I don’t know if you've been to Duqm. Even if you have, you might not have registered the fact, or even repressed the memory. It’s halfway between here and Salalah; you drive seven hours through frontier towns and post-apocalyptic, scrubby plateau. The landscape is broken up by the occasional Bedouin camp, each featuring palm-and-tarpaulin shades, camels, and at least one Lexus.

We drove there last week. Just as we were flagging, tired from the drive and unable to agree on the rules of Animal Alphabet, which I’d initiated to pass the time (judge rules 'Ammer'ead shark is NOT valid for A, nor Bear, Polar for B), we stopped to fuel up at one of the mirage-like Shell stations that shimmer into view every now and then, and went to the Pakistani restaurant next door for lunch.

For OMR 2 (that’s including a 20% tip), we both enjoyed a bellyful of daal, chapati, makboos and fried chicken. I’ve never had such a good deal, or daal. Each lentil was discernable, and the colour was vibrant, but somehow it tasted creamier than any I’ve tasted. The fried chicken was rippably tasty and tender and the chapatti hot and fresh. Totally restorative. And surprisingly, not at all heavy. Perfect for the road in fact, which made me think of the Michelin-starred food I've enjoyed since starting this blog, and how far removed those über-fancy meals are from the original recommendations by the Michelin Guide - so-called because it was sponsored by Michelin to direct French truckers to the bistros on their routes where they could find the most nourishing, tasty and filling foods. If, for the rest of my life, I only ate superlative creations by celebrated chefs, and rustic roadside rotis, I'd be fully content.

I don't have the address (or co-ordinates) of this place - it's a couple of hours before Duqm. On the right. Below you can see pictures of the restaurant, and I've included at the top one of the view from out outside the place, to help you locate it.













I like Lulu. I wrote about it on my retail blog a while ago. Like many places, my own dear Muscat Grand Mall included, it's best to plan your trip to avoid peak times or you can find yourself in the midst of bewildering chaos, but it's getting better and better. As far as I know, they're also the only supermarket here to have top management available on Facebook for special orders and feedback in real time, as well as actual images showing the new/requested stuff in situ - see the below screenshot from top Facebook group What's Happening Muscat, Oman. Most important though is these banana dolphins. How can I ever shop anywhere else now that I've seen these? It's become the most popular picture on @heyfatsu's Instagram, with comments and likes from all over the region. Although I would normally feel sad at seeing the words dolphin and viral in the same sentence.






It's easy to fall into a routine with your lunches - most of us tend to find ourselves in the same place once it gets to one o'clock and after a while, you narrow down your go-to spots according to taste and price, and then you're in a lunch-rut. In my case, it's been Taza's kabsa, in the MGM foodcourt; double patty cheeseburger with extra cheese at Kiwi Cafe; and everything and anything from Begum's. Now we've made this new discovery, Cafe Malaysia

Something about the set-up of this place, viewed from the road, really appeals to me. It looks like it might be an authentic Malaysian restaurant run by Malaysians for Malaysians. I do accept that people can cook food from countries other than their own, but it's pleasing to think, especially when you're relatively unfamiliar with a kind of food, that you're getting a meal that's truly representative. It's a bit of an imaginary holiday, too. (Authenticity is not my only criteria for visiting a place. The restaurant next door to this looks very 'real' too - it has a signboard hanging off by the hinges and a Christmas tree still up, and I'm giving it a miss. Cafe Malaysia stands out as cheerful and well-kept, as well as authentic.)

There was a movie playing on the screen. I am a big fan of this, for those meals when you arrive too hungry to speak to each other. We moved our chairs to face the telly and sat back contented, happy of an excuse for silence, before we even started the meal. The place is cheerful and clean and the service is very efficient. When we were first there, every table apart from ours was occupied by Malaysian guests, another good sign I reckon, but the staff were happy to explain the dishes on the menu and the specials board to us, the uninitiated. 

I like the specials board. A couple of choices every day and it apparently it changes weekly. (Cafe Malaysia is active on Facebook if you want to check ahead.) We went for both specials to share - soto ayam begedil, and lontong - and both were fantastic, salty and tasty and slurpably moreish. Being ignorant, all the ingredients were a happy surprise to me; look, I found peanuts under the garnish! There's a little fried potato ball over here!  Well-cooked and flavoursome ingredients, some I didn't recognise, heaped onto one another; it's fun to eat. Boiled eggs, on noodles, on chunks of fresh ginger. Flash-fried noodles, on chicken, on herbs, on rice, on gravy. I was ladling satay sauce onto flat surfaces in my soup...no idea if that's what you're supposed to do.

We paid 4.8 OMR for the food. Soft drinks are hugely marked-up as they are everywhere, but those profits probably pay the rent, so I'm happy to cough up the extra for my Diet Coke. Lastly, for those to whom this might make a difference, Cafe Malaysia leaves food and water outside for stray cats and this (along with their food) just won them a customer for life in me. You can find Cafe Malaysia on this little slip-road by the last traffic lights before Muscat Grand Mall, if you're coming from the Zakher Mall side of Al Khuwair.


 
 













Oman Restaurant Review is a great resource and a fantastic read. With almost 8,000 members, you're always going to get a spectacular variety of opinions, backgrounds, and expectations. Every day I scan through the recent posts and find disgusted reviews ("the food made two out of five of us ill"), some extremely sparse ones ("I recommend this place"), and the glowing reports of replete and happy guests, all from real people with distinct points of view. What's quite rare is for everyone to agree on a restaurant's quality, price, ambience and food. But one place in recent months has been popping up again and again, every time with a good review. That's not normal. I had to go and try La Cigalo: could dozens of enthusiastic local foodies possibly be wrong?

They weren't. It was really good. Those people on ORR are clever, and I'm very glad about that, because I don't think I would have ventured into the flamboyant La Cigalo environment without some strong words of praise urging me on. Usually I'm a bit suspicious of restaurants with more than one speciality, but French and Italian actually sit well together. Both boast simple styles with full-bodied flavours and few ingredients, put together with respect, and lots of cheese.

First thing you see when you walk in is an enormous dessert counter. It's a beautiful sight and it took me a while to get to the table - I wandered back and forth smiling at the prettily-put-together cakes and slices and meringues and macaroons. Since I moved here I've become cake-fatigued by the number of franchise operations that feel the need bring in something as simple as a croissant from Dubai. I don't eat cake at any of the chains now; I won't until I know they can whip up a freaking cookie themselves. I'm grateful that there are new, independent places opening up all the time who emphasise fresh, homemade goodies. Those are my blessed cake havens, but I can't think of any that offers desserts on a scale to rival La Cigalo, where the bar constitutes maybe a half-mile of playful, tempting treats that are obviously lovingly-made but don't have that that angles-too-straight-to-be-homemade, sterile, professional look. 

Contrary to the position of these paragraphs, we did eat savoury courses before trying any puddings. I loved the little amuse bouche that came out first, and Maurizio was impressed that it was correctly identified as panzanella, not bruschetta, which is what it is often erroneously called, or at least it's erroneous if you're a Roman. This was a happy occurrence because it put us at our ease. OK, said Maurizio's eyebrows, maybe this place does have real Italian food. My eyes looked at Maurizio's eyebrows, and said, oh good, we won't have to storm out of here in disgust. Then the pizza arrived and we knew everything was going to be alright. Thin, crisp, fresh and covered in the right amount of the right stuff - fresh sauce and good cheese. The smell wafted. Slices were stolen.

I had a quail egg nicoise salad (always a pushover for that one exotic ingredient) and then, because I was still a little peckish, the lobster thermidor. I forgot how big lobsters are, and how rich thermidor is. This one was an afternoon-shift cancelling monster, but it tasted so good. And just in case you haven't passed out from finishing all that creamy seafood, there's a tiny quiche on the plate! They do look after you here. The extra stomach I've had grafted onto my back came in handy then, because we still had dessert to try and I wasn't leaving puddingless, having simpered so long at the array of cakes. We got the lemon meringue - with that lovely bit of bite outside, and inside smooth, tart and refreshing - and a selection of macaroons, selected solely on their looks but packing a punch with flavour too. The passion fruit and chocolate was the best.

The staff then sent over a selection of gelato, I think because we had been quite enthusiastic when talking to the chef, especially on learning just how much of what La Cigalo offer is properly homemade. They've got an army of chefs back there! All the cakes are fresh daily, all the sauces from scratch. Kind of sad that I would even need to mention this, but you know what it's like here, with four star hotels serving up fresh-from-Carrefour desserts. The ice-cream is all made in-house too; I don't eat gelato unless it's super-fresh, and that's not snobbishness but salmonella talking.

So I add my voice to those who discovered and enjoyed La Cigalo before me. It's friendly and efficient, has really good, well-thought out, fresh food, and a pretty big menu that's shortly going to get even bigger; there's something for everyone, but as of now not in an unfocused way. I think La Cigalo know what they're doing. Although after extensive googling, I still don't know what la cigalo means.
























Here we are, the day after the A'Saffa Chicken Barbeque Challenge, and after two showers I still smell like charcoal and paraffin.

Those of you following @HeyFatSu on Instagram will have seen that we entered the contest held at the Civil Aviation Club yesterday. I was invited as a food blogger, but cunningly switched chefdom with Maurizio so as to stand a chance of winning. We were ill-informed about the rules, however, and so showed up without side dishes, or mise en place. Or charcoal. Or implements. Or a barbeque. Nothing phases us, though, and we rose to the challenge, with help from our neighbouring teams and the A'Saffa guys, and I assumed the role of Forager to complement Maurizio's actual cooking skills. With around two dozen teams of varying sizes, and supporters looking on, there was a brilliant atmosphere and it was a good family day out, staged entertainment for kids ensuring that none of the little angels flung themselves on the exposed coals. For me the five or so hours at the Challenge were sufficient to quench my MasterChef fantasies for a while. I got to compete without actually cooking, plus the club was right next door for refreshing beverages and wiping the soot out of my eyes.

What we did bring with us was pots of two spectacular homemade sauces: one a sticky, sweet-tangy marinade which on arrival was massaged into the chicken provided; the other a fresh, chargrilled tomato and mint salsa. That one was lovingly ladled onto our other chicken after it had had its turn on the grill. I can tell you they both tasted awesome, and we've already started making plans for next year, which include micro-herb adornments and liquid nitrogen.

Two celebrities were there. One was the famous Omani Chef Issa Al Lamki, who founded Al Mandoos restaurant and is celebrated throughout the Gulf for his authentic food. Chef Issa judged the contestants' offerings with flair and fairness. The other was the guy responsible for the A'Saffa Chicken ads! How many people can claim to have gotten so deep into the psyche of the resident population of Oman? I'm sure some of you will be hoping that I throttled the chap, but I applaud success and efficiency as well as Omani products, so how can I help but admire the creator (perpetrator?) of "What Does It Mean To Be Omani?" and to a lesser extent, that one with the weird bicycle exchange. You can't deny you remember the name of the product after hearing those ads, even if your mouth is hanging open in disbelief for the duration. What's more, A'Saffa consistently sees a sharp increase in sales as a direct and immediate result of those ads.

As for the other competitors, they had tasty rubs, divine dips and decorative vegetables, and put on a great display as well as cooking fantastic barbeque. One team's chef had been similarly scuppered by not knowing the rules and had come unequipped. "Good thing I had my knife on me anyway", he said, whipping out a ten-inch beast from its sheath. The winners were a team of enthusiastic young guys, who having collected their trophy and their first prize of a year's supply of chicken, sped off, elated and clutching their Omani flag hats, in a Ferrari. I don't know where they kept the chicken, there's barely any storage space in those cars.



















Sorry to anyone who visited the blog yesterday and saw a message saying it had been made "private, by invitation only". The site went blank for some reason (I think hackers, Maurizio thinks I broke it), and then showed that message - but it's not true! I would never do that! And if I did ever make the blog invite-only, of course YOU would be the first person on the list. You've always been my favourite.

Paragraph two, begin post proper. I'm often asked, when working in my shop, for advice on where to go in Muscat. I have a rudimentary knowledge of where the wadis are and what's the right time to visit the Grand Mosque, but the worst thing is getting asked, "and where can I go for a night out, except hotels?" Well, we have Left Bank. And...and embarrassed sigh. It kills me, that expectant look on tourists' faces as they wait for me to name a second option. 

Lucky for us we do have Left Bank, and luckier still it's stayed pretty awesome since it opened. I remember the long, hard months leading up to the opening - will they get the license? Aren't these guys at the top of the wasta tree? What's the hold up? And then for a while after opening, there was some kind of weird Ministry condition that you had to have food if you ordered a drink, and it was always olives because the kitchen hadn't properly opened yet. Good times. Lots of olives.

Usually I'm there on Monday - that's ladies' night, which in this case means free cocktails (up to three I think) from a special menu. In fact that's where me and my team hold our Sporadic Weekly Annual General Meetings. Cocktails for free puts us in a good mood and we whiz through the agenda in minutes, then hang around swapping stories for the rest of the evening. This routine rarely includes food; I think because of Left Bank's unique place in my mind as Nice Place To Go For Drinks, I forget to eat there. My food forays at Left Bank have generally been the sort of one-course wonders that go naturally with free cocktails and a table full of right-thinking people. Let's get a load of cheese to share! Ah my mum used to make this pudding! 

I've got a very good friend who practically lives at Left Bank. She has a permanent reserved table and everyone who works there knows her by name and preference; I can't think why they haven't yet built a small shrine to her on the terrace. She insisted I gave the food a proper try. I started with the pate; that of course sparked the cruelty debate, which came to an end when it was loudly claimed (and I chose to believe) that this type was somehow extracted from the bird with its full consent and blessing. That might have been the cocktails. It tasted lovely and came with a generous helping of bread and homemade chutney, and didn't feel at all evil. Maybe the fun atmosphere and homemade element drowned out the nagging of my conscience? I'll stop thinking about it now.

I was at a table full of Left Bank enthusiasts so it was quite hard to pick a main course with all the recommendations flung at me. But my reliable method of choosing the dish with the most locally elusive ingredients prevailed, and I plumped for the sake-glazed black cod with coconut and lemongrass sauce. Just packed with beautifully-balanced flavour and perfectly cooked, way above your gastropub average. I should have had it with sake. Sake is the drink that makes me happiest in the world. Karaoke happy. 

And then, sticky toffee pudding! Now this is an example of English food that I'm proud of, and at Left Bank they have an English chef. What's the word for this: someone who's not jingoistic, nor racist, but still can't shake the belief that only their fellow-countrymen can successfully produce a certain item? I met a Frenchman recently who claimed this about cheese (ha! That rebuttal is a whole other post to be written). I feel it about sticky toffee pudding, and Yorkshire puddings. I've yet to try the latter here - planning to go to Left Bank's Sunday Roast this week - but the sticky toffee pudding. Oh lord. It's not often I moan with pleasure and in the same breath wish my mother was here for this. 

Two other things about Left Bank that you may or may not care about, but for me they round off the experience and raise it up in my esteem from just a place for tasty cocktails. First is their food philosophy; a long way from the early days of Obligatory Olives, the kitchen team is really very dedicated to freshness and quality. You can ask about the provenance of any of their ingredients and be met with an enthusiastic answer. All the meat is grass-fed and all the seafood is caught daily just off our coast. Everything that can be made from scratch, is. Everything that can be sourced locally, is. And you can taste it.

Left Bank has a laidback and friendly environment, which seems to apply for the staff as well as the guests. Talk to managers Rachael or Luke there and you find they're as hot on making their staff happy as they are their customers. They get pretty steamed up about it in fact, and why not? When you're out for a night in a bar/restaurant you need and expect a full package experience, an evening to remember (or not). For that you need good staff, and to have good staff you need them to be happy. One reason I rarely complain about service in restaurants here: who am I to pull a guy up for not smiling at me on arrival, when he could be earning 150 OMR a month and working an eighty hour week? I know, and am happy to know, that Left Bank pays well above the odds and looks after the team in a dozen ways they're not obliged to. They have what must be a record-breaking retention rate; witness Alvin at the bar, there since the launch. And it's not because of our lovely new two-year NOC rule either - it's because there's a strong support system of nice people helping each other. Vibes like that make good food and drink even better.







It's being reported that Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson's recent suspension from the show is due to him punching an assistant producer - when, on location for filming, the latter didn't have Clarkson's dinner ready.

I've never hit anyone over food, save for a few thousand slapped hands that have been foolish enough to hover over my bag of Fruit Gums, or move in with a fork to spear chips off my plate. I'm not blameless though. I have refused to share with little children. I have denied tasting rights to dining partners at restaurants until I've had my fill. Judging from the number of vehemently damning reviews on Facebook group Oman Restaurant Review that are later tempered with words to the effect of "although we were very hungry when we got there", I'm not the only one. Well of course not, or that meme below would never have come into being.

While I'm on a confessional roll: I once falsely gave the impression that I have low blood sugar levels, just to avoid having to talk to someone when I was very very hungry. Maurizio and I never speak on the way to restaurants; it's part of our unique marital synergy, and we don't want to risk hurting each other's feelings. I've also abandoned my car and jumped in a taxi to avoid driving hungry. Better safe than snarling at a traffic cop because you've veered wildly across lanes towards the scent of a bakery.


Did you know that there is not a single Michelin-starred restaurant in the Middle East? No, not even in Dubai. But for the next few days, we have the chance to go and eat the stellar food of Italian Chef Giancarlo Morelli. He's been brought in by the Grand Hyatt and is cooking his delicious, precise, and decidedly regional Michelin-starred food at Tuscany there for the next three nights. 

Chef Giancarlo wears brightly-coloured glasses (he owns 130 pairs!), and has a dazzling smile and a track record for inventive food - I suppose you don't get that star without taking a few risks. Back in his restaurant Pomiroeu, in a peaceful courtyard just outside Milan, he creates dishes that take local traditional flavours and ingredients, always in season, and fashions them into technical, innovative dishes with the flare of new combinations. Take a look at some of the items on his a la carte menu there: 'Experiments with Carrots'. 'King Crab with Curry and Vanilla'. 'Rabbit with Pineapple chutney'! 

Last night we spent a highly pleasant four hours or so with the five course set menu (and paired wines) that Chef Giancarlo has prepared especially for his visit to Muscat. Cue the menu porn.

Roasted Italian artichokes, fresh sardine, salted butter mousse and Norcia black truffle. The hit of the night for me, this was the delicate but powerful, and I wish it could have gone on forever. Those at the table who didn't like sardines, loved this. Truffle-haters swooned over its subtlety. Plates were sent back uniformly clean.

It would have taken a better food photographer than me with my increasingly tired phone to get a decent picture of the pasta course - beige is so hard to capture on camera. This one was really intriguing though, with a toasted bread cream and sesame seeds which were a happy if unorthodox addition. The lamb which starred in the main course was paired just as perfectly, just as surprisingly, with a smoother than smooth cardamom mousseline potato. 

There were no hints on the menu of how superb the dessert was going to be. With unwarranted Italian humility, the tiramisu was introduced only as "our style". What came out was a show-stopper: absolute spot-on flavours, classically simple, but with a little bit of theatre too. Presented almost cake-style, looking a little dry in fact, we were given a few seconds to peer at this odd configuration.. Then, chefs started gliding from table to table with pots of hot fresh coffee, pouring it onto our individual plates and eliciting an "oooo" from every seasoned foodie in the place as the dessert sprung to life in front of our eyes.

Chef Giancarlo is at Tuscany until March 12th. For more information and to make bookings (do it! So worth it!), call the Grand Hyatt on 24641234 or email muscat.dining@hyatt.com.







I'm in the process of preparing a page listing all my favourite food places in Oman. I've been here for eleven years and over the last few, happily, there have been new restaurants, cafes, venues and concepts springing up in Muscat like whatever flowers might grow in an oasis. So I'm often pencilling in my finds on the list in my head, and the most recent hidden jewel is this: my new favourite way to spend four hours on a Friday.

It's the Friday brunch held at the Beach Pavilion at the Al Bustan. Are you one of those people who just skims the first couple of paragraphs then skips to the photos? Then here's a summary for you: amazing food, innovative set-up, wow factor drinks, a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, ridiculously beautiful setting. Those of you with the time and willpower to finish my long posts, read on for details (especially because I deliberately left out of my summary TWO of the best things about the brunch, to punish the unmotivated readers and reward the dedicated).

You know, anything that's on at the Beach Pavilion has got to be good. They have to deliver the goods. You've just driven through some stunning scenery. Pulled up at a Ritz-Carlton palace. (Palace!) Been greeted by the courteous doormen and guided through the opulent lobby, dazzled by the chandelier, strolled through gardens with fountains and pools and parakeets and perfectly-aligned palms. All über-luxurious, so your senses - and expectations - are heightened.

So when we got to the Beach Pavilion it was a delight to find a laidback, smiley maitre d' in shorts and a t-shirt; a happy chap singing reggae with an acoustic guitar, and a table full of guests singing along; and playful touches like a homemade lemonade stand. It wasn't what I'd expected - it was a lot more fun.

Our waiter, Judge, took us to a table on the front line - couples strolling, kids playing, birds swooping. I could have kicked off my shoes and sunk my chair a little further into the sand and stayed there all day. Or for the rest of my life. But FatSu must be fed, and now I come to the food. It's awesome as you might expect; an emphasis on fresh ingredients, local where possible (all the seafood, bar mussels, is Omani and caught that day, and the Al Bustan has long taken advantage of its lush surroundings and grown a lot of its own produce). You can taste the truth of it. The lobster medallions were super succulent and delicate, and the crab legs were worth the effort of the sucking.

The brunch set-up is buffet, but - how kind of them to have thought of this - tapas is brought to your table at intervals. You know Fridays; you don't want to keep standing up. Uncannily, just as I would start to heave myself out of the increasingly comfortable chair, a waiter would glide over with a potato martini, or a tuna and couscous amuse bouche, or a deconstructed eggs benedict, or a mango sorbet. Just wonderful: the Al Bustan has cured buffet fatigue! (I'm aware that this is a first-world problem.)

Then you've got the grill, over in the little nook created by the mountains. Here there's more lobster, plenty of juicy meat cuts, and most enticing and Instagrammable, the shuwa fire pit. Back inside, you can visit the cheese wall. In fact you must. Each of the cheeses on offer sits nobly on its own plinth - maybe it's more of a cheese temple? - and alongside each is a different jam, relish or honey, specially paired. Desserts were similarly impressive with the gold and silver macaroons tasting as good as they look.

And the drinks. You can choose to have non-alcoholic beverages. We didn't. The brunch starts at 11am and goes on til 3pm in theory; the buffet was still being replenished at 3.30. Which is good because they only start serving booze at 2pm, per the rules - that was when we arrived, and we only left at 4.30pm. We had the best drink. It's a Clear Bloody Mary. Intriguing right off the bat, plus they have signage up for the unlikely contingency that your waiter forgets to tell you enthusiastically, as Judge did, that you have to try this. (If you don't drink, there is a non-alcoholic version which is just as good, and you can't say that very often.)

This Clear Bloody Mary was a revelation, fresh and tart and exactly the flavours you want from the classic, but tumbled in a crazy procession. I got the story of its creation from F&B boss Mark, and newly arrived (from California) Chef Bryce. The idea came up in the kitchen several months ago and took six weeks to perfect. What these guys were looking for was a cool and unique alternative to the brunch staple, something clean and beautiful and packing a punch. To stay true to the original, tomato and celery mixtures were distilled, tweaked, combined and re-imagined, with the team spending many late nights in the kitchen perfecting the recipe, glassing and garnish. What you have in the end result is superb. This cocktail takes a lot of making: twice, the base liquid needs to be strained through muslin, with each session taking at least twelve hours. There is a secret ingredient that makes it clear. The cherry tomato in the glass is marinated, roasted and peeled, and then swells up to make a sweet bite to finish the drink. And the rim is coated with a mixture of salt and tabasco - I recommend taking a sip from a fresh spot each time to get the full heat. A-freakin-mazing. GO THERE AND HAVE ONE.

There are so many lovely little touches that make this my new favourite. I'm surprised how few people know about it - I've been spreading the word verbally (and enthusiastically) since my first visit. No way will it be the last - Chef Bryce regards this weekly happening as his baby, and he's full of cool ideas. You heard it here first: coming up very soon, there'll be an Iced Oman Coffee station. The food, too, will keep evolving - go this weekend and you'll likely see a whole new set of those lazifying tapas treats.

Well done for reading this far. I really didn't feel I could leave anything out, when I left so happy. I'll end with two other brilliant details: everyone attending the brunch can visit the open-air tents just down the beach for a revitalising back and shoulder massage. That's included in the price, which is the other great thing: would you believe 21.9 OMR without alcohol, and 31.9 OMR with? It's true, and it's a bargain, and I'm happy to put it on my list and my weekend schedule.













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