I made my list…I checked it twice. What a year 2018 was – a slew of new restaurant openings at all price points, some old favorites getting their groove back and even a few falling by the wayside. This year’s top eats in Doha list was tough to compile – there is a lot to love about the dining scene at the moment and I was determined to keep the list as short and sharp as possible.
This is a great reflection of the best of my year in dining – splurge worthy experiences as well as well executed food made with genuine passion, regardless of the price point.
As opposed to last year, when times were more uncertain, we’re starting to see more investment in restaurants and people spending again. Brunch is back baby – I see Friday (and Saturday) brunch venues around town booked solid. We’ve had a slew of new restaurant openings over the last quarter of the year – each bringing a new dimension to the market – Peruvian, Mexican, Cuban. At the other, more pocket friendly end of the market, we have seen some breakthrough independent restaurants shaking things up. Another trend I have seen is restaurants that have previously not lived up to their potential, given a new direction and purpose – even a couple that I have been critical of.
And 2019 promises more – STK at the revamped Ritz and the long awaited Novikov at Katara.
You can also add The Pearl Social by Jason Atherton at the Marsa Malaz to this list – early word is the food is great.
There were also some venues I expected to shine but again missed the mark this year. Disappointingly, there was no dish from W Doha – the second year in a row. I’ve had good meals there and always have a great time, just nothing that has really shined for me on the culinary front. I’m hoping 2019 sees a change and brings back that leading edge.
I’m not choosing a top dish again this year, but everyone of these dishes has been memorable for all the right reasons. So, with all the drama I can muster at this time of year, here is my list of top dishes in 2018 drum roll please
All credit to the team at Four Seasons Doha – they get this a super competitive market and continue to push their venues to be creative and reach a wider audience. They GET it. I’ve always been a fan of Elements but thoughts its menu was too broad and wasn’t playing to their strengths. Sensibly, the team recently whittled it down to Asian – Chinese, Thai and Indian – and it has paid off. This excellent dish could be served anywhere on the streets of Chengdu and be taken as authentic. It’s not the prettiest dish but what it lacks in visual allure it makes up for in flavor. Firey, smokey, peppery and a little sweet – it’s enough to turn me veggie. Almost…
2. Cebiche Classico /Lomo Saltado at La Mar
If there has been a breakout performer this year, it was La Mar. Much anticipated, it could have easily disappointed. But thankfully for Doha’s foodies it delivered in spades – new and challenging Peruvian flavors, excellent service and a location to write home about. I have included two dishes because I couldn’t decide.
The cebiche classico is a standout dish and probably their signature – whitefish cooked in a “tiger’s milk” of lime juice, spiked with sweet potato and corn. The lomo saltado – steak and chips but not as you know it – is a heady mix of spices and textures and both comforting yet also challenging. This restaurant has already shaken up the dining scene – expect more fireworks next year.
The Westin Doha keeps delivering good food without fanfare. Their underrated Hunter’s Grill introduced a new lunchtime menu this year, the highlight being this chicken breast burger. Piled high with avocado and polished off with a kicky chipotle mayo, the bread is also a winner. Proof that you don’t need to reinvent the dining wheel or offer gimmicks to deliver tasty, well executed food.
If there was a “most improved” award for Doha dining, it would go to Zengo Doha. This place had always – in my view – under delivered and under performed thanks to a confused menu and too much hype. The chef went away, refined the menu and cooked more of what he loved. the result is a 360 degree turnaround. This roll is made with A5 grade wagyu in all its buttery glory and given a bigger punch thanks to a slightly tart pesto (special mention for the scallop ceviche also pictured). I know Zengo has many fans – I am now one of them.
Morimoto Doha seems to divide Doha diners – but i am an unashamed fan. After a bit of a wobble at the start, I believe it has hit its straps. I tried this risotto at its new Saturday brunch and was struck by the fact it was so NOT Japanese but then again…it was. Creamy, al dente rice and the almost basil-like flavor of the shisho. Asparagus and peas add texture and crunch. Trust me. It works.
Again, I couldn’t decide. I eat at Nobu Doha often enough to know the menu well but also know its executive Chef Andrew likes to innovate and surprise. Earlier this year my tastebuds were treated to a wafer thin wagyu beef carapaccio with truffle and mushroom. The meat was soft and almost melted on touch and the truffle was just earthy enough to tease me but not overwhelm. Special mention to the Caesar salad potato mochi (like a tater tot but so much better), candied pecans and a wasabi truffle dressing.
This is the little restaurant that could. Opening this year, this family-run joint has been packing in happy diners with their menu of Indonesia, Malaysian and Flilipino favorites. This is food for the soul and cooked with real flair and love. Their Nasi Lemak – the Malaysian breakfast staple – is a riot of flavors and textures – from the coconutty rice to the salty and crunchy tiny fried dish and nuts accompanying it. If you love Asian food, head to Mansoura and do yourself a favor (it’s worth the Hunger Games style challenges to get parking).
The bland hotel interiors of this cafe belies the foodie treats that lie within. The South African chef here has made a real effort with the new menu to showcase something new and interesting while also making regulars happy. Everything here is made in-house and it shows. This take on the traditional poached eggs breakfast wowed me earlier this year and I keep returning for more. With a crispy on the outside and soft on the inside crab cake layered with avocado, the poached eggs are topped with a decadent Bearnaise sauce. It’s enough to have me craving breakfast for dinner.
Deep fried cheese you say? I’m all in! this surprising little restaurant hiding in plain sight at The Gate Mall serves fusion food – which on the face of it could be a bit of a gamble. One that pays off it seems. Influences come from as far afield as Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia.The menu is full of interesting dishes like this excellent Brie-age – a take on Japanese karaage which is a a method of cooking coating chicken or other items in a potato starch and frying in oil. Kind of like an amped up tempura. At Yugo they apply this to brie and and serve it with a sweet apple and ginger chutney – heaven on a plate.
A breakout star of the dining year has been La Vista 55 – the Cuban-inspired bar that rose from the ashes of the gloomy Strata at Intercontinental Doha the City. Cuba Libres and other cocktails aside, the menu of bar bites is a stunner. Shining the brightest is the yuca fries – crispy on the outside and pillowy soft inside, they are served with a tangy vinaigrette. there is no going back to flaccid french fries after this.
A list of superb dining experiences in Qatar is not complete without mention of IDAM. It is a rare combination of exceptional food, location and attention to detail. This dish was from their special Ramadan menu (I actually wanted to nominate the entire menu – but I showed restraint) and was as understated as it was stunning. It was at once comforting yet also unique thanks to the fennel. With local ingredients as a centerpiece and a French sensibility, it’s hard to fault IDAM.
Of course, it’s all based on my experience and opinion. You might think there is a glaring omission? Feel free to share in the comments below.
In the meantime – happy eating and bring on 2019!