Monday, 19 October 2009

Restaurant Review - Tuscany

If you would ask us about the biggest bottleneck for restaurants in Muscat, we would answer: Consistency. There is a select group of potentially very good restaurants, but we've had disappointing experiences in each and every one of them.

Tuscany, the uber-kitsch Italian restaurant of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, is perhaps the place where we've seen the largest fluctuations in the quality of food. After a very lackluster dinner some time ago we decided to avoid the restaurant for a while. But recently we heard reports that the kitchen crew is back in form. Time to check.

One of the funniest things about eating in Tuscany is sitting in the slightly higher area, under the 'authentic Italian' dome. The construction of the dome has the strange acoustic effect that sounds at the exact opposite of the dome are amplified to such an extend that you end up eavesdropping on other tables, whether you want it or not. If you ever plan to discuss some private matters over the course of an intimate dinner, we recommend sitting somewhere else.

But what matters is the food, of course. We began with two impressive starters. Marinated scallops with speck, green asparagus and capsicum cream was very satisfying and delicate. This dish always has a risk of the speck overpowering the scallops, but the balance was perfect here. The dish that really stole our hearts was homemade prosciutto of duck breast, with fava bean mousse and balsamic-marinated radicchio. The duck was lovely on its own, but paired with the bitter-acidic radicchio and soft-creamy fava beans it was lifted to great heights. A wonderful explosion of tastes. This was followed by an equally impressive pasta dish: spaghetti with vongole. When prepared to perfection, simplicity becomes art. It's been a long time since we ate such a simple dish that was so full of flavour. Gorgeous.

None of the main courses could live up entirely to the expectations set by what we had so far. Lamb loin with fennel and rocket lettuce was pleasant, but a bit high in acidity. A nice, creamy scoop of mashed potatoes would have been most welcome. Beef tenderloin, served with a fontina / eggplant pie, was a beautiful piece of meat. Very tender, and full of taste. We loved the fact that the chef was confident enough to let the meat speak for itself, and not spoil it with an overdose of salt. The fontina / eggplant pie, on the other hand, was rather tasteless.

Desserts were disappointing. A limoncello semifreddo was boring, and whatever taste it had was completely overpowered by the strawberries that were served alongside. A dish of chocolate mousse, chocolate cake and strawberries (again) was better, but not very daring.

Tuscany's wine list offers a good selection, although it would be good to see vintages listed on the menu. This is a problem of almost every restaurant's wine list though.

We were happy to see the chef has indeed regained his form. Keep it up and we'll be back. But we may just skip dessert.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Cheese Festival - 10-17 November 2009

Attention cheeseheads, mark these dates in your agenda: from 10 until 17 November the Muscat InterContinental Hotel will host their annual Cheese Festival.

Although this means another visit to the Musandam Restaurant, we strongly recommend a visit to this event. We went last year, and it was a true cheese feast. A fromagier from France is flown in, together with his beautiful collection of cheeses. Forget about Brie Président and Danish Blue for one night, and enjoy true artisan French cheeses.

See you there.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Restaurant Review - Left Bank

Never eat in a hip restaurant. It is a lesson that we learned long ago. There seems to be a negative correlation between level of hipness and quality of food.

Left Bank may well be Muscat's hippest hangout. We understand its appeal. It is quite possibly the only place in Muscat that is not part of a hotel, is licensed to sell alcohol, has a nice atmosphere and has a great outside seating area. We like going there for a drink or two, but have always been disappointed by the food. Even to such an extend, that if people wanted to meet there, we'd make sure we had dinner before, just to avoid the frustration of having to put Left Bank's food into our mouths.

But we felt the restaurant deserved another chance. So we revisited last week. We brought some friends along, in order to be able to try as many dishes from the menu as we could. The starters were a mixed bag. A dish of fried salmon with black olive tapenade tasted alright, but overcooked. Feta and pumpkin salad was very basic, but not all bad; the pumpkin was horribly overcooked and the feta tasted more like yoghurt, but the combination did sort of work, in a twisted way. It went downwards with a fried lump of Goat's Cheese (which could have been alright if it wouldn't have been the only thing on the plate) and Falafel of sweet potatoes with mint sauce. Nothing wrong with the mint sauce, but the falafel were a terrible mistake. Mashed into a glue-like substance, moulded into rounds and fried. This had nothing to do with falafel and tasted more or less like, well, snot.

It didn't improve much with the main courses. The House Salad was nothing more than a pile of green leaves. Hard to do anything wrong there, but hardly exciting either. Fish & Chips are alright, but taste like they've been left on the counter a bit too long before serving. A piece of Salmon Steak was served on beautifully cooked, crispy snow peas and green beans. The salmon itself was overcooked. Again. It was accompanied by a butter/chardonnay sauce, that was overly fat as well as extremely sour, due to an excessive amount of lemon juice. All in all, not a very succesfull dish, although it was not nearly as bad as the Chicken breast, stuffed with ricotta, spinach, turkey bacon and sun-dried tomatoes, served with sautéed potatoes and mushroom cream sauce. Sounds like a lovely mediterranean dish, doesn't it? Although you could wonder what a mushroom sauce has to do with it. Unfortunately, it didn't taste half as sunny as it sounded. It was a mess. The chicken breast was dry, the turkey didn't add any flavour but salt, the sun-dried tomatoes were unrecognizable, and mushrooms added an earthy flavour that was highly unpleasant. We could also moan about the spinach not being part of the stuffing (as promised) but served underneath, but we really don't think it would have mattered. This dish summed up all the reasons why we haven't eaten here for such a long time.

Due to an upcoming menu change, there were not many desserts available. But we could get some crème brûlée outside of the menu. It was a bit too stiff, but not too bad.

We tried it. But we are quite sure that we will never dine in Left Bank again. If food makes you angry, it is better not to eat it. Now that the cooler months are coming in, we will go there for a drink though. Nothing wrong with those.