(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) The weather may have been slightly chillier than many were expecting, but the Oman Today Restaurant Awards 2012 (OTRA), held on February 7 at Shangri-La's Barr al Jissah Resort & Spa's outdoor amphitheatre, was full of surprises to keep everyone entertained. From a delicious four-course meal including a chocolate and mango themed dessert buffet to a surprise flash mob, the evening was hailed as a success by all.
This year's awards saw a record 394,000 votes cast by the public in two months to whittle the 99 participating restaurants down to three finalists in 13 categories. A team of five judges then took over and anonymously visited each of the finalists to decide the winner in each category. They were Karen Van de Ruit, Mansoor Jamal, Nick Smith, Sami Sheikh and Mihir Khimji.
Two categories that are not open to public voting are the Restaurant Manager and Food Hygiene awards. All finalists are automatically entered into the competition for these two categories and judge Annie Boslem decided on the winning Restaurant manager while National Hospitality Institute's Food Safety Academy decided on the restaurant with the best Food Hygiene.
Bank Sohar, Saraya Bandar Jissah and African & Eastern sponsored the event, which is in its 11th year, and senior officials were there on the night to be presented with plaques to thank them for their support.
Dr Mohammed Abdulaziz Kalmoor, CEO, Bank Sohar, said, ''Bank Sohar is there for the OTRA as we want to be involved in everything that makes Oman tick, and hospitality is a part of that. We are really happy to be a part of this event as we believe hospitality is an important part of both the tourism and employment industries that is essential in Oman's future.''
The string of surprises began with the guests realising as soon as they settled down that there was no emcee on the stage to conduct the proceedings. Within seconds though, the face of Issam Sultan appeared on the two giant screens onstage. More than a formal introduction, what followed was a performance with a series of trademark one-liners to set the mood for the evening.
Next on screen was Shawqi Sultan, who picked up effortlessly from where Issam left off, cleverly blending humour with details of the voting process. Rounding off the onscreen segment was Rana Dabbous, who came up with an Oscar speech of sorts, even remembering to thank her pet hamster.
Then there was the Jazz band Downbeat that kept everyone entertained until the main course, where guests were surprised again when a flash mob from Latin Dance Muscat 'interrupted' an announcement from Mohana Prabhakar, CEO and managing editor of Apex Press and Publishing. The number of dancers “ all of whom were dressed as waiters “ slowly began to grow as the routine continued and the group spread out among the audience.
The 2012 awards were then handed out by Mohana and Saleh Zakwani, chairman of Apex Press and Publishing. The Grand Hyatt Muscat proved the big winner of the evening as it took home five awards for Far Eastern - Marjan, Buffet - Mokha Caf, Italian and Service “ Tuscany, plus Restaurant Manager - Belinda Humphries, Mokha Caf. The Crowne Plaza Muscat took home two awards for Food Hygiene - Come Prima and Pub Food - Dukes Bar.
Al Tanoor at Shangri-La's Barr al Jissah Resort & Spa won the award for Middle Eastern, while Fine Dining went to China Mood at Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
The Restaurant at The Chedi Muscat won for Ambience and in a new category for this year - Restaurant Chain - Trader Vics at the InterContinental Muscat was selected as the winner.
The Newcomer award went to The SteakCompany and Nas'ha al Salmi, owner, said, ''I was speechless when I found out we had won and we want to thank all our customers who voted for us and remain incredibly loyal to the restaurant. When the competition started I didn't think we had a chance, but the assurance of our regular customers and now this win make me feel like we are offering something really special at The SteakCompany.''
Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf won in the Caf segment, while Mumtaz Mahal took home the best Indian restaurant award and Casual Dining went to Left Bank.
Once the awards had been distributed, guests moved onto a sumptuous dessert buffet and Sean Hennessey, general manager, African & Eastern, commented that he was amazed at how the award organisers, Apex Press and Publishing, manage to top the previous year's event every time. He added, ''It is a great partnership of us with the OTRA and it is one that we take very seriously. I hope that we can continue to help raise the bar with this event every year.''
On the success of the evening, Sheikh Hamood Sultan al Hosni, CEO, Saraya Bandar Jissah, said, ''It was a fantastic night and an event that we are proud to be associated with and happy to continue to support it in the future as I feel this is the only event that recognises the restaurant managements' efforts to improve on their quality of food an