Zeitoun offers an eclectic menu inspired by Oman and the Mediterranean, with touches of Moroccan and Tunisian influences, writes Felicity Glover.
It’s a Sunday night and I’ve dragged my daughter, Cia, away from her homework for what I was hoping would be a quick restaurant review. But dining out should never be a rushed affair, especially when you are going to the likes of Zeitoun, which opened in January just behind the Holiday Inn hotel in Seeb.
It’s an impressive dining space that is well deserving of a long, lingering meal with friends and family.
Entering the restaurant on the ground floor, we were greeted by a friendly waitress who directed us upstairs, saying the downstairs area, dominated by a large blue stained-glass window, was for families with young children.
There was even a sign at the start of the beautifully crafted tiled stairs saying no child under the age of six could venture to the floor above.
Emerging from the stairwell, we entered another stunning dining space that looked to be inspired by the classic Moroccan riad, complete with mezzanine level overlooking the room below. With bright blue shutters on the windows, elaborately designed Middle Eastern-inspired screens in the same colour and a richly coloured carpet on the floor, it was welcoming and spacious.
We headed into the next dining space, where we could see waiters gathered around a large stone wood-fired pizza oven. We caught their eye and were given a choice of tables. Because it was relatively early – just past 7pm – the restaurant was quiet, but with the usual late dining hours in Oman, I’d expect it to be buzzing a little later in the evening.
The “riad” theme continued in this space, with two fountains that led you towards the terrace. Another large area, the wood-framed doors, windows and floors gave the room warmth.
We chose a table next to one of the fountains – my mistake as it was a little too noisy for comfortable conversation. With hindsight, however, we should have chosen the terrace to take advantage of the fast-fading “cooler” weather.
The waiter quickly produced the menus, which had been downloaded onto Samsung tablets – a great 21st-century touch. Scrolling through the menu, which had been separated into drinks, salads and soups, pizzas, pastas, grills, desserts and tapas, I knew it would be a difficult choice, especially as there were Omani, Mediterranean, Moroccan and Tunisian influences – and probably more from around the region.
In the end, we plumped for two starters from the tapas menu: hummus and a chicken with what I think was preserved lemon and cinnamon. For drinks, we kept it simple, with still water for Cia and a sparkling water for me.
The waiter quickly produced a small basket of warm flatbread, a rustic bottle of olive oil and a hot sauce, followed quickly by our drinks. The hummus was deliciously silky with a hint of tahini coming through as a back note and it paired perfectly with the flatbread. But the zingy, slightly salty chicken was the star of the show. The tender and juicy bite-sized morsels were bathed in a lemony gravy that was flecked with fresh green parsley and dotted with thin slices of red, yellow and green peppers. It was a sublime dish, with the salty tang of the preserved lemon complementing the sweet earthiness of the cinnamon.
Cia loved the chicken and mopped up the sauce with the bread. In her words: “It was tender and tasty”.
For mains, Cia ordered the farfalle with chicken, mushroom, pesto and cream, while I went for the waiter’s recommendation of prawn kerkenese. Our waiter quickly took our entrée plates away but thoughtfully left the hummus in case we wanted it with our mains, which also arrived quickly.
At a glance, I knew I would struggle with the portion size. Three jumbo prawns dominated the rectangular plate, which also boasted rice, a mélange of vegetables and what appeared to be a tomato and onion salsa tossed in a little olive oil and parsley.
The flame-grilled prawns were perfectly cooked with a hint of lemon in the background and went well with the tomato and onion salsa. The rice had a slight curry taste, which could explain “kerkenese” and the vegetables were also treated with respect.
Cia’s farfalle was creamy and packed with tender chicken and mushrooms, and dotted with cherry tomatoes. She said she couldn’t really taste the pesto in the sauce but still gave it her usual thumbs up.
Of course, we flew the white flag in surrender halfway through our meals and couldn’t finish them. But we both agreed: what we’d sampled had been delicious. Suffice to say, we were too full for dessert so paid the bill and headed downstairs again, where we found a small store selling an interesting array of produce, such as harissa paste, jars of couscous, fig or mulberry jams and a variety of olives. Another visit to Zeitoun is definitely on the cards – but next time, we will definitely stay longer and explore more.
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Zeitoun Omani & Mediterranean Café, Restaurant & Food Shop
Al Rawda Boulevard, Mawaleh (behind the Holiday Inn)
Tel: 2418 5628
Opening Hours: Saturday to Thursday, 12pm – 11pm, Friday, 1pm – 11pm
Dinner and drinks for two: RO31.52
8 / 10 Service
8 / 10 Food
8 / 10 Ambience
Attentive service and a diverse, tasty menu