It seems like they came all at once – a flurry of new restaurants and bars opening in Doha within days of each other after a long period of stagnation in the food scene. Always willing to put myself in the line of fire, I checked out Peruvian restaurant La Mar, Mexican offering Maya and Cuban joint La Vista 55 – all in the name of research – and there’s a lot to be excited about. Here’s my take on each of them, what to expect and what you should order:
I’m not going to lie, La Mar and its upstairs bar Manko are among the most exciting things to happen to the dining scene here since Nobu opened three years ago. The building itself – on the beach at the Intercontinental Doha – is a surprise – two levels occupying a prime site on the beach – soaring ceilings, sleek interiors and views for days.
The food, is also on another level. Don’t expect Peruvian food to come and slap you in the face with its spiciness. This is a subtle cuisine and a fascinating blend of Spanish, Chinese and Japanese influences – many recipes combine chilli with soy sauce and cumin and it is very seafood heavy. You also see the addition of cheese in some dishes – for example a scallops served on the shell with a creamy cheese sauce.
I’ve already been to this restaurant twice – once as a guest and once paying my way – and both times the food was spot on and fellow diners are showing similar enthusiasm. A pleasant surprise are the prices – comparatively pocket friendly by Doha standards (my recent visit saw drinks, three starters and two mains come in around QR550). Manko, with three separate bar areas and views across the beach, will become an instant favorite.
Must order: Lomo Saltado (Peruvian steak and chips – trust me on this one), any of the cebiches (seafood lightly cured with lime juice) and the seafood rice (Peru’s take on the paella – perfectly cooked seafood on a bed of spiced rice). the restaurant also has a selection of drinks made with Pisco, so it would be a shame not to try one! Note: Manko opens this week.
I’m so happy to see the excellent and prolific US-based chef Richard Sandoval back to his best in Doha. Maya, which will fully open soon, sticks to traditional, simple and well executed Mexican food. I’m also a fan of a place that lets you customize your own margarita (the long bar is a highlight of the interior design).
Enchiladas, tacos and fajitas all feature, but there is also guacamole made with fresh tuna, ceviche and more substantive dishes like a braised lamb barbecoa (shredded or “pulled”) and simply delicious. The vibe is very relaxed – I’m happy to see more restaurants go for this rather than stilted and serious service. Maya makes it a trio of Doha restaurants for Sandoval – with the improved Zengo and Toro Toro added to the mix (he jettisoned the once great Isla and I’m sad to say it shows in the food).
Must order: This is a no-brainer. The guacamole is made fresh to order and at your table and the fish tacos are crunchy, spicy and addictive. Special mention to the Mexican style baby corn – where has this been all my life?
Cuba meets Qatar 55 floors up. Formerly a very gloomy and nondescript bar, La Vista 55 at the Intercontinental Doha The City injects new life into what is great space with a million riyal view. The place has had a makeover, with colorful murals and a band that plays nightly. With Cuban bar staff and a chef from Havana, the food is one of the most surprising elements.
Dubbed “homestyle” Cuban food, it’s heavy on the comfort and is paired nicely with the cocktails which run from the traditional (mojitos) to the not-so-traditional (one is infused with cigar smoke). Opening to the public from 1 November, happy hour will be daily from 5pm to 8pm.
Must order: The crisp yuca fries are a revelation as are the turkey ham croquettes which are crunchy, creamy and downright dreamy. The tres leches cake is also the perfect sweet end to your night out.
Future state: Keep an eye out for Indego 360 by chef Vineet. Billed as the “highest Indian restaurant’ in the world at 42 stories up, this chef loves tricked up presentation and bold flavors. it’s located in one of the twin towers at the entrance to The Pearl. We’re also still waiting to see Doha’s take on Novikov, the seafood heavy Chinese/Japanese international favorite which has no opening date but many hoping before the end of 2018.
Please read my fine print (no magnifying glass needed)…