Monday, 28 September 2009


Beer and Bratwurst. And maybe a Pretzel or two to wash things down. All this in the Hyatt (Rooftop Grill) from October 20th to 29th. We'll be there!

Oktoberfest 2009

Celebrate the introduction of the non-stop flights with Oman Air to Munich and Frankfurt this October at Rooftop Grill House. Ten days filled with German delicacies, traditional beverages and a German band, playing the best of Oktoberfest songs all the way from Munich. Get a taste of Germany at Rooftop Grill House first, before heading to Germany!

From the 20th of October to the 29th of October, the Rooftop Grill House is the place to be. An evening will cost you only R.O. 30.000++ per person and will be filled with entertainment from the Oompah band from Munich, traditional German beverages served by waiters dressed in Lederhosen and Dirndls and a Chef Matz-Momme from Grand Hyatt Berlin showcasing his best German cuisine.

Enjoy an all-inclusive night from October 20 to October 29 at the Oktoberfest with the special menu, unlimited German traditional beverages and many other surprises for R.O. 30.000++ only per person.

Wine Review - Taylor's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003

We love Port. By far the largest percentage of wines in our cellar is Port, we tend to visit the Portuguese Douro region (where the Port grapes are grown) at least once a year and it's the wine that gives us the most drinking pleasure. Yet, until now we haven't written one word about Port on this blog. How is that possible? Well, frankly there isn't much to write about when it comes to Oman and Port.

It makes us sad to look at the selection of Port wines. OUA stocks the Ports of Cockburn, the producer of the world's best selling port Cockburn Special Reserve. We never liked this Port, but heard they improved the blend, so we will give it another try soon. African & Eastern is even worse. Although they are blessed to have Taylor's Port in their portfolio, they hardly ever seem to have anything in stock. A while ago we found some bottles of Taylor's Late Bottled Vintage 2003, but they had clearly been leaking (perhaps due to heat or poor storage – if you ever see this, don't buy). Some weeks later we saw one good bottle, so bought it.

We understand that Port can be confusing for many people. We can explain the different types here, but that would take some space. Better have a look here if you need some extra information.

Taylor's is one of the world's best producers of Port. Their Vintage Port is highly praised, and the overall quality of the rest of the range isn't bad either. It is a pity therefore that their Late Bottled Vintage (LBV in short – a ruby type Port that is aged in barrel for 4-6 years) is a bit of a letdown. When it comes to LBV, there are two 'religions'. There are those that bottle the Port unfiltered after giving it the minimal time in barrel. This results in a powerful, young Port that is well capable of ageing in bottle. It will throw sediment after some time in bottle. And there are those that believe LBV should be ready for consumption straight after bottling. To reach this, they age the port a bit longer in barrel (usually 5 to 6 years) and filter it before bottling. This is a smoother, more easily accessible type of LBV. It will not improve with bottle age. Taylor uses the latter method. The result is a Port that is often a bit bland, and lacking in character.

That said, the 2003 LBV is not a bad effort. 2003 was a powerhouse vintage. The hot, dry weather led to overconcentrated, jammy wines in many parts of Europe, but didn't do such harm in the Douro, where the vines are used to heat and draught. The wines from 2003 are powerful, full of ripe fruit and with lots of tannins. The 2003 LBV clearly profited from the quality of the vintage. It is fairly structured, with some good dark fruit flavours (cherry, blackberry and blueberry) and a hint of (milk) chocolate. Do drink this slightly cooled (18ºC at most), otherwise the heat from the alcohol will show too much, and it will also display some distracting candied flavours.

Although we would love to see a better display of Port wines in the liqour stores, we don't mind drinking the Taylor's LBV 2003 from time to time. You could do better, but certainly worse as well.

Monday, 14 September 2009

A Moroccan olive oil: Desert Miracle

A while back, we wrote about the difficulty of finding good olive oil in Muscat (see here). You can imagine it brought a smile to our face when we saw a new offering at our local Al Fair. An extra virgin olive oil from Morocco, called Desert Miracle (3.950 OMR for 500ml). It is produced by Atlas Olive Oils, a company that is situated at the foot of, you guessed it, the Atlas mountain range. The company is serious about quality and produces only extra virgin oils. Desert Miracle has a maximum acidity level of 0.2%. Such quality-mindedness is rare and deserves to be praised. This is what the company has to say about it themselves:

At Atlas Olive Oils we guarantee and commit ourselves to produce only extra virgin grade and never a combination of extra virgin olive oil with virgin oil or refined oil. We refuse to produce for outside parties bringing low quality olives to our crushing mill. We are highly concerned about achieving the highest quality standards: we prefer to produce smaller quantities of high end prestigious olive oils rather than large quantities of medium and cheap olive oils (lampante, refined, or only virgin). In this context, our usually maximum acidity is 0.2° level. We use the cold-press method and add no chemicals and almost no heat assistance.

We test our extra virgin olive oil using the Olive Oil Council accredited methods which allow us to select and retain only the highest rated olive oils coming from our own groves. Integrity is the key to our success and only by strictly respecting what is written on the bottle’s label can we keep up with our centenary tradition and authoritativeness that built our reputation. These are the secrets of an ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil that cannot be substituted.

We admit that we never tasted a (good) olive oil from Morocco before, so were excited to see how it was. We were pleasantly surprised. While oils from southern countries can be heavy and cloying, this has a beautiful light golden colour and it smells of fresh cut grass and green apples. To taste it is soft and rich, nutty and slightly peppery. A very good olive oil. If you're looking for a really fresh oil, it may be better to look for something Italian or French, but we do like this fuller style as well. Lovely with some bread and sea salt, but also great to use as dressing for salads or to enhance the taste of your dish.

Our experience is that good products don't last long on the shelves in Muscat. So you'd better hurry to Al Fair and stock up.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Cool down, drink sherry!

A duff housewife's drink. Bought in jugs and consumed by the barrel. Cheap, nasty and utterly uncool. Yes, the Spanish region of Jerez (Sherry in English) did a good job in ruining its own image. Just like German Riesling and Port, Sherry flooded the market with cheap, vile plonk. And when the housewifes lost interest (perhaps shifting to cheap sweet rosé wines), the Sherry region had a problem. Nobody wanted their product, even though there were plenty quality-oriented producers, making some very good wines.

It took some time, but Sherry is working on a comeback. Since a number of years it is impossible to visit a trade tasting and not stumble across a stand of the Sherry Promotion Board, where you will be invited to taste the different varieties, and see how well they combine with food. Sherry wants to position itself as a quality product, a serious wine, more than just an aperitive: good company to food. And it's working. More and more we see sommeliers in quality restaurants suggest a glass of sherry with a certain dish. In the consumer market, it proves to be more difficult to get rid of the bad image, but we think it's just a matter of time before people will embrace this special drink once again.

There are many styles of Sherry, but for now we focus on Fino, the type that is most commonly found. Some short background: Sherry is grown in the Spanish region Andalucia, around three towns, of which Jerez de la Frontèra is the best known. Fino Sherry is made from the grape variety Palomino, and brandy is added after the fermentation to reach an alcohol level of approximately 15,5%. It is always bone dry. A Fino can only be a Fino if a curious natural incident takes place: the forming of a layer of yeast cells on top of the ageing wine. This is called Flor del Vino. The layer of Flor protects the wine from oxidation and gives a special aroma to the wine. After a minimal ageing period of three years the wine can be sold.

In order to create constant quality throughout the years, a special ageing method has been developed, called solera (we mentioned this earlier here). The wines are stored in oak casks, that are stacked in pyramid shapes. The bottom layer consists of the oldest wine, and the top of the youngest. If the company wishes to bottle an amount of sherry, they take this from the bottom layer of casks. The amount that is taken out (never more than one third of the cask), is refilled with the content of the second layer, et cetera.

The two most common brands of Fino Sherry available to us are and Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe (OUA) and Lustau Puerto Solera Reserva (African & Eastern). Both are around 7.000 - 7.500 OMR. Tio Pepe is the world's largest sherry brand, and it is admirable that they manage to keep it of constant, high quality year after year. It is light and delicate, with a distinctive scent of almonds, slightly silty with some fresh apples and a racy, dry finish. The Lustau Puerto Solera is a bit fuller in comparison, though still quite delicate. Also showing plenty of typical nuttiness, combined with silty aromas, some cookie dough, straw and green apples. Very well balanced.

Both Sherries are lovely, and are great as aperitive with some green olives or smoked almonds. But you can also enjoy them with seafood or tapas. One thing is for sure. They are very refreshing, and are a great way to cool down until the temperatures finally come down in about a month's time. Drink them chilled, and feel cool.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Restaurant Review - Tokyo Taro

Muscat is seafood heaven. No doubt about that. Even though there are worrying signs of decreasing numbers of fish in the local waters (due to last year's red tide, and large scale fishing), the quality and quantity is still astonishing. The perfect surroundings for a sushi restaurant. Just leave it to the Japanese to make the best out of our tuna, hammour, kingfish, etc.

Although there are a couple of places that serve sushi (Japengo being the newest addition), Tokyo Taro is Muscat's only truly specialised Japanese restaurant. Its setting is hardly inspiring, inside the run-down Al Falaj Hotel. The interior is basic, but once you step inside, you feel you are in the right place. It is usually filled with Japanese, which we think is a good sign.

Normally, we stick to sushi and sashimi in Tokyo Taro. The quality is unequalled in Oman. Beautiful cuts of fresh fish. Tuna, our favourite, is only available in season. Another good sign. The only thing we don't understand, is why salmon is a regular feature on the sushi menu. It is one of the few non-local items on show, and there have been a few times we weren't sure of its freshness.

You can also order teppanyaki dishes, but we are never really impressed by those. Tokyo Taro excells in raw fish preparations, and that is enough reason to visit the restaurant regularly. It may be Muscat's only Japanese restaurant, but with quality like this, it is all you need.