It’s very rare that I would go to a restaurant “cold” – that is with literally no idea what to expect in terms of food or experience.
Usually Doha-based foodies would have swarmed a new venue, picked it apart and shared it on social media. Or, the fooderati (I say that with my tongue very firmly planted in my cheek) would have been invited and posted glowing reviews.
The Shanghai Club at the Shangri-La Doha opened a few weeks ago with a glitzy party. Then…silence. No reviews. No chatter. Only online ads. With AZ out of town, I rounded up Alicia and we headed to the 43rd Floor to see what the big foodie mystery was.
I’ve only really eaten at one outlet at the Shangri-La and found the concept interesting but a little unfinished like the hotel at that stage. It’s been a long time between visits and all I knew was that the Shanghai Club had a dim sum master and a bar.
So…about that bar. We exited the elevators and were met with what seemed like a party in full swing. You know that bar scene post Friday brunch where the decibel level is a dull, mildly hysterical roar? That.
You have to walk through that gauntlet to get to the restaurant and the soundtrack of the meal is punctuated by cackling from the bar and the odd tipsy rendition of Happy Birthday. It’s a little confronting and probably not the best design concept in a country like this.
That said, the dining room itself is stunning – floor to ceiling views of D-Town’s lights. There are booths for more privacy as well as tables facing the views. It’s a date night dream…except for the bar. There is a quieter “lounge” upstairs which is more my style.
The menu itself includes a large selection of dim sum plus regional Chinese favorites. There is also an extensive cocktail list (including an excellent selection of gin cocktails) and a small but very reasonable wine list.
The gin cocktails are delivered in glasses the size of fish bowls, which was a sweet relief to gin princesses like Alicia and myself.
This is probably the only restaurant in the country serving the infamous Shanghai-style Xiao Long Bao, also known as “soup dumplings”. A bit of lard or fat is added to the meat filling and when steamed, it melts, forming a “soup” in the dumpling. They can be dangerous for beginners as the broth is steaming hot and unpredictable.
This Doha version was good, perhaps a little modified for the unsuspecting Doha crowd and could have done with a little more heat. That said, out crab filling was delicate and the tobiko, or flying fish roe, offset the sweetness.
A serving of asparagus and wild mushroom “hand bags” are encased in the flaky potato flour pastry. The filling was earthy and tasty but a little sparse. A firm favorite through was the baked parcels of red ginger and chicken.
These are crescents of almost buttery pastry stuffed with the fragrant chicken mix. We actually considered ordering another round.
The mains were greatly anticipated and frankly the stars of the meal. Alicia is usually lamb averse, but I convinced her to try the Chengdu-style braised Australian lamb with celery and cumin. I love Chinese lamb dishes and also their use of that great near and far eastern staple, cumin. Chengdu is known for its incredibly spicy Schezuan food, you know, the type with hundreds of firy chillis? This dish was off the richter scale hot – like whole chillis and garlic cloves. Like smack you around the cheeks with no warnings. It was also sweat-inducingly addictive.
On the other end of the scale was a beautifully delicate scallop dish, complemented but not overwhelmed by the barest hint of black truffle and a hint of chilli along with prawns and unusually, egg whites. I don’t know how, but the fluffy texture of the egg whites works in this dish. My only quibble is that there could have been more truffle (it was almost imperceptible).
We avoided rice and instead plumped for hand pulled noodles with beef. Again, a deceptive description. A small bowl of perfectly made noodles arrived, topped by chunks of beef. That beef was so tender it literally could be sliced with a chop stick.
Desserts are always a little hit and miss with both Alicia and I, but we were interested to see what was on offer. A lychee fried icecream was the dish of your childhood, without the scary dayglo sauce. Our adventurous souls also tried the glutinous dumplings stuffed with sweet black sesame paste in osmanthus soup, which traversed the fine line between sweet and savory.
Osmanthus is basically a shrub, but its flowers smell like peach. That hint of sweet worked beautifully with the stick-to-the-roof of your mouthyness of the glutinous dumplings.
The service in this restaurant are clued in, well trained and attentive but not overbearing. The floor manager was always on hand to explain the menu and despite being busy (most tables were full), our glasses were topped up and nothing seemed to be too much trouble.
Prices are what you would expect from a five star hotel. The seafood and meat dishes hovered around QR100 (except for wagyu and the Beijing duck which are expodentially more) and as I said the wine list has a good selection between QR160 an QR260.
While the restaurant itself doesn’t open until 7.30pm (except for Saturdays when they have a dim sum brunch), there is a happy hour menu in the bar from 5.30pm which looks very good value.
But those wanting to give it a try have a very tempting deal waiting for them. Until the end of October, they are offering desserts on the house. Also, members of the Shangri-La Golden Circle Club get 25 percent off the total bill (including drinks). I’ve been a long time member, but you can join before you arrive and simply present your number.
So, in all, for cocktails, a bottle of wine, three starters, three mains, two desserts and water, Alicia and I walked away having paid QR350 each.
That’s pretty outstanding value for food and service of this quality.
If you can deal with the ambient noise from the bar next door, this is a seriously good addition to Doha’s growing culinary scene. The food satisfies both the lover of traditional, high-end Chinese cuisine as well as those looking for something a little more modern. With one of the best views in town, when more people find out about it, it could be a major contender.
Levels 43 and 44 Shangri-La Doha
Phone: +974 4429 5295