I used to be a prolific bruncher but around 18 months ago I gave up on the brunch scene in Doha.
It was a combination of factors that pushed me to the brink – other priorities on Fridays, work and finally, the lack of value for money.
It was around the time that brunches hit QR440 and frankly they weren’t great value for money – lavish buffets of tired salads and meat, the odd unique item and of course, the bubbles/booze. Some were so big they offered maps to diners, others felt like lining up at school cafeterias.
Brunch, I just wasn’t that into you.
I know that others started to feel the same way. It wasn’t us, it was them.
It took a while, but the hotels and restaurants around town started to catch on.
Perhaps it was the empty tables. Maybe it was the feedback. But things are starting to change for the better.
Last Friday I was invited to the inaugural Shangtastic Brunch at the Shangri-La Doha. Like my Shanghai Club experience at the same hotel, this was literally a blind tasting. I had a so-so brunch at their seafood restaurant Yabby earlier this year and was hoping they had upgraded the experience.
On paper, they had.
The brunch, on the last Friday of every month, sees Yabby, their popular smoke free bar The Den and also their South American steak house Fuego join forces. There are live stations, a dedicated cheese room (appropriately stinky) and an a la carte menu for each restaurant. Guests are sat in either restaurant and can browse between the two.
Arrival was a little confusing and chaotic as you would expect from a first brunch of this kind. Staff were rushed and working hard to greet everyone and escort them to their tables which is a nice touch but also slows things down.
When we were led to our table, I inhaled deeply. We were sat in Yabby which frankly has all the atmosphere of an airline lounge in an American regional airport.Also, we were sat next to the raw bar and the desserts. High traffic area and a little disappointing.
Things, thankfully, got dramatically better from there. Cocktails (South American themed), bubbles and menus were deposited by our charming waiter. Both outlets were full and the atmosphere ramped up with a DJ, diners exploring the stations and genuinely happy staff.
But what about the food? Well…it was on the whole, excellent.
Highlights included a perfectly medium rare fillet carving station, buckets of steamed seafood (including crayfish and lobster), creamy French oysters and a gazpacho station serving up the cold soup in cocktail shakers.
A raclette station in the the cheese room served up the hot and smelly cheese with fixings just the right way.
This wasn’t just a foodie brunch, it was one with a sense of humor. The soup station allowed you to fill up on chowder with a pop art inspired soup can. Meat pies were served in paper bags just like home.
From the a la carte menu, the soft shell crab slider was breaded and cooked just right with tangy remoulade. The classic fish and chips was a small but meaty fillet with chips dusted in an addictive salt.
From Feugo, the striploin arrived as a bijoux fillet but stunningly tender and medium rare. An Argentine style Milanese was breaded and fried and had us calling for more.
The only disappointing factor was the much anticipated meat pie station. While the pastry was spot on and flaky, fillings of medium rare beef or a tender chicken were chunky and stuffed just right, they were a cold on delivery.
That and the frantic welcome were both very minor dents in an otherwise excellent experience. The service was unobtrusive but also knowledgable and friendly. Glasses were topped up, food delivered as ordered with a smile.Controversially, this is also an adults only brunch and while some people may find this off putting it made for a great atmosphere.
A tip if you want to try next month, try and get a table in Fuego. It’s more clubby and cosy than Yabby which can be sterile, a little cold and disonnected. It was busy, and while some stations had a short wait, it didn’t feel like a canteen.Senior staff including the chefs went table-to-table speaking to diners, getting feedback and testing the concept.
At QR405 for the alcohol package, this is edging towards the top end of the Doha Brunch Index, but I have to say if you want a food-focused brunch, this is your sweet spot.
The Shangri-la was a hotel that was a long time in coming yet when it opened it felt a little unfinished. While it has been open for some time now, it seems that they have kept a low profile on the food scene and this now makes sense.
After trying the brilliant Shanghai Club last week then experiencing this brunch, it seems that the hotel and its team have actually taken the time to tweak and test their concepts, hire good people and worked hard to make the food memorable and interesting to their guests.
The Verdict: This could actually be the perfect storm of a brunch we have been waiting for – excellent, delicious food; a concept that seamlessly combines al la carte and live cooking stations, and value for money. There is a great variety, but it isn’t a vast quantity or just too much. In my opinion, when the brunch scene gets into full swing in coming months, this could be the one others look to for inspiration.
Shangri-la Shangtastic Brunch
Shangri-la Doha, Conference Center Road, West Bay
Last Friday of every month
Cost: QR305/QR405 with alcoholic beverages.
Phone: 4429 5295
*Life of the Wedge was a guest of the Shangri-la on this occasion, and I know you hear this ALL THE TIME, but opinions are my own. Seriously