In days of old, I used to love brunch. Like thousands of expats in Qatar and the UAE, it was kind of like a sport to me. Four hours of uninterrupted food and drinks in a plush environment surrounded by friends and fellow travellers? Count me in.
But my priorities changed – my stamina just wasn’t there anymore and I discovered there were things I would rather do on a Friday (sleep, hang out, watch the crime channel).
I’m now an occasional guest star at brunches but had a flurry of invites recently that merited further investigation. To be clear I was invited to each of these venues and did not have to pay – but my views and experiences are my own.
The economic scene in Qatar is pretty tight at the moment as it is in any hydrocarbon dependent nation right now. You can thank $30 barrels of oil for that. I thought that maybe the brunch scene here would be diminished – in fact its the opposite. True, people aren’t brunching as often, but now hotels are offering better value and more innovative options.
And sometimes, brunch isn’t even on Friday…
While it’s not really brunch because it’s on a Thursday…and at night…the Street Food Doha experience at the Marriott Doha is justifiably generating a lot of buzz. I’m calling it a brunch because it falls on a weekend.
The concept – unlike anything else in Doha – is unique. Using their myriad of outlets as the springboard, they set up “street food” stalls where you can wander along, choosing what takes your fancy and having it whipped up fresh in front of your eyes.
Stick food from Thailand, handmade dumplings from China, southern US fried chicken, proper old school tacos from Mexico, fish and chips and also a proper fish market where you choose your catch and have it cooked to order.
You can choose which outlet to be seated in – my advice is the Mexican as there is a fun band and a great vibe. Basically you grab a tray and trawl the stalls. you can get a drink along the way or have them delivered to your table. Then roll you sleeves up and chow down. No pretensions and no holds barred.
There are also no plates – food is served street food style in paper containers. It’s literally authentic. Highlights for me were the handmade dumplings and the Indian chaat. I also loved the fresh seafood – we devoured a huge crab leg that was cooked to order.
This is truly one of the most interesting offerings in the city right now – innovative and honest, delicious food and excellent value at Street QR240 and with alcohol QR335. That’s my Thursdays covered.
Back firmly in the realm of Friday brunch territory – I was invited to try the new Yabby Restaurant at the Shangrila brunch. I wanted to love this place. It’s an adults only brunch in a restaurant named after an Australian crustacean. And it had been getting rave reviews from certain sections of the blogging crowd.
The restaurant itself has about as much atmosphere as an airline lounge. That could be because we were seated near the actual food. The buffet itself is refreshingly small – a selection of fresh seafood, some starters then a menu of “main courses” you can order. The fresh seafood was excellent and the selection of small bites including sushi was very limited and somewhat repetitive but interesting – like a seafood devilled egg. Other smaller dishes were brought around. The chef is Portuguese and when he is allowed to explore these flavors, the place is on a winner.
To be honest, despite the very attentive service, it took some interrogation to have the concept articulated clearly. We realized, when it was time for dessert (which is serve din a different room), that behind the main buffet is a teppanaki grill – my nose led me to the smell of grilled prawns. This was never mentioned in two hours of our being there and I asked at least three times what was included. By then it was too late to truly enjoy that offering although the squid I tried was tender. Nor were the cocktails which are also part of the deal.
The mains themselves are very hit and miss. A 1970s style seafood voluvent (I literally haven’t had one in 20 years) showed retro promise but needed whack of seasoning. The seafood pasta was more successful – well cooked seafood with a light tomato broth. I also enjoyed the visually boring but lovely seafood pie – chunks of seafood with a potato topping. You can order as many of the small mains as you can eat which means you are likely to find something you like.
It’s early in Yabby’s tenure in Doha and this brunch has some strong points including the fresh seafood and kid-free environment. It’s also in the early days of opening and I am keen to return to see how they have refined their offering. But the chef should be let off the leash more to explore his mediterranean flavor arsenal and for QR320 with soft drinks and QR 440 with alcohol, needs to work harder to be a go-to brunch venue.
Clinging to the coast in West Bay is Trader Vic’s, that erstwhile good-time venue known the world over for its massive cocktails (including one named the Suffering Bastard – which I am sure is named after one of my ex-boyfriends) and its kitsch Tiki bar feel. Their Friday brunch dubs itself ‘Asian Polynesian”. I wasn’t sure what it means and after dining there I still don’t know.
It’s certainly a hefty amount of food – sushi, salads, a selection of fried starters including a decent calamari and their famous Crab Rangoon (I am a sucker for this) and finally mains including that Chinese restaurant throwback lemon chicken and a alarming little gimmick where you can grill your own chicken and beef skewers at the table using liquid fire (it’s a long story).
All washed down with their lethal cocktails including the Tiki Tiki Puka Puka which is presumably what you do after eating all this food and booze in one sitting.
While I enjoyed the sushi and a handful of the dishes including a grilled salmon main (and of course the company of lovely hostess Noemi, and bloggers Gerald and Sara, I found some dishes over salted, over battered and over fried. But, the atmosphere is fun and there is a full page of lethal cocktails to choose from. At QR350 for brunch every Friday between 12.30pm and 3.30pm you can plunge headlong into a 1970s time warp.
Still on the coast and in the pan-Asian realm, Nobu Doha has entered the brunch game with a spectacular splash. I m going to be honest – I love this place. It’s sophisticated, a stunning location and the food is great.
I was invited with a group of picky food bloggers to try their new offering in its second week. As with Yabby, at that point there were some glitches to be ironed out – service was overwhelmed on that day by the crowd, oysters ran out and tables weren’t cleared with the same speed one is used to here.
But then there is the food.
There are six live stations including sushi, ceviche, crispy rice and the infamous oysters. A selection of starters are also served at the table.
There were some misses here including a jarring foie gras dumpling but the crunchy mini chicken tacos, miso eggplant and the sashimi selection (including a jalapeno one that made my mouth jump – in a good way) are sublime.
Then each diner can choose a main including signature dishes like their spicy rock shrimp, Chilean sea bass and a succulent king crab leg with a delicate shiso leaf salsa. Regular readers know I have a complex relationship with desserts, but I can vouch for the Nobu cheese cake in all its creamy glory.
As I said, this brunch experience was not without glitches – our servers looked like they were running a marathon as they kept up with the demanding crowd. the vibe was also fun and diverse – locals, families (perhaps taking advantage of the fact that they could bring their rugrats to Nobu) and expats out for a posh brunch. I’ve often said the dining room of this restaurant lacks atmosphere, but when it’s full of brunchers, it takes on a life of its own.
The brunch package includes signature cocktails like the divine lychee martini and the Japanese gimlet plus a selection of decent wines and spirits including Bombay Sapphire. It’s now been operating for more than a month and my advice is this is a great place for special brunch, especially the outdoor tables on the terrace. At QR475 all inclusive it’s at the “That’s expensive Marjorie” end of the spectrum, but well worth the stretch.
To be up front – each of these I was invited to as a guest and this is not a complete view of what’s new and interesting at the moment. There is also the new and massive St Regis Doha which combines all their outlets in a dining experience with entertainment. I haven’t tried it but it looks impressive but a hearing stories of long lines. Also W Doha outlets Spice Market and Market as well as Four Seasons Doha continue to be the “gold standard” brunches by which others are judged.
Times are a little tough in Doha at the moment. But when the going gets tough, the tough go to brunch.
*Life on the Wedge was a guest of the Four Seasons, Marriott Doha, Shangri la Doha and the Hilton Doha for each of these experiences. Views are my own unless they are Oprah’s. Because she’s awesome.