OmanPride: Chef Salim Al Kalbani, putting the essence of Oman on a plate
March 19, 2017 | 7:26 PM
by Swati Dasgupta
Chef Salim Al Kalbani. Photo Shabin E.

“Which fort would you like to sit on?” Chef Salim Al Kalbani asked us. We gave him a blank stare, unable to understand what he meant. This was until we walked into the sprawling grounds of Al Loomie, a newly launched restaurant in a quaint corner of Al Bustan Palace Hotel. Sauntering in through the gates, the lush greenery around us immediately grabs our attention.

However, besides the greenery, it is the unassuming ambience of the place that makes it so special. It is earthy, simple, cosy, yet unique. A few steps later, we see a few fort-like structures, and that is when we understood what the chef had meant earlier. Named after the different regions of Oman, these forts are actually dine-in areas, where customers could have a private gathering with friends, a meeting with your office colleagues, or just a quiet dinner with your loved one.

Chef Kalbani, the man who has charmed the whole of Oman with his culinary skills, knows how to charm with his words, too, as he tells us about the concept of his restaurant. Recalling his growing up years and his culinary journey, he told us how he had become a chef, despite not being formally qualified for it. However, he was fiercely confident and nothing could deter him from fulfilling his dreams.

“It started as a hobby. I had the urge and love for cooking since childhood, and it developed more when I got married. Both of us, my wife and I, were always busy experimenting with food,” says Kalbani. It was the burning desire to cook that made Kalbani the self-taught chef that he is today, and while he dons many roles at Al Loomie, his core strength lies in the kitchen. He had a humble beginning with his home-based catering service, called ‘The Dried Lemon’, which he started with his wife Amal Al Khabori.

“We started The Dried Lemon, which was more of a high-end catering service, where we made canapés, wedding cakes, and more. It was quite a hit among the people here in Oman,” recalled Kalbani. Kalbani’s expertise lay in serving Omani cuisine with a twist, and that earned him laurels. After the success of The Dried Lemon, there was no looking back for the couple. “Soon after the success of The Dried Lemon, we started getting offers from different hotels to cook Omani food.

From Six Senses Zighy Bay and Shangri-La to Al Bustan Hotel and international expos, we were invited as guest chefs,” said Kalbani. “People often asked us, ‘Why don’t you start your own restaurant?’ and that is when we had the confidence to go ahead with Al Loomie, a unique restaurant where you can have fine dining in a rustic setting,” said Kalbani. During his visits abroad, he had a chance to meet several Michelin star chefs with whom he exchanged ideas, and this further motivated him to start his own venture. “When we were shown this location, we fell in love with the place. This place had a garden and pathways, and we decided to build the fort-like structures,” said the chef.

At Al Loomie, if you do not want to dine in the plush enclosure of the forts, you can dine outside, or on Majlis-like seating. “We have made arrangements for seating on the floors, which is the traditional Omani style,” added Kalbani. Known for his contemporary Omani fusion cooking, Kalbani makes sure that he adds Omani flavours and spices to any dish he rustles up. “I always loved to play with food, and never thought I would end up making it my profession. For me it was just a hobby, where I was mixing and matching different cuisines,” recalled Kalbani.

While Kalbani caters to all kinds of customers, he prefers people to place a prior booking at Al Loomie so he can serve them properly. “Though there are lot of walk-in customers, and we cater to all, we prefer people to call and come, so that we can plan and serve them well,” explained the chef. (For bookings and details call + 968 9097 6666)

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