Celtic charm brings a Scottish flavour to Muscat and the food isn’t bad either, says Kate Ginn
I must confess to having a fondness for Scotland and all things Scottish, including the food. Having lived in Edinburgh and Glasgow, for a total of seven years, I know my way around the country’s culinary offerings. I’m well aware then, how unfair the perception is in some quarters that Scotland is a land of fatty food, haggis and that infamous local delicacy of the deep-fried mars bar (more of which later).
So I was looking forward to seeing the best side of Scottish fare represented at MacKenzies Café & Deli, bang in the middle of expat land in MQ.
Certainly the décor was spot on. From the thistle wallpaper to the mock stag head on the wall and the Harris Tweed cushions on the chairs, it made me feel a little pang for the wild Highlands.
My dining companion, who’s Welsh, was also clearly enamoured by the Celtic vibe.
My personal bugbear at restaurants is being cramped. There’s nothing worse than tables rammed so close that you can see and hear everything from the next table (never a good thing, I find).
No such trouble at MacKenzies with plenty of space. The deli part is at the back and there are two eating spaces, one in front of the serving counter, and a spacious area round the corner.
I had heard that service can be a bit hit-and-miss at times but our waiter, Sam, was straight over with menus and a smile as we arrived. He even admirably kept his patience as I fussed over which table to sit at.
It won’t take you long to browse the menu – it’s not extensive – but what’s there all sounds good. There is the standard lunchtime fare, from Paninis to sandwiches, along with salads. According to its website, however, the café’s piece de resistance is its renowned pies and quiches.
A cheddar and mushroom quiche sounded interesting but in the end (persuaded by the Welsh girl across the table), I went for the feta and leek (leek being one of the national symbols of Wales). She, on the other hand, went for a mozzarella, tomato and pesto Panini (persuaded by me, as I’m a quarter Italian).
My quiche was a wee triumph; warm from the oven, with crumbly, buttery shortcrust pastry and a wonderful filling, the leeks and feta cheese blending like new best friends. To give it that Scottish element,
sides of neeps and tatties (turnip and potatoes) would have been nice.
But the side salad was fine, if a bit small.
At least I had a side salad, though. Welshy’s Panini looked a tad lonely on the plate with nothing at all to keep it company. It was pronounced as ‘okay but nothing special.’
I would have liked to get stuck into some haggis (as we were dining the day before Burns Night) but there was no sign of a ‘wee beastie’ on the menu, or not that I could see anyway.
Drinks were good. My orange juice was obviously fresh and the mango smoothie went down well.
Since arriving, my eye had been on the cakes displayed invitingly at the front of the counter. My sweet tooth was tingling in anticipation of chomping into some of the ‘wee bites’.
It was at this point, that I went a bit crazy with the ordering. And so arrived at our table: a mini lemon meringue pie, coconut millionaire shortbread, a slice of lemon drizzle cake and a mars bar crispy. I would have had the squat small scones too but for a sudden, and unwelcome, attack of level-headedness.
All the cakes at MacKenzies are homemade. The lemon meringue was nicely tart and the lemon drizzle cake was well balanced, if a little dry. Best in our little dessert show had to go to the millionaire shortbread (gooey caramel and thick, soft chocolate with a crumbling base) and the mars bar crispy (Rice Krispies mixed with melted mars bar). Now, thankfully this mars bar concoction was nothing like the deep-fried version mentioned earlier. That coronary-inducing, calorific-laden, fat-saturated sweet is nothing short of monstrously delicious. It should be illegal. Invented in Scotland and now world famous, it’s an ordinary mars bar fried in the batter commonly used for deep-frying fish. I had one in Edinburgh and it’s stayed in my memory and arteries ever since.
Instead, I finished with a cappuccino and a piece of Tablet (Taiblet in Scots), which is a confection made from sugar, condensed milk and butter. It tastes a bit like a piece of hard fudge.
My cappuccino was a little flat, not too much froth (which I prefer), which kind of summed up the atmosphere too. There was something missing, a key ingredient that would have turned MacKenzies from a nice café into a great café, but we couldn’t work out what it was. The staff were pleasant (though a bit more interaction would have been nice), the interior clean and chic, the food good if not exceptional, but it just didn’t have quite the Highland fling that I was hoping for.
Fair Scottish scoff but atmosphere a bit lacking.
MacKenzies Café & Deli
Madinat Al Sultan Qaboos, Muscat
Tel: 9777 6111
Opening Hours: 8am-8pm, including Fridays
Lunch for two (with drinks and coffee): RO18.45