Monday, 23 November 2009

Our own restaurant awards: Bad Restaurants with Good Reviews

It's a favourite game in Mr. & Mrs. R's household: Guess the Review. Especially the very good reviews of bad restaurants in guides like Oman2Day, Time Out and Oman Explorer are great fun.

Now that the Oman2Day Restaurant Award campaign is in full swing again, we thought of our own award: Oman's worst restaurant with a good review in the guides. We will share our Top 3 with you, and here's the honourable #3:

Time Out is very right in saying that it is "not the food that is the star of the evening" at Trader Vic's, but that doesn't stop them from stating the restaurant "continues to delight diners and drinkers" and "you have all the ingredients for a perfect party." Oman Explorer is just as positive: "Dining here isn't cheap, but for a good night out, it's worth it." We disagree. In our opinion Trader Vic is nothing more than a cattle hall where you pay a premium to have good ingredients wasted. Horrible sauces ruin pieces of prime meat, other dishes are uninspiring, overly salt, and have a special quality of being dry while fat. Thank goodness for the cocktails. You need them to forget the food.

While we are hardly keen on paying another visit to Trader Vic, it is still a decent choice compared to our #2:

According to Oman Explorer, this "award-winning restaurant is ideal for a candlelit dinner for two," and serves "delicious Italian food." Oman2Day urges us to "try the calzone", which we did: a disgusting piece of misery. In all fairness they also state the following: "A very popular place at one time, the restaurant is slowly working its way back in favour." We guess this is an understated way of saying the place is run-down and past its prime. Sad interior, food that makes you cry and a 'wine bar' that's unworthy of the name, O Sole Mio is our proud number 2.

Our #1 left us baffled when we read the reviews after our visit. We ended up in Alauddin Restaurant one evening when we were in desperate need of something to eat after shopping at Home Centre. We ordered some Indian dishes and had a good laugh at the naan bread that looked and tasted as if the chef wiped the sweat of his forehead and kneaded it into the bread. Quite untasty. The rest of the dishes weren't much better (pre-chewed saag paneer anyone?), and we weren't surprised that not many people bothered to find a seat in the seriously dated restaurant. But we were clearly wrong, because according to Oman2Day "there is good reason the company has survived so long," and Oman Explorer tells us that we should "arrive with high expectations of a gastronomic good time (...) a Muscat must." It's a good thing we didn't read this beforehand. Oman Explorer is so convinced by the restaurant's qualities that it states that "you'll be hard pushed to find someone who lives in Muscat and hasn't enjoyed food from Alauddin." Here we are, you found us.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Restaurant Review - Cheese Festival at Musandam Café

We told you before about the Cheese Festival at Muscat InterContinental. It started yesterday, and lasts until the 17th of November. So one week only.

Still full of memories of last year's cheese fest, we made sure to be there the first day. Monsieur Fromagier was happy to see us, and his cheese table looked just as appetising as it did last year. In relation to last year, there was one minor change. The price of the cheese buffet was raised from 10.00 OMR to 15.000 OMR, but it included one free bottle of wine per couple.

The staff of Musandam Café must have listened to our complaints, because this time the complimentary bottle of wine was very decent: a 2005 Barbera d'Asti from Cosseti. A fruity and supple wine.

You can opt to combine the cheese with the regular Musandam buffet. We did not do this, however. We sampled almost every cheese on the table (there were 20+) and enjoyed every bit of it. The fromagier will take very good care of you, once he finds out you are in love with his cheeses. And that will happen. The selection is beautiful. From slightly sweet, soft and creamy goats, to hard mountain cheeses, runny, stinky red bacteria, a mont d'or that could only be eaten with a spoon, and the ripest, most pungent roquefort we've ever seen.

If you are a cheese lover, this event is a must. We will make sure to come back for a second visit this week.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Store Review - Gourmet Station Dubai

We told you about Gourmet Station in Dubai some time ago. We finally managed to visit the store last week.

According to the website of Gourmet Station we could expect deli heaven. The best olive oils, quality foie gras, a wide array of meat and fish and a stunning collection of only the best cheeses.

Can we say we were just the slightest bit disappointed?

Let's, in all fairness, start with the positive notes. The store looks beautiful, and it is great to see so many quality products lined up. From the olive oil of Nuñez de Prado to the chocolates of Valhrona, everything made our mouth water. There's a good selection of tea and coffee as well.

Now where it goes wrong.

The Gourmet Station website says the following:
"...walk right in to over a 100 cheeses that our artisinal cheesemongers have for you"
Ahem, over 100 cheeses? There were five or six. At most. They were good, we have to agree, but it is hardly what you call a serious selection.
"At the cold cuts counter is a delectable range of smoked sausages."
We would have loved some good sausages. They're among the things we miss the most here. But unfortunately, they were not there. None.
"The meat counter at the Gourmet Station is a veritable meat 'fest' with the choicest of fresh meat displayed for the discerning shopper."
Apart from a notification that wagyu burgers could be ordered from the freezer, there was no fresh meat. Not that we would call meat from the freezer 'fresh'... So much for the meat 'fest'.
"For our customers who demand quality and good sourcing, Gourmet Station has an enviable choice of fish from around the globe (...) Fresh octopus, squids, rock lobsters, mussels, cockles, cray fish, scallops, tiger prawns, and a good selection of oysters also crowd our fresh fish counter."
Sounds great. But again, it wasn't there.

What is the matter here? Does Gourmet Station has so little customers that keeping fresh stock is no longer possible? Whas everything sold out by coincidence? Or is it a classic situation of revving up expectations, without being able to live up to them? We are inclined to think it is the latter.

So, the market for a good deli store is still open. Next time we're in the area we will try this place in Abu Dhabi. They promise us the best cheese room in the Middle East. Let's see if it's true.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Wine Review - Jaboulet Gigondas 'Pierre Aiguille' 2006

We felt like drinking a solid autumn wine. It must be our internal system, preconditioned to the European seasons. Autumn storms, falling temperatures and pouring rain all call for dark red, serious wines. A bit silly of course, now the lovely Omani winter weather finally seems to come around, but we couldn't help ourselves. We chose a red wine from the southern-rhône in France: Paul Jaboulet Aîné Gigondas 'Pierre Aiguille' 2006 (OUA – 14.900 OMR).

Gigondas is one of the classic wine appelations in France. The wines are usually robust, spicy and full of dark red fruit. They show similarities to the wines of nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but are less expensive, and therefore good value for money.

OUA stocks several wines from the renowned Rhône producer Paul Jaboulet Aîné, who makes wine all over the region. The house has been around for almost two centuries, and was run as a family business until 2004, when the family decided to sell the business to the Frey's (another famous French wine family, owner of Billecart-Salmon in Champagne and Château La Lagune in Bordeaux). For wine lovers, this take-over was good news, because the spirit seemed to be gone for quite a while, and the wines of Jaboulet hadn't lived up to their reputation since the late 1990's.

The wines of 2006 were the first that were completely made by the new team. Blessed with a very good vintage, the wines make a good impression. The Gigondas 'Pierre Aiguille' is a medium bodied wine, with good fruit (blackcurrant, dark cherries and strawberries), licorice and bay leaf. Its high alcohol level (14,5%) is slightly distracting, but not too much. There is enough stuffing and complexity to make it stand out above the average. It should be capable of ageing for a couple of years, but is also perfectly drinkable now. The price (14.900 OMR) is a bit steep, but compared to other wines locally available, still worth it. It would also be a good choice in a restaurant, as this wine is makes a great combination to strong meat, such as beef tenderloin, or lamb stew.

If you have problems paying this kind of money for a bottle of wine, you could opt for the more affordable Côte du Rhône 'Parallèle 45', which is perfectly acceptable, although a bit on the lean and simple side. Our preference would be to pay a few rials extra. It gives you the sense of autumn, without having to stand the rain. Not so bad, is it?