Oman's hotel and restaurant industry is among the fastest growing sectors in the world according to the Oman Tourism Report. In the last year, several restaurants, international franchises and cafés have opened – among them two restaurants that have created a unique market for themed dining.
The Jungle and Love at First Bite are Oman's new – and only – themed eateries that along with other new dining venues are making the city a home to excellent restaurants offering a variety of cuisines and innovative ambiences.
The diverse structural developments sprouting across the city which includes shopping centres, flamboyant resorts, high-end residences, and restaurants is complimented by an internal trend amongst people that is reflected in their flaunted designer wears, luxury cars, turnouts in concerts and passion for new cuisine.
"The dining scene in Oman is changing. Gone are the days when people would only dine at food courts, people don’t want mass marketing or mass service. There has been a shift from the former idea of dining, people now want personalized service and attention to details,” said Khalid Al Suwaid, the owner Love at first Bite.
"Secondly, there is a shift from American cuisine to multi-cuisine, from unhealthy to healthy. This year the majority of the restaurants that have opened are multi-cuisine, indicating that the city is undergoing a gradual change."
The heralding movement can be credited to an increase in salaries, use of social media and higher influx of foreign expatriates and tourists. There has been a consistent increase in peoples’ salaries, with an average of 7.9 percent recorded last year.
“The regional change is because of a global change as well. Increase in purchasing power gives rise to trends and Oman is a trends market and so is the whole of Middle East,” Khalid explained.
Concurrently, hospitality has become a lucrative business for entrepreneurs due to growing tourism. Aiming to reach 12 million tourists per year by 2020, Oman is the only Middle Eastern country to be highlighted by National Geographic’s Traveller magazine as a 'Best of the World 2012’ destination.
In 2002, the Oman Today Restaurant Awards, a platform that honours the top restaurants in Muscat, had less than 40 participants, whereas in 2012 the event boasted nearly 100 outlets. The awards had nearly 370,000 public votes cast in just two months, an impressive indicator of the public's enthusiasm towards eateries.
“Of course,” Khalid said when asked if Oman's hospitality business will flourish. “Oman is undergoing a boom; we have so many hotels and restaurants which are opening in Muscat and other cities. This prosperity and demand have emerged because of the increasing tourists in the country.”
According to the Oxford Business Group, Oman’s tourism industry and hospitality segment, is making notable progress with the rise in hypermarkets and billion-dollar hotel development projects and is expected to grow substantially under the government’s long-term economic development plan.
Oman is not a place that boasts a great nightlife or parties, so people tend to entertain themselves with outdoor excursions, social gatherings, cinema, smoking shisha, and indulging in food which plausibly makes eateries an entertaining venue to unwind and one of the 'things to do' in town.
Muscat, the capital of Oman, is a busy petroleum and trade centre located on the Arabian Sea along the Gulf of Oman. Combining old and new architecture and famous mosques and palaces, the city has a range of diverse restaurants featuring Omani, Lebanese, Moroccan, North African, Asian, European and continental cuisine. From coffee shops to cafes and upscale restaurants, the Muscat culinary scene offers something for every budget and taste.
Casual Arabian Fare: Kargeen Caffe
Kargeen Caffe -- kargeen means "little wooden cottage" -- is a popular cafe where visitors can sit outside, in a family section, smoking section or non-smoking "tents." If you're especially adventurous, you can sit on a traditional mat and rub elbows with the locals. Known for its kabobs, hibiscus and cacao drinks and other moderately priced Arabian fare, Kargeen's original location is in Madinat Qaboos; other locations are in Al-Khuwayr's City Plaza and in Al Harthy Complex in Qurum.
Upscale Dining: The Restaurant, The Chedi Resort
The Restaurant, located in the luxurious Chedi beach resort about 20 minutes from the city centre, has received many awards as best ambient eatery in Oman. The Restaurant offers garden, mountain and ocean views and features seafood and Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian and European fare. Desserts include homemade chocolates. Reservations are recommended.
Local Omani Food: Bin Atique
If you really want to sample some authentic Omani food and don't care about glamorous surroundings, locals recommend Bin Atique, originally located in Al-Kuwhayr. There are now several locations across the city. Patrons sit on old carpets in private rooms dining on traditional fare such as harees, a somewhat gummy dish usually served with chicken.
Good Old Western Food: D'Arcy's Kitchen
If you're homesick and just want a nice chicken caesar salad or a hearty English breakfast, check out tiny D'Arcy's Kitchen. The restaurant, known for its yellow costumed-wait staff and diverse a la carte menu, accepts cash only. There are two locations: one in the Jawarat A' Shatti Complex where you can sit inside or out, and another at Madinat Sultan Qaboos.