Cool has a new name in Muscat, but a couple of teething issues could leave customers hot under the collar, says Tom Robertson
Asked to review one of the latest dining hotspots to hit Muscat – On The Rocks restaurant next to the Golden Tulip Hotel – I set about booking a table.
Simple, I thought, until it became apparent that there were no phone numbers listed on the Internet, not even on their small Facebook listing.
“The website isn’t up yet,” I was told by the young lady who smiled back at me, having had to drive there and book a table. Frustrating, to say the least.
But returning that evening – and ignoring the soggy pile of pasta that was the marketing strategy without a phone listing – we found ourselves in a brave new razzle-dazzle world that nullified the sour memories of the previous evening’s booking irritation.
Glitzy blue lights guide visitors to a reception that exudes an atmosphere of modernity and exclusivity. Step through the doors into the dining area and it’s more Saint-Tropez than Seeb.
There were white leather sofas on which to lounge, while disco-style lighting pulsated to chilled-out beats. With a full range of beverages offered by an army of attentive waiters, it was the perfect place to just sit and chat. No hurry here. Especially not with complimentary scrumptious little pastry-clad olives placed temptingly in front of us. We were taking our time – it felt good to be somewhere snazzy.
When we did make it to the equally smart dining area, two menus awaited. One listed gourmet pub food and another full restaurant fare.
The question was, how to mix the two together? With courage and self belief is how. I opted for four mini-gourmet chicken burgers for starters followed by lamb chops for the main. Go big or go home I thought. My friends selected a variety of dishes which, between us, led to the belief that we had a majority of the bases covered.
Around us, the other diners chatted away in French, Arabic and English, and laughter resounded from what seemed to be a fairly well-heeled bunch. It was a strange situation in which Shiseido moisturised fingers flicked through menus bustling with mid-market prices.
Would the food be a million-dollar affair? The mini chicken burgers weren’t at all a let down and had a gorgeous mix of cheese and salad that dripped with a cheeky unexpected egg. Across the table, one of our number was tucking into anchovy and feta bruschetta that didn’t hang around for too long. Meanwhile, the third starter, a sparse but pleasant serving of scallops, had avoided the faux-pas of being overcooked. “Leave them wanting more” had almost certainly been the chef’s ethos, though.
An accomplished set of starters had set the bar reasonably high and had us wondering in anticipation just how the main course would turn out.
Suffice to say, it was another solid effort by a new kitchen presumably keen to impress.
The lamb chops that I had ordered were cooked as requested (medium) but were, if I admit it, slightly fatty – more so than usual. A slightly stingy portion of vegetables was a theme that ran through the meals on the table.
Our companion’s saffron risotto was deemed “subtly flavoured and taste bud-teasing”, rather than overpowering. Meanwhile, the third pillar of our expeditionary trio had tucked into his “melt in your mouth” steak. It was cooked to near perfection but, for a born and bred South African, too small and referred to as a “starter steak”.
But the great thing about receiving portions that are “reserved” is that there’s always room for dessert.
A deconstructed tiramisu proved tasty enough and pretty as a picture, while rose scented water chestnut turned out to be a pleasantly unusual base for a white chocolate and coconut mousse.
But all in all, the three courses had been impressive with very little to complain about other than the size of the portions – which is always a difficult thing to judge. Too much can be offensive and too little can be seen as stingy. It’s a fine line. We decided to debate this point over coffee.
Only there wasn’t any, on the grounds that the machine wasn’t working yet and none of the staff, nor management, had shown the initiative to provide cafetieres.
If a restaurant is open, it’s open. That means providing decent information on a website to get people to the restaurant in the first place and then rounding off the evening with a coffee.
There’s no “half open” and it’s somewhat unfair that chefs working hard to impress from the off should have had their efforts blighted by a lack of overall polish caused by admin failures.
Snazzy joint and good food slightly tarnished by teething issues
Golden Tulip Hotel, Exhibition Street, Seeb – +968 97983333 / 9798881
Three-course dinner for three excluding drinks: RO61
Currently open evenings from 7.30pm
Y Magazine reviews anonymously and pays for its meals