We may look to our friends in the seemingly ever changing Dubai for what’s currently hip and cool, but here in Qatar, our dining ecosystem has a life of its own. As we head into February (how did THAT happen?) I thought it would be a good time to take the pulse of the city and see what we can expect from restaurants, hotels and others in 2017:
MORE CHAIN RESTAURANTS:
The opening of the Cheesecake Factory at the mammoth Mall of Qatar was more anticipated in some circles than the much discussed ABBA reunion. It’s just another in a long list of chains that see Doha as a rich market for their wares. Me? Not so much a fan, but you gotta give the folks what they want. And what they want is Carluccios, PF Changs and their like.
Friday is the new Saturday and while I’ve written about this before, and as the year opens, we’ve had a couple of hot new entrants in the weekend brunch market. The Shanghai Club at the Shangri-la Doha has an excellent take on a dumpling brunch every Saturday. And the always dependable JW’s Steakhouse at the Doha Marriott has just introduced a very American style brunch every Saturday with eggs benny, crab cakes and more.
I’ve been on the gin bandwagon since what is known as the “Great Tequila Incident of 2014”, where I was victimized by this Mexican clear beverage. The gin trend isn’t just Doha, it’s worldwide, with hundreds of small batch distilleries opening up. Here on home turf, we’ve seen gin bars pop up at Elements Doha and of course the pioneers, W Doha but expect to see it at more places around town this year.
While we see more and more chains entering the Doha market, I’m pleased to welcome more stand alone cafes in and around Qatar. Flat White is a stand out favorite but recently we saw Fleur Et Cafe open (flowers and coffee, that’s SOOOOO Instagrammable) as well as local favorite Tasmeem Cafe and Fanajeenopen and bring rainbow cappucinos to the people. check out the Al Wakra Souq area for some new openings as well.
We see them on Instagram and at fairs and bazaars around town, but with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce now issuing licences for these business, expect to see these micro businesses flourish in 2017 as new entrants offer a wider variety of food. Already we can get home made cookies, Vietnamese pho and of course any cake or sweet treat made to order.
This may have been done to death in other markets, but there is still mileage in this concept in Doha. This month St Regis Doha’s Opal is launching “London Twist” offering fish and chips and other comfort foods every Monday. The Irish Harp at the Sheraton Doha has introduced an evening brunch every Saturday with favorites like Beef Wellington and a full roast.
Restaurants here love a theme and in the quest to differentiate themselves from others in a competitive market, expect the gimmick factor to be high in 2017. Also, as diners, we sometimes tire of the familiar and want to try something new. Leaders in this are Grand Hyatt Doha with their regular theme brunches, but the Ritz Carlton Doha has set the bar high with their excellent monthly Superhero Brunch. Another to look forward to is Prime’s Taste of Australia at Intercontinental Doha The City in February. As we lurch towards summer, expect more targeted offerings as they fight for our dining dollar.
LUXE FOR LESS
Speaking of that almighty “dining dollar” or riyal, the big trend I am liking is giving a taste of luxury for a pocket friendly price. I had an interesting conversation with a hospitality professional last week, who said that while the volume of customers is still there, people like you and me are more selective how and when we spend our money. This is replicated across the city – from the high end hotels through the small neighborhood operators. Put it down to the economy or general nervousness. What it means is gains for us – the diner.
Nobu Doha was the early leader on this, with their popular Kanpai happy hour concept – giving you a selection of drinks and nibbles from the kitchen of one of one of the world’s top restaurants for a fraction of the price. Nozomi has a similar concept every week with their Tuesday happy hour, offering bites at a reasonable price in a luxe surrounding. Again at the St Regis Doha they are offering a range of discounts at their venues (for early diners or set menus), dubbed “Bespoke Dining Experiences”, which are actually very good value. At the still new Shangri-la, they are quietly offering discounts of up to 20 percent on your dining bill if you join their loyalty program. That’s the total bill, not just food. Westin Doha has introduced a “Sharing Menu” at their excellent Thai restaurant, Sabai Thai for QR100. The options are growing.
REVAMPS, REFRESHES AND RENOVATIONS
If it ain’t broke, just tart it up a bit. A great example of this is La Mer Bistro at Ritz Carlton Doha. for years it was a fine dining restaurant with an identity crisis. Extraordinary views. excellent food but few diners. The solution was to take the fine dining down a notch or two and stick to its French roots. It’s now a bistro, with French favorites, less drama, reduced prices and pretension and more customers. Some hotels in the city are hitting the five and 10 year mark, so expect more renovations and new takes on old favorites in coming months.
In all…a lot to like about these trends – especially the pocket friendly angle. What would you like to see more of in Qatar in 2017?