In the last quarter of 2021, Salalah embarked on a culinary journey by introducing a food festival that brought several chefs from around the world who've worked for Michelin-starred restaurants to the southernmost part of the Sultanate.
It was an ambitious attempt to create a dent in Dhofar's food scene usually coming alive only for about three months during the khareef season.
Salalah is not without its own unique food environment. It has quite a good mix of restaurants spread across the different cities. From Indian, Lebanese, Arabic and Asian cuisines, some bigger hotels also offer Meditteranean and other international dishes. Dhofar also has a totally different street food scene compared to Muscat and while shuwa is a celebrated dish in Muscat and the neighbouring cities, Dhofar is proud of its dishes grilled on stones. The current scene however is not enough to drive the idea that Salalah is a place you go to for great food.
For many people in Muscat, the food scene in Dhofar is quite a mystery. If you conduct a survey about the outstanding places to dine in within that part of the country, it may take some time before people will respond with a polite recommendation. That is how strong the disconnect is between these two amazing cities when it comes to food.
If you go through the old town of Al Baleed and wonder what food there is to find in this historic place, it would have to take a lot of research to find a decent place to eat.
Last year's initiative by Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara is a good start. By bringing international food masterchefs to Salalah, they are not only creating awareness but was building excitement for people to look at Dhofar as a year-long destination that offers amazing food for the pickiest of eaters.
As a follow-through to what they started, this March alone, they invited one of the most influential Parisian chefs by New York Times, Chef Sota Atsumi at the beginning of the month and capped it off with a visit from Talented Chef of the Year by Gault Millau Rik Jansma — both have been instrumental in earning for their respective restaurants a Michelin Star.
There were plenty of activities during the chefs' stay. Not only did they showcase what food they can deliver, they also offered an opportunity for interaction and some selected guests were able to learn a thing or two with classes they conducted that showcased what they do best.
Now under the helm of a new general manager, Andrea Orrú has grand plans of building up what has been started by his predecessors but making more unique experiences that will make guests keep on coming back.
"Being new in Oman, I have been impressed by a lot of destinations in Dhofar. I've explored Samhan mountains and many of the wadis here and they are spectacular and people are aware of these beauties. It's also one place in Oman where you are driving around and camels would flock near your vehicles and that's a truly unique experience that adds charm to this location. Beauty-wise, a lot of people are aware of what Dhofar can offer, we hope to make that experience a repeat experience by offering something in terms of luxury and food," he said.
Hailing from Sardinia in Italy, Andrea is used to eating good food. His Italian background had trained him well on what goes well on a plate. His hospitality journey started in the Food and Beverage department holding different F&B posts for nearly 13 years before becoming resort manager and general manager covering destinations like Thailand, China, South Korea, the Maldives and now the Middle East and Oman.
Andrea shared that he has been busy looking at the overall experience of guests and on the food development alone, other than working closely with Executive Chef Luke Borg, they also hired a new Director for Food and Beverage who has begun introducing new ways of doing things and delivering a memorable dining experience including Dine by Design experiences on the beach.
On his part, Chef Luke shared he is proud of their initiative and that they are eyeing more interactive and meaningful food activities that will make the property a remarkable venue that not only offers great stays and beautiful sceneries but also food experiences that people would want to come back.
He said that the three restaurants within Anantara Salalah are all unique with Al-Mina and Sakalan offering not just the fresh catch of the day banking on Dhofar's waters for fresh seafood but also iconic views of the pools and the beach. As for Mekong, Chef Luke said that it is well-positioned as one of the best Asian restaurants in Dhofar if not Oman and they would continue to refine many of its offerings in the coming days.
"Inviting the Michelin-starred chefs over to give a different food experience is just the beginning of how we wanted to transform the dining experience not just in the property but Salalah in general. We had received a lot of positive reviews on these initiatives and we are consistently looking for even more meaningful ways on how to top up the experiences that we already provided," he said.
Chef Luke assured that they still have plenty of other food developments on their sleeves and that the majority of people in Muscat who are not aware of the food scene in Oman constantly monitor what's going on in the south because of the kind of dining experience they will provide will definitely be something unique in the country.