Monday, 13 April 2009

Wine Review - Two Crisp Summer Whites

Summer is approaching fast. Rising temperatures and soaring humidity leave us in definite need of refreshing, light summer wines.

We never understood why the shelves of Muscat's off-licenses are filled with those big, flabby whites from Australia and California. This climate yearns for fresh wines from Germany, Austria and the Loire! How happy we would be if we could only find a lovely vinho verde from Portugal. We haven't lost hope though, and the following two wines will carry us through the hot summer months, even if we don't find anything else.

Vollrads 'Sommer' Rheingau Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken 2007
The Germans do a good job confusing people with their wine labels, but when you encounter the words qualitätswein trocken on the label you know that you have a dry, base level wine in your hands. Although these are usually fairly simple wines, they can be surprisingly nice to drink. This Sommer wine by Schloss Vollrads is such a wine. It has a light, floral nose, and has a pleasant taste, dry, with fresh fruit, and good minerality. The moderate alcohol level (11,5%) make it a lovely, refreshing wine. The price is decent as well: 6.500 OMR at OUA. True to its name, this is great for summer.

Laurenz und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner 2007
This wine comes from the Kremstal in Austria. Grüner Veltliner is a grape that is rarely seen outside of Autria, so it may be a little unknown, but the Austrians work wonders with this grape. It shares some characteristics with Riesling, but is usually a bit more spicy. The aim of wine producer Laurenz Moser and his young daughter Sophie was to produce a wine from Grüner Veltliner that would appeal to a large audience. They wanted to make a fresh and crispy wine, that is singing, so to speak. And well... they succeeded. This wine is lovely. Dry, crisp, with refreshing apple and citrus flavours and a spicy finish. It shows just a little bit more class than Vollrad's Sommer, but is also a bit more expensive: 7.500 OMR, also at OUA.

A word of caution: all too often we see old wines in the stores here. Make sure to buy the latest vintage of these wines (2007 in both cases). These wines are not meant to age, and you'll want the freshest fruit possible.

Enjoy your summer!

Restaurant Review - Sultanah

Every so often we feel we have to indulge. So we do. And although we have been in Muscat for over a year, we hadn't yet been to one of the restaurants in the ultraluxe Al Husn Hotel. We chose the Sultanah restaurant for our indulgence dinner.

It's hard not to be impressed the minute you walk into the hotel. It breathes the very essence of style and luxery. While overly impressive, it manages to be understated too, in a way. We reserved a table on the terrace of the Sultanah restaurant. From here, the view is spectacular, and that alone is almost worth paying a visit to this restaurant. But luckily, the food is quite good as well, so you don't have the view alone to chew on.

The restaurant carries a rather cheesy cruise line theme. As a part of this, it has a daily menu, called Port of the Day. Our day was Hong Kong. We decided to leave the stir-fried beef dishes for what they were, and focused on the à la carte menu. From the variety of classic, but appealing looking suggestions, we chose starters of seared foie gras with figs, and lobster and dover sole with a riesling foam, sauce of lobster reduction and porcini. Both very good. The lobster impressed a tad more, having a variety of lovely, complentary flavours, both earthy and fresh, whereas the foie gras dish mainly showed a soft, velvety structure, and, while very enjoyable, missed a bite of some sort.

As a main course, we both picked tenderloin of veal, with a white wine cream, porcini sauce and potato / olive oil purée. The structure of the meat had more in common with beef than veal, but was very well prepared: tender and full of flavour. But the deep earthy flavour of porcini was much too strong for the white wine cream. It was there, but was no contender. All in all a very tasty, yet slightly predictable dish.

Beforehand we had some worries that our wine choice, a Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Merlot 2001, would be much too heavy for the delicate veal flavour, and the light white wine sauce. But as the dish proved much darker than expected, the wine matched well. A very nice wine, showing lush red berries, cedar and toasted oak on the nose. Californian merlots can suffer from being overly ripe, with jammy fruit and excessive use of oak, but this was nicely balanced, with some lovely dark fruit balancing the toasty tones of the oak. A very nice wine (it was just over 60.000 OMR on the wine list).

Dessert was forgettable. Mr. R ordered a Chocolate mousse, that while not bad, didn't have anything that stood out.

And the bill? Well, as you'd expect from a restaurant with one of the best views in town, and in one of the most prestigious hotels of Muscat, it wasn't cheap. Expect to pay about 50.000 OMR per person (including a glass of house wine). A glass of champagne (uninspiring but not bad Moët et Chandon Brut Impérial) will set you back a further 15.000 OMR. And if you choose a bottle of wine from the list, you're even further from home. Prices are steep, and the selection isn't very appealing unless you are willing to spend a couple of hundreds on a first growth Bordeaux.

In a sense, Sultanah is very much the standard hotel restaurant. It offers the sense of luxery that guests at this level expect. Dishes are well made, with top-notch ingredients, but don't expect any surprises. It's all a bit... easy. Somehow it feels like the chef could do with a bit of a challenge. But it must be said that the standard of the food belongs to the best of Muscat. And it certainly offers that feeling of indulgence. Just what we were looking for.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Restaurant Review - Jabal Lebnan

On our way to all time favourite, everyones' darling Kargeen we noticed a posh looking new (or revamped) Lebanese restaurant, named Jabal Lebnan. We promised ourselves to come back soon and try this out. And so we did.

The restaurant has a fresh, and stylish look, quite uncommon for grill restaurants. Despite this, it was terribly quiet on the weekday we visited. Only one other table was occupied. The restaurant's A/C quite obviously hoped for a better turnout as well. It was freezing, and the noise of the A/C installation was almost unbearable.

The menu looked good though, with a wide selection of Lebanese dishes, as well as a couple of obligatory burgers and pastas. We decided to try some different flavours and ordered two starters and two main courses. Before we start about the food, first a couple of words about the service. How is it possible that we had to wait for nearly half an hour before our drinks arrived? And why did the bread and the second starter only show up on the table when the main courses were already served? We sat waiting for the starters for nearly 20 minutes, without anything to drink or to chew on. We can understand if something like this happens on a busy night, but in an almost empty restaurant? Inexcusable.

Now, on to the food: the Fatteh (a mix of spiced yoghurt, chickpeas and toasted pita) was very nice, but suffered from being the only thing on the table. Had we had some bread or the other starter (which turned out to be a disappointment, but we didn't know that yet then), we would have had some variety, but after a couple spoonfuls of fatteh, we grew tired of it. Together with the main courses (Lebanese Ouzi and Shish Taouk) we got a boring version of Arayess Kafta. The mains didn't impress much either. The Lebanese Ouzi was rather tasteless and dry. While the Shish Taouk was well-grilled and tender, it was very much one taste (there didn't seem to be much else than paprika powder and lemon juice in the marinade), which was not enought to remain interesting. Portions were gigantic, so no risk of undereating.

It may be the posh look, or the location (in the Al Noor Building in Madinat Qaboos), but the prices were quite steep for an eatery of this kind. As soon as we finished eating, we paid the nearly 20 Rials that we were due and left the restaurant. Stuffed, half-frozen, and utterly unsatisfied.

If you're looking for good Lebanese food, walk past Jabal Lebnan and go to the coffeeshop / restaurant that sits in the garden opposite of this. Half the price, better quality, and a good shisha to finish off your evening. That's more like it.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

An even better coffee: Raw

We told you about two 'good' coffees here, but found an even better coffee when we visited the Taste of Dubai festival.

Raw Coffee Company is an initiative of Dubai based expats Kim and Grayden Thompson. Quite passionate about coffee themself, they were disappointed with the supply in Dubai, and decided to start their own roastery. Raw Coffee is 100% Dubai-roasted, as well as 100% organic and fair trade. And most important: the coffee is very good. Very well made, with a lovely medium-roast and great full flavour.

Their coffee is available on several locations in Dubai, but not yet in Oman. But you can order through their website and have it delivered to your home. As far as we're concerned, it's well worth it. And if you don't own the right equipment to make yourself a perfect cup of espresso, don't worry, they sell that as well.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Another one on Prunotto

Apart from the Barolo Bussia, that we talked about here, there are a couple of other wines available from this producer. We decided to check them out, because it's always good to have a variety of wines at hand from a quality producer like Prunotto.

When we were scanning the wine list of Shannon Bennet's Vue Restaurant (more on that later) for wines that we could actually afford, we stumbled across the Prunotto Barolo 2000. This wine is a blend of grapes from different vineyards in the Barolo region in northern Italy. You could say it's the smaller, more approachable and more affordable brother of the Bussia (which is one of the best vineyards in the region). Indeed a very fine wine. Quite soft, but plenty of fruit still and lovely secondary aromas. This is a nice one to check out if the price is better than the 19.500 OMR the Bussia currently goes for.

The other wine we tried was the Nebbiolo d'Alba Occhetti 2003. The Nebbiolo d'Alba designation has less strict rules than Barolo, but the wine is made from the same grape variety (nebbiolo) and comes from the same region. You could say it's an entry level wine, designed to get you acquainted with the wines of Barolo. Unfortunately it wasn't a winner. Quite lean, very acidic and showing hard tannins. It did get a bit better with some air, but still... it's a mere shadow of its bigger brothers. And with a price tag of nearly 12.000 OMR it isn't exactly cheap either. You're better off spending your money on something else. Or saving it for the better bottlings.

All these wines are available at OUA.