Honestly I haven’t had the best start to 2017. Things haven’t gone to plan, and given that I gave up planning things in late 2016, that should give you an indication of my current mind set.
I needed to get out and about, drink a cocktail or three, eat some good food and talk some hard core nonsense.
That’s how we ended up at Zengo for brunch last Friday. Part of Richard Sandoval’s global culinary empire, it’s yet another of his Doha outlets following Toro Toro and Isla. I had been to the opening night and found the space stunning, the pan-Asian food interesting and the entire project brimming with potential.
A fusion restaurant with a Japanese spin, it’s sushi heavy. This is also reflected in the concise but interesting brunch menu. Eschewing the endless buffets for an a la carte menu which ranged from the aforementioned maki rolls, sashimi, rice cakes and a papaya salad.
The shrimp tempura roll was warm on arrival, a sign that it was made a la minute. Both it and the vegetarian rolls (which unusually included dried tomato) bore what would learn is the hallmark of this restaurant – beautiful presentation. From the plates through to the perfect flowers delicately placed on each roll, the presentation is extraordinary.
A pomelo salad was salty sweet and not too spicy while Japanese crispy rice, showing echoes of Nobu Doha‘s famous ones, were a little overwhelmed by their somewhat muddy tuna toppings. The seared tuna was on point, delicately matched by a lemon gel and pickled onions.
Moving onto the hot starters, highlights for our table were the perfectly fried shrimp tempura, which managed to have the right amount to batter to prawn. I’m a sucker for anything on a stick, and add peanuts and chicken to that equation and I am a happy girl. Their satay sticks were juicy and smothered in the tasty sauce, which could have done with a kick of chilli.
Served with pickled vegetables and a proficient nasi goreng studded with chicken and snow peas, I could have ended the meal there and been happy. Sadly the chicken siu mai dumplings, which looked fat and juicy were actually tasteless and disappointing.
The mains (yes there is more food!) on paper looked less interesting than the starters. But in most cases, we judged too soon.
The star of the show, and perhaps the entire meal, was the cornfed chicken curry. A green curry, perhaps a little mild for some, was wonderfully creamy. The chicken itself (a little light on – there could have been more for the size of the bowl) was fork tender. Baby Thai eggplants and water chestnuts added crunch and texture. This is a standout dish and one I would order without hesitation again.
A Szechuan style beef dish was tender, silky perfectly spiced and bulked up by baby corn and mushroom. It wasn’t the “in your face” chilli hit, rather a slow burn. The miso salmon was a late surprise, giving a sticky hit of umami. A wrong note for the table were the Korean-style lamb ribs. Adventurous at best, they were a little too challenging for us although spicy sauce was excellent, the meat was too overwhelming.
I don’t eat desserts as a rule and as my friend Lesley noted, you don’t go to brunch for the desserts. These seemed a bit of an afterthought. I did enjoy the tropical fruit but a bait and switch saw us served a coconut and white chocolate ball (rather than the promised black sesame creme brule) which was far too rich.
The cavernous dining room is both Zengo’s crowning glory but also somewhat of a curse. During the day the views are extraordinary and on a clear day you can see…Saudi. But on our visit with a handful of tables for this brunch it was lacking in atmosphere. At night this is reversed and the floor to ceiling windows add to the after dark sexy vibe which is perfect for date nights.
Service was attentive, knowledgeable and relaxed but not overbearing which is what you need for a brunch with friends. The brunch offering is QR350 including wine and a decent selection of house cocktails or QR250 with water and soft drinks. This is competitive with other brunches around the city and happily, the a la carte set-up offers something for everyone.
The verdict: Still a fairly new entrant on the Doha dining scene and sitting 60 odd floors above Doha, Zengo’s culinary ambitions are as high as its location. While it’s clear in some cases they are still refining their dishes, their brunch menu shows this is a restaurant you should be adding to your list in 2017.
61st Floor, Kempinksi Doha, West Bay
Phone: 4405 3560