Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Chedi, Muscat. The Restaurant Review

The Restaurant, in the Chedi Muscat is recognised as the best restaurant in the entire country. When it opened, the Chedi was so awesome, so revolutionary, so sophisticated that the whole of the foodie community in Muscat was nearly orgasmic with joy. However, Four years on things are slipping, so I thought it was time that I reviewed the Restaurant, if only to try and figure out where they went wrong.

The Restaurant features four open kitchens scattered throughout a gorgeous, sumptuous, perfectly lit dining room. The waitstaff work discretely, linked to the kitchens through wireless headsets. From the management down. everyone is articulate, knowledgeable, and have perfected the art of being totally available while being totally unobtrusive. The kitchens are staffed by a diverse smattering of friendly, happy chefs, all of whom seem truly passionate about what they are doing. I was pleased to note the number of Omani chefs in the kitchen, but disappointed that in the course of Three recent visits I never saw a woman in any of the kitchens.

Our recent visits started off on the wrong foot with something as simple as water. They sell 750 ml glass bottles of still water, imported from scotland, flown here on the wings of virgin angels, for a whopping 2.8 rials. It's a rip off.

I can only assume that like me, the chef has spent a lot of time spanking off to the amazing culinary works of Thomas Keller, of the french laundry, the best restaurant in America, if not the world. Guys like Keller and Charlie Trotter are home grown American culinary talent, and Keller in partucular revolutionised modern american haute cuisine. Something akin to the french laundry is what I think they are trying to do with the new menu at the chedi, and though the inspiration and ambition is there, the kitchen falls short on the delivery, and the chef has fallen short on creating a workable menu, and pairing the ingredients together appropriately.

We started a number of our meals with the raw oysters, which come accompanied with a Yuzu Granite. (A Yuzu is a smallish japanise citrus fruit that is very sour. Granite is like sorbet.) Each visit the oysters were huge, sweet smelling, and expertly shucked. They arrived on a bed of cracked ice, still quivering with life, with a tiny quinelle of the granite. The granite was sweet and acidic, and made an interesting accompaniment, highlighting the sweetness of the oysters. For the traditionalists, the waitstaff were happy to oblige in bringing lemon wedges, shallots, or sherry vinegar.

For the starters, the teeny tiny BBQ pork buns. They were, as adevertised, Steamed BBQ pork buns. They were entirely unremarkable, a sort of lone, boring, totally average dish, featuring a limp accompaniment of a sweet sesame soy dressing. For 5.5 RO, I was pretty dissapointed.

The Unagi Maki, (grilled eel sushi) Was an interesting take on a sushi bar favorite. four peices of nicely seasoned, sweet and gooey eel arrived, with gorgeous wafer thin slices of perfectly ripened avocado, atop well seasoned sushi rice. There was some sort of rather heavy mayonaise or aioli smothering each piece of sushi, and drowning half of the plate, which really detracted from the flavour. Though Shiso pickle was promised on the menu, the only pickled vegitable that arrived was the obligatory pickled ginger, with nary a trace of the shiso leaves, or any discernable shiso flavour.

The biggest dissapointment was the Foigras Torchon( pretty much a big goose liver, deveined, wrapped in muslin, poached and cooled) , a horrifying mishmash of flavours and textures that left us totally baffeled as to what the chef was trying to accomplish. Here is what was on the plate when it arrived;

  1. A smallish slice of torchon, wrapped around a scallop wrapped in seaweed.

  2. Along the side of the plate there was a tiny smear of concentrated Beetroot Jus, sweet and thick.

  3. A quinelle of plain skippy peanut butter

  4. A single chive, sticking out of the penut butter

  5. Porcini Dust, made from dried porcini mushrooms

  6. On the side, a warm, "five spiced" Brioche roll.

The Foigras itself was ok, and pretty well deveined. But it is hard to make bad foigras. The Scallop wrapped in seaweed was fine, if not a little bland, but I disliked the seaweed's flavour with the foigras. I would have wrapped the scallops in moistened rice paper or some other flavour neutral thing to hold them in place. The Pickled beetroot stripe didn't taste pickled, but it was sweet and delicious. The porcini dust and Brioche were fine.

But The Penut butter didn't belong on the plate. It was an act of pretention to put it there. Maybe the chef was trying to do a sort of "penut butter and jelly" alongside the beet stripe. Maybe he was trying to highlight the rich, sweet, fatty, creamy carichter that Foigras and Penut butter share. Maybe he just needed a vehicle in which to stick a chive tip. We were collectively baffeled. The Foigras cost Twelve rials. WHich was about eight rials more than I felt the finished product was worth.

The veal carpaccio, accompanied with fried capers, watercress, and a tuna aioli was impossible to taste, because it was absolutley drowning in the Tuna Aioli. There must have been twice as much aioli as there was actual carpaccio, by weight.

The Sung Choi Bao fell victim to the kitchen's general heavy handedness with salt, which would be a recurring theme in our main courses. Little roll ups of iceberg lettuce wraqpped around minced Chicken with water chestnuts, ginger, Shitake mushrooms, bound together with a spicy sweet sauce. Aside from the salt it was simple, unpretentious, and full of flavour.

The Main courses fared better, overall.

The Line Caught seabass was made with love. The single smallish filet of seabass, skin on, expertly squeegeed and seared until crisp was excellent. It sat atop a couple of deep fried Mussles, soaking in a bowl of clear broth. The broth was garnished with little tomato diamonds, and a handfull of Miripoix, and some scallions. It was pretty, simple, and the flavours were clear and sparkling.

The tasman lamb rack with it's shoulder Brique was perfect every single time we ordered it. The Rack arrived cooked to the requested doneness, and the Brique was so tender and nicely braised I could have eaten it with a spoon. Everything was perfectly seasoned. The dish came accompnied simply by baby green beans, blanched to a brilliant bright green, and sweet creamy parsnip puree, redolent with butter. We were so thrilled with the Lamb that I can't remember anything else that was on the plate.

The Kung Pao Chicken, (interestingly labeled as a Thai dish, although it's Scezchuan) was essentially a very fancy version of the American chinese takeaway favorite. It was tasty, zinging with chiles and the traditional cashew nuts. It arrived prettily garnished, but was nothing special.

The Cantonese Pork Belly was the final dish to suffer from over salting. The pork was tough, and the broth it swam in was so salty I couldn't finish the dish. The wood ear mushrooms were great, soft, and prettily cut. The Accompaning Rice paper dumpling may have once been crisp, but by the time it arrived at the table it had been soaking in an the seawater salty broth and was like a salty sock. The dish was badly cooked, badly seasoned, and badly thought out.

You may go to the chedi to experience the atmosphere, to bask in the fantastic service, or to enjoy the really great wine list. But first and foremost, you are going to the restaurant to experience truly great food. And it is here that the chedi experience crashes and burns in a manner so dramatic that I almost weep to think of how a restaurant that was so good eight months ago could become so bad seemingly overnight. Thier last menu was so good, I just can't fathom how the same kitchen, in the same restaurant, but under a different chef can crank out a new menu with so few redeeming features.

This review is based on three recent visits to "The Restaurant" the flagship F&B in The Chedi hotel here in Muscat, Oman.

About Suburban: Her credentials include 6 years working as a Sous chef, Pastry chef, and executive chef in America and Europe. Previous to that she was an undistinguished line cook, a smoothie and sandwich maker, and once, a night shift cook at a Denny's.

Suburban has worked for, and snorted staggering quantities of cocaine with, some of the top chefs in the world and thus feels qualified to review both distinguished and undistinguished fine dining restaurants. Having acheived a life long goal of finally leaving the restaurant industry, Suburban can be found killing time at home in the middle east, and contemplating which useless car to waste her husband's money on next. If you liked this review, you can send her money, pop rocks candy, spare parts for Chevrolet trucks, or a nice email. She can be reached at otheroman@gmail.com


Undercover Dragon said...

Hey, nice review Suburban.

I also think the new menu is totally unworkable. Its now full of things that you just don't want to eat.

And the water pisses me off too. Last time I was there I complained about the lack of Omani bottled water and refused to have Scottish, and I ordered a bottle of French Champagne just to emphasise that it wasn't the cost that was putting me off, but the principle.

More reviews please!

Sythe said...

Fantastic review!!! :)

I happen to know someone that knows the head chef there, and have passed the link on... I wonder what his reaction will be!!!!

Suburban said...

UD- CHeers, it's nice to have some backup on the water issue.


Noooooo!!! they'll burn me alive the next time I show my face there.

I'm planning on sending the review to them anyway (anonimously!!!), alog with a complmentary copy of the french Laundry cookbook, and the Les'Halles cookbook.

Anonymous said...

Brava, Suburban! Fun to read some real foodie writing about a place in our neck of the woods. It's a shame for a place like the Chedi to just tread water, given what it could be.

We did have a pretty divine lunch at the seaside restaurant before the weather got so dreary - if you can get past the 40RO price for the fresh seafood platter, it's divine...

Anonymous said...

Great review. Awful spelling.

Suburban said...


Yeah, we liked the seafood restaurant better, though it still suffers from menu Items I don't want to eat. I couldn't bring myself to fork over RO40 for the seafood platter, especially because it was cold. The little soup they sent out as an Amuse Bouche was fab.

Anon- thanks. For some reason the spell check function wasn't working the day I posted it. As you can see, the Ney York Times won't be calling me to take over as Editor in chief anytime soon.

kyle foley said...

i read on someone else's blog that they don't have home web access in oman - is this true? or maybe it was just true for him.

are you teaching in oman?

Suburban said...

UNless you live somewhere really remote, home internet is available to everyone, though the speeds leave much to be desired.

Nawras offers an insanely fast connection using a sim card and thier high speed 3G network. It costs about thirty bucks a month.

I do not teach. The adolescent and Stone read that question and almost pissed themselves laughing. I am practically iliteratte.

Anonymous said...

I'm too cheap to eat there so I simply enjoy their mocktails on their beach when I'm in Muscat....gotta love the architecture though

Unknown said...

Going to Oman this week. Any good dining recommendations in Muscat away from the Chedi (we're staying at Chedi)? It's often hard to get good foodie advice!