It’s a brave move to open a hotel like the Mondrian Doha in the kind of environment Qatar is currently experiencing. But the Mondrian is a rare breed of a hotel for Qatar – lavish and design driven, even a little eccentric, it boasts TWO celebrity chef helmed operations and a lot of confidence. The Japanese restaurant Morimoto is one of those restaurants – the latest outpost in the empire of the mercurial Chef Masaharu Morimoto.
Well known to foodies for his star turns on the cheesy yet addictive original cooking game show Iron Chef and later Iron Chef America (The Chairman’s hair and quotes deserved their own TV series), his empire stretches from the Vegas to Mumbai and now finds a home in Doha’s newest five star hotel.
Qatar has a seemingly insatiable appetite for Japanese food, with a roll call of high and mid range restaurants serving food ranging from the excellent to the downright confusing. This has a lot to do with a local aversion to raw fish and a very real love of “cooked” Japanese food like maki rolls – the more elaborate the better – as well as tempura and beef dishes.
I accepted the invite to Morimoto with an open mind and little information. Reviews of Morimoto have been few and far between. Admittedly, at the time this is being published, it has only been open for six weeks. I had tried and liked both CUT by Wolfgang Puck and the excellent Hudson Tavern, so when the invite came for me to try the restaurant, my curiosity was raging.
Before you even clap eyes on the menu, Morimoto Doha is an EXPERIENCE with a capital E. The rose gold “hall of mirrors” as you enter (sure to be the scene of a thousand Instagram posts) is stunning. Then there is “running the gauntlet” of the kitchen and its attached sushi bar before entering the dining room, at the heart of which is a a crystal lantern (again, bang on with an Instagrammable rose gold).
With three bar areas and a private dining room fit for a celebrity, this is well thought out space that works for groups or just “date night’. While the restaurant was three quarters full, it felt “buzzy” rather than noisy.
Before we get to the food, I want to linger a little on the drinks. Among Morimoto’s expansive empire also sits his own label ales and sakes. For those who do indulge, it’s worth a delve. But now to the the food. I know that’s what you are here for. In a restaurant like this, it’s best to place your faith in the experts and let them guide the way.
The evening kicked off with oysters with foie gras amuse bouche. I’m not a huge fan of the liver, but this was smooth and just earthy enough to complement the silky oyster. And can I say, I’ve loved seeing oysters back in play in Doha in recent weeks. Not just a seasonal quirk, the blockade means that food comes direct to Qatar now, bypassing our neighbors. Cheers to that!
A plate of hamachi (a white fish) tacos with avocados and yuzu (a Japanese lime) were sizeable and craveable as was a silky plate of tuna (toro) simply dressed with oil and citrus.
A “Chef’s Selection” of sashimi was at once both familiar and challenging. The octopus and the salmon were favorites of mine but the others (an oily mackeral) were a little outside my comfort zone (sorry peeps, eel just doesn’t agree with me). But you can’t argue with the spectacular presentation.
We managed to sample a new dish, not yet on the menu, of a tempura lobster maki roll. Aimed squarely at the local market, the lobster is tender and the batter has the desired crunch, with a bit of a kick administered by the sauce.
Speaking of spicy, a king crab dish (which is on the menu) is a generous portion of the sweet crustacean. And the creamy sauce packs a surprising punch but is balanced by a Thai inspired green mango salad. A must order for seafood lovers and one of my favorite dishes of the night.
A morsel of 10 hour braised beef short rib (beef kakuni) with ginger and soy and a rice congee was at equal turns surprising and homely. Kakuni means “square simmered” and the fat from the meat had turned gelatinous, meaning it was fall apart tender. I have a complicated relationship with congee, but this was neutral enough to let the meat be the star.
By the time we reached the mains, I was convinced I needed to do a lap of the restaurant to get me across the line. A trip to the bathrooms (an area bigger than my apartment), proves no detail in this hotel is left to chance.
Morimoto’s menu veers occasionally into the Korean peninsula and a great example of this was the crowd favorite, buri bop -the Iron Chef’s take the Korean classic bibimibop . Morimoto’s version is yellowtail (buri) on rice cooked at the table in a stone bowl heated to more than 300 degrees. Think of it like fried rice on steroids and the point is to ensure the rice on the bottom is crispy and crunchy and give it some body by stirring through a raw egg. This is one of Chef Morimoto’s signature dishes and he won Iron Chef Battle Rice (yes, it’s a thing) with this dish, so the pedigree and the execution here is strong and subtle. It was a good foil to the richness of the other dishes we indulged in.
A braised black cod with a ginger soy reduction was good but not quite in the black cod hall of fame with Nobu’s gold standard.
Another “oooohhhh” dish is the robata grill. Robata means hearth or fireside and it’s a Japanese take on the BBQ with meat, seafood or vegetables on skewers, each in their own marinade, grilled over hot charcoal. This style of food is meant to be slow grilled at high heat with regular basting, which is why you don’t actually grill it at the table (imagine the fire alarms regularly going off during your meal). Again, we tried a chef’s selection – the lamb tsyukune, a kind of sausage, was my favorite. Closely followed by the juicy chicken thigh. Also, I love food on sticks. Call me basic.
I can imagine his again being popular with local diners, a kind of Japanese take on the traditional Arabic mixed grill.
Regular readers know I’m not a fan of desserts, but a wobbly Japanese style cheesecake souffle was just sweet enough to signify the end of our meal. But the theater (and my flirtation with migraine territory) continued with a chocolate sphere with caramel ganache and rosewater syrup.
The evening ended as it started – with an ice cold glass of Korean style soju from Morimoto’s own line.
I have been vocal about the fact that I found Morimoto’s sister restaurant CUT expensive. Morimoto is hardly what you would call “pocket friendly”, but the price point is interestingly placed somewhere in the middle of the luxury five star road. For example, appetizers range between QR65 to QR120 and mains QR120 upwards (steaks obviously more). A chef’s selection for the robata grill starts at QR290 for two. The wine and cocktail list was also reasonable with some well priced wine by the glass. Servings, especially the starters, are sizeable which means that you could easily share a few and feel satisfied. I am not saying it’s cheap, just better value than many would expect.
I was a guest of the hotel for this dinner and while I don’t usually make a habit of reviewing a restaurant under these circumstances, Morimoto Doha warrants some attention.The Mondrian Doha and is restaurants have been eagerly anticipated and for me, so far, have lived up to their hype. Morimoto Doha offers a complete dining experience – beautiful location, excellent service and well executed food with a touch of the theatrical. This is a worthy addition to this city’s ever changing dining scene.
Must order: The spicy Alaskan king crab and the buri bop.
The Details: Morimoto at Mondrian Doha. West Bay Lagoon, Doha.
Phone: +974 4045 5555
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Categories: Restaurant Reviews