I'm not a restaurant critic, I'm a food blogger. So I tend not to write straight reviews - I like to have an angle. Sometimes, though, for example now, after an ecstatic, three-hour pounding of my taste buds, I am only able to kick back in my sweatpants jumpsuit, fire up the e-cigarette, and tell you what the food was like. There's no angle, people, and there's no TIME! Chef Alfredo Russo, he of the Michelin star, and world-famous mixologist Cilan Anadologlu, he being the chap who designed the cocktails for the Oscars 2014, are only at the Shangri-La for a limited time. Read this fast, and then GO THERE.
This duo has been flown in (Chef Alfredo for the second time; I ate his food last year) for a week or so. These things don't happen that often here - you know that. It's a treat and we need to take advantage of it so it keeps happening. If you suffered through years of bleak music wilderness and tried to get excited about the understudy keyboardist from Ace of Bass, or whoever, and were then rewarded with an emotional night with Ed Sheeran, you know what I mean.
We had the set menu for lunch - tomato and aubergine tart, seafood soup, seabass with broccoli puree, and ricotta with citrus parfait - but don't be fooled. That little list is humble beyond belief compared to what we just enjoyed. The starter was my favourite, just because of the entirely familiar and simple nature of the ingredients in comparison to the brick-in-the-face whack of flavour it delivered. Seafood soup was a veritable parade of squiggly things, which is not normally my cup of brine, but this was fresh and welcoming, and much of it from the local fishermen. Then the bass! I'm all about the bass. Little piped piles of broccoli and cauliflower puree, and, broccoletti, a native of Italy which Maurizio has been telling me about for years while he sighs over his full-sized veg. They are amazing, these tiny things - at first I thought they were alien-inspired garnishes, a Michelin version of the tomato flower. So beautiful, and Maurizio's favourite of the meal.
Dessert was made of cheese. A whole ricotta, and - which I think must be a favourite game of Chef Alfredo - lots of hidden treasures. Segments of orange tucked under the ricotta. Some kind of juicy beauty of a reduction inside it. Each of his dishes is layered in flavour and these lovely discoveries you make; all part of that humility, I suppose, to discover it's actually magnificent.
Now. I was already having the best Wednesday afternoon of my life, and then the Shangri-La throws in a mixologist to do to drinks what Chef was doing to food. Cihan Anadologlu calls himself a bartender, and bartenders can win awards but there is no equivalent Michelin standard for them, as far as I know. But the technique and passion Cihan puts into designing and preparing his cocktails merits some kind of star. Possibly a real one. He makes all his bitters and syrups from scratch. His drinks are molecularly planned and executed, from the ingredients to the mise en scene. As mixologists tend to be public-facing, it helps that he's also tall dark and handsome, and charming enough to have got his quite bizarre-appearing apparatus through Omani customs. He has all these tiny little bottles in front of him, like an apothecary! Cihan is making drinks specifically to pair with Chef Alfredo's menu; between starter and soup, we were served a concoction of basil, cucumber and seaweed, out of a specially-designed port-hole bottle. After lunch: The Flight To Arabia, a perfectly composed cocktail made from Turkish coffee, Cihan's homemade vanilla syrup, and star anise, topped with flaked almonds, dark chocolate and vanilla pods. Served in one of Cihan's own copper pots, and drunk through a wooden straw (plastic can effect the flavour. The man's a genius.), all of which is put together in an Aladdin's lamp. Of course someone had to rub that, and I was allowed to, on that basis that I was the only guest who really would have been upset if I hadn't been, especially as I was so fast at raising my hand and bouncing on my bar stool. But anyway, by that point, there seemed little else to wish for.
Cihan's last night is the 16th - tomorrow! - and Chef Alfredo goes home after dinner on Saturday - visit the Shangri-La's website to book your treat.