I just ate the best lunch at the Shangri-La's Italian gourmet week. I'm going to make this quite short because 
a) if you just google Chef Alfredo Russo, you will see how stunning his food is, and hopefully trust me when I say that it is not only beautiful, but packs more flavour than any Italian fine dining I have ever tasted;
b) the Chef is only at the Shangri-La Muscat for another few days, so you should go book a table right now;
c) I am watching Maurizio flick through Chef Alfredo's cookbook and it's making me ready for the next meal; and finally 
d) I need to take a nap.

I love menus. I save them like some people save champagne corks. This one is imprinted on the inside of my eyelids forever. The veal was so melting; the zucchini lasagna so toothsome - how do you get so many layers of pure flavour into a humble and watery vegetable? The polenta dish was just everything that is good about food, on one plate - bubbling, melting, cheesy, refined rustic deliciousness. The chocolate dessert made several of my dining companions actually cry out with delight (a deconstructed millefeuille; sadly I was too shy to ask the Chef about the pastry shards, and exactly how those fresh herbs were sugar-encrusted). Every dish was perfectly composed. Maurizio taught the word 'scarpetta' to several friends round the table intent on mopping up the sauce of the savoury dishes; it's really a verb that should be in all languages but sits particularly well in Italian with its generous, indulgent, simple-in-the-best-way cuisine.

Grazie mille to Chef Alfredo for coming all this way to spread some culinary Italian love, to the lovely fellow guests today, and to the team at the Shangri-La, including the lovely Chef Gianluca and the dynamic Rasha Al Madani.

Who do I think I am? Here's me writing a food blog, on everything from sexy fish stew to Thai banquets, setting myself up as some kind of expert, and it occurs to me that I've never tried Michelin-starred food. I feel like I have, because I've watched so many contestants try to make it in the pressure tests of MasterChef Australia. But I haven't ever experienced it myself. I could pretend that it's because I am the Everywoman of cuisine; really though it's because we don't have any starred restaurants here in Oman - have we ever? Was Vue? - and when I'm travelling I'm usually alone and so reluctant to indulge to that extent. (When I lived in London, with its galaxy of stellar restaurants, I was a poor student and could only dream and drool.)

Anyway, you must be feeling so sorry for me by now. It's OK - this terribly sad story has a happy ending because this week I'll be going to the Shangri-La, where they are hosting Chef Alfredo Russo at three of their restaurants, showcasing his Michelin-starred Italian food. I can't wait - my entre into the starred leagues starts with my favourite of all cuisines and in one of the most beautiful locations in Muscat. And even before trying I know it has to be amazing. They say 30% of taste is visual. I reckon half of that is anticipatory teasers from the internet: check out this photo gallery of his amazing creations, and see you at the Shangri-La!

When I was a lazy, greedy child, Easter was brilliant. A chocolate fest, and the eggs were handed to you, giving the festival an edge on Halloween, where we would trundle round in the October drizzle, begging for a frankly mediocre haul.

The only effort I was happy to put in was for the Easter Egg Hunt, which came after tea. My mother was so ingenious, even with a decades-long span of having to come up with new egg hiding places for the amusement of her five children, that she once reduced one of our spouses to tears of frustration. (Not mine.)

Being here in Muscat, I miss the hunt, which still takes place at MimHouse, as it's been christened by her grandchildren. But I'm very happy to see that the tradition is being kept up and even built upon by my brother. Here is what he handed to our small nephews when they came to visit this Easter Sunday.

Again we come back to the power of social media. I just saw this on Instagram. There are Like Buttons, and then there is the literal gut reaction to a beautiful picture of a stunning plate of food; better still, a plate within reach. This is a main on the menu at Left Bank and it was enough to make me book a table. The description was one enticer (more on that in another post, soon) and the other was those little purple garnishes. What is it about them? I am a sucker for the micro-herb/edible flower phase that dining is currently going through. I'll let you know how they, and the actual dishes, compare to the visual.

My favourite restaurant in Muscat for a romantic meal is Marjan. Not everyone knows about it in its evening guise, but that's part of the charm; that tucked-away, cosy, hidden treasure quality. If you're lucky enough to spend days at the Grand Hyatt Muscat basking in the sun and bobbing round the lazy river, you might know Marjan as the poolside restaurant you hoist yourself up to for a typical family-friendly hotel lunch. But after sunset, Marjan turns into the Grand Hyatt's pan-Asian gem, with superb sushi, die-for slow-cooked beef stew, and the most sublime ambience. 

Right now, Marjan is hosting the Grand Hyatt's Truly Thai promotion, and we had a lovely dinner there to try it out. Wow. Our food came family style, hot onto the table as soon as it was ready, and it really felt like an authentic feast. Top picks were the soup and the curry, but the more chilli-hardened guests assured me that the noodles were killer. The promo features the Park Hyatt Dubai's Chef Supattra Boonsrang and runs til the 12th of April. 


Well this is awesome. To celebrate the launch of their Truly Thai promotion, the Grand Hyatt Muscat is giving away a weekend's stay to one lucky and clever person. Mmm...working up an appetite on the lazy river and gorging on cured meats at Tuscany. Anyway, the Hyatt has taken over cyberspace and given a question to lots of local bloggers. To win the prize, just comment on his post with the correct answer to this question:

Grand Hyatt Muscat is featuring a guest chef for the Truly Thai food festival. Where is the Thai chef flying from:
a) Park Hyatt Dubai
b) Grand Hyatt Dubai
c) Hyatt Regency Dubai

The Grand Hyatt Muscat's Truly Thai promotion runs through to 12th April. I'll be sampling the selection next week and posting here once I flick the last of the sticky rice from my fingers.
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