Muscat’s foodie culture has been expanding over the last few years, with all sorts of new restaurants coming up, but I always wondered why there weren’t any young, urban-feeling cafes built to draw the fashionable, young set like in other cities around the world. These thoughts were drifting through my mind one Saturday as our car meandered along the ever-busy roads of Qurum, and I caught a glimpse of new signage from afar. We parked and stepped into the brand-new Copper Restaurant, and my mid-day laziness vanished.
I must admit, I fell for the charms of Copper straight away. Upon entering, the first thing that caught my attention was a majestic red motorbike. “This is from Johnny Pag,” said Gregory Maclean, of the Iconic American-designed accent piece. Gregory is Australian chef whose years of culinary expertise and passion for food, along with years spent in the Sultanate, inspired him to open an urban hipster concept-restaurant. As far as the design went, he had succeeded in doing just that.
A few steps further inside a set of bicycles were neatly stacked on one side of the shop, while on the other side there was an array of spare bike parts arranged as wall art. But what really took my heart were the lights that not only provided soft illumination to the dark-wood interior, but also lended it a chic, industrial look.
“We wanted to introduce a café culture to the youth with an urban hipster theme. So apart from the bikes and cycles we have also used the corrugated iron fence around the kitchen, something that is very common in Australia, but perhaps the first here in Muscat,” said Gregory. But what about the food? Great design and great food are a tall order here in Muscat.
“Though Copper was started with the youth in mind, people from all age groups can sit and relax and enjoy a selection of cuisines, from breakfast to dinner, we have everything to create a truly urban experience,” he said as he handed over the menu. One look at the fresh, eclectic menu, and I was sure I wouldn’t make the right choice, so I handed it back to him and let the chef decide for us.
“The food here is basically Austral-Asian, which is more about fresh grill, fresh salads, and light spicing. The idea is that one can walk out of this place feeling good about the whole experience of eating.”
Perhaps the most authentically hipster thing about the place is the dedication to great food and the use of locally grown, farm fresh, organically produced ingredients — a staple of the urbanista cafes around the world, but a new concept here. “We do not serve any kind of processed food.
Everything that is used here is locally available and we use lot of local ingredients like chillies, garlic, and lettuce. Our main intention is to introduce the different cuisines of the world,” Gregory explained. We started our food journey with the so-called Furikake, potato fries tossed in cheese custard and fish floss and garnished with Japanese mayo, scallions, coriander leaves, and roasted sesame.
Furikake refers to a dry seasoning used in Japan that can be sprinkled on top of cooked rice, potato, vegetables, and fish for delicious, umami flavour. These with roasted sesame toppings for extra crunchiness and coriander leaves adding to the freshness, these fries certainly lived up to their exotic name.
Next up, we enjoyed chickpea and edamame salad, a refreshing and colourful combination of parsley, labneh, cheese, pumpkin seeds, lots of herbs, pomegranate, and roasted corn, the salad invigorated our taste buds as many flavours were packed in one dish.
The mains appeared next, an Asian-inspired short rib over endamme and carrot puree, and fish tacos. While I gave short ribs a miss, I couldn’t say no to the fish taco, which featured grilled kingfish topped with Japanese mayo. Exploding with flavours, the combination of fish and herbs folded in a soft corn tortilla.
To fully enjoy this dish you need to get casual, forget your fork, and get your hands dirty. Throwing out some of the rules of dining etiquette, I relished this dish to my heart’s content while my colleague sank his teeth into the tender short ribs (he says they were fantastic).
For those looking for fresh grills, try Cape Malay spiced chicken with sweet corn and mango chutney; Auzzie lamb chops; jumbo prawns; or miso salmon. But whatever you do, keep room for one of the luscious, house-made desserts, like crème brulee, chocolate torte, and fried choux pastry with sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate sauce. They also have daily-made cakes and homemade ice creams along with an elaborate breakfast menu, but smitten and full, we decided to keep that for our next visit.