriated as well as uplifted. It ENRAGES me when food is messed with, misused or misrepresented. 

Anyone working in the mail room of the nearest Canadian Consulate will know that I am talking about Tim Horton's "Real Fruit Smoothie (TM)". Pah. Slush, sugar and syrup, masquerading specifically as fruit. Real fruit. Ask the staff - there is absolutely no fruit in it. Even the fruit-flavoured syrup they use is flown in from their HQ. Just to remove any vestige of freshness from the drink, presumably. I must give Tim Horton's credit for their truly excellent sour cream donut balls - but go there with a hankering for fresh fruit and you'll end up like me - a tad frustrated.

So yes, there's a dark side to this blog. But as I stormed away from Tim Horton's at Muscat Grand Mall in disgust, my fruit craving still unsatisfied, I found Fruitesca. Now these guys do fruit properly. See, it's very simple - you get good fruit, you juice it, you sell it. The team at Fruitesca also seem to be passionate about their product. There's a big menu with lots of combos, or you can just ask for something custom-made like I did ("Can you please make me something quite citrussy but with a bit less zing than a full-on lemon and lime?").

Next time I'll try their freshly-made crepes. Retail detail: if I owned Fruitesca, I would have my staff make one of these every twenty minutes whether anyone ordered them or not - the smell of hot butter and batter wafting past the entrance of Carrefour invariably gets my appetite going, and appealing to the punters' sense of smell is a brilliant and cost-effective marketing technique.




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