We had a couple of contenders for this award and just a wafer thin sized space to separate them in terms of food and service. For location, the Juniper Restaurant at the Alila Jabal Akhdar, perched on the edge of a gaping gorge, can’t be beaten. Along with spectacular views, the food – including pumpkin soup – was also pretty special. We were also blown away by The Yellow Chilli, a high-class Indian in The Walk, Al Mouj Muscat, and the first foray into Oman by renowned Chef Sanjeev Kapoor. Guest reviewer Chris Fisher, presenter at our sister radio station Merge 104.8, was in raptures over the spinach koftas filled with cottage cheese served on a velvety tomato butter gravy. But the service was the main event, getting a 10/10 from Chris.
In the end, though, it was standout star of the show Shabestan (pictured above), which clinched the honours. Serving an authentic taste of Iran in elegant surroundings in Shatti Al Qurum, it has bread to die for (light as a feather and a lingering buttery taste), succulent meat and impeccable service; just three of the many reasons to make Shabestan one of your must-visit restaurants of 2016 if you haven’t already been. It’s not the cheapest, but well worth the outlay for a memorable meal.
This was the hardest category to sieve through, with so many excellent eateries reviewed over the course of the past 12 months. Semsom, serving Lebanese with a twist in Muscat Grand Mall, went down well with novel dishes such as green hummus with mint. Across the city in Al Khoudh, special mention goes to Caribarawak, the Sultanate’s first Caribbean restaurant, which had Matt Blackwell drooling with its goat curry, made to a Jamaican recipe and slowly stewed in herbs and spices. Matt also liked Chez Sushi in Al Mouj Muscat. We had a great afternoon tea, complete with scones served warm with a dollop of clotted cream and strawberry jam, at the Holiday Inn Muscat, Seeb, while the hunks of meat at The Steak Company in Bareeq Al Shatti must be vying for the best in Muscat. However, the nod goes to Ala Turka, which impressed Deeba Hasan (no mean feat) with its wonderful food and service, and proved to be a real Turkish delight in a crowded market (top tip: try the shish taouk).
There were some real gems to be uncovered. The award for uniqueness must go to Moza Wa Khamis, a new café in the Best Western Premier Muscat hotel, which claims to be Muscat’s hippest fusion diner and takes Omani favourites, such as prawn biryani, and serves them with Chips Oman for an eclectic touch. The Marina Café, with a view of the ocean on the beachfront in Qurum, dished up some of the best falafel we’ve tasted in Muscat (apart from a small shop round the corner from the Y office in Seeb) and is a stone’s throw from the sea. But it was the utterly delicious giant hand-breaded onion rings at Buffalo Wings & Rings (pictured above), an American chain that opened its doors in Oman shortly before the beginning of the year, which won us over. Try the loaded potato skins, amazing chicken wings and excellent burgers. It’s relaxed, fun and perfect for a night out with friends or family. You can find it on the first floor opposite Muscat’s Al Masa Mall. Feel the Buffalove!
Sometimes you’re just looking for good, honest food, served up for a few rials with no frills. We searched high and low for some good eateries to match this brief and found there’s plenty of places to fit the bill. Best Burger in Zakher Mall was a pleasant surprise despite some questionable promotional photos, with the burger hitting the spot and leaving us with change from RO5 for lunch and drinks for one. We also tucked into some top-notch grub at New York Fries, which is next to the cinema in Shatti Al Qurum, for our fast food fix. The fries are hand cut daily and are made to order (top tip: order the gorgeously gooey nacho poutine with salsa, cheese, sour cream and avocado on a bed of fries). Just edging it to the top award was Begum’s in Al Khuwair, where we couldn’t get enough of its famed biryanis (the chicken tikka version) and one of the chef’s specials, a mutton lahori, which had Matt Blackwell and his girlfriend fighting over the last mouthfuls of food. Astounding quality and incredible value for money (RO11.5 for dinner and drinks for two), it fully deserves the top spot in our opinion.