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.


















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