It’s the restaurant with the Russian name and pan-Asian menu. Beloved of celebrities and the brainchild of a main who is mates with Vladimir Putin, I did want to not like Novikov Doha. But I was also curious – the first “big name” to open alongside Galleries Lafayette in Katara’s faux European boulevard 21 High Street (admit it, you also want to say 21 Jump Street).Also the final restaurant in the much anticipated quartet of openings in Doha over the last six months and the reviews had ranged from rapturous to tepid.
This is also a market crowded with pan-Asian and Japanese restaurant, many of them excellent. Did we need another one?
We arrived at peak Saturday lunch time, without a booking and hoping a winning smile and a touch of luck would get us a table. The greeting warm and friendly. We were immediately shown to a table with a view of both the room and the impressive fish market display. I should talk about this – it really is the centerpiece to an already visually appealing room. Piled up with fresh fish, crustaceans and a bounty of vegetables, you can’t help but be drawn to it.We were quickly furnished with the restaurant’s free “shot of the day” – be warned there is no alcohol here – it was pomegranate juice served with a small selection of crudites and a tangy dipping sauce. Free snacks? I’m interested.
The menu is large. If it wasn’t for the fact the type is small, it would easily run to two or more pages. It runs the gamut of sushi, raw dishes, real caviar, dumplings, cooked seafood, wok dishes and a few meat and veggie dishes for good measure. To be frank the menu was overwhelming – I didn’t know where to start so had to seek guidance from our excellent waiter. We ordered a selection of what the waiter called “guest favorites” as well as our own preferences. You can also choose your own seafood or fish and have it cooked to order – wok fried, grilled, steamed.
A starter of mini Wagyu tacos (you can’t open a restaurant in Doha without mini tacos it seems) hit the spot – the shells stuffed to the brim with tender meat. A duck salad was next up and honestly, the star performer of the entire meal. We ordered because we had seem these plates, piled to a dizzying height with fresh greens, delivered to other tables. I had feared it would be all show and no go, but once delivered, the waiter starts his show – shredding the duck tableside and mixing the salad with its hoisin dressing. A heady ix of sweet, salty, savory and umami.
From the dumpling menu we chose chicken buns, a suggestion from the waiter. I was expecting the glutenous buns you get a dim sum, more casing than filling. We were proved wrong, the lightly spiced chicken filling was matched well with the fluffy, read like covering. I also liked that there were four – perfect for two or sharing between four. Nobody likes to be THAT person taking the third dumpling, or worse, missing out. I also find this is a cheeky way restaurants get you to order up.
Maki rolls came next. The shrimp tempura roll (call me basic but for me this roll a yardstick for a decent sushi spread) was still warm. It was covered with slithers of fresh avocado – a decent rendition of a crowd favorite. The highlight of this course was a scallop jalapeno roll – stuffed with the raw scallop and accompanied by a kicky sauce. It was delicate yet not overwhelmed by the chili.
Our “mains” were more hit and miss. A snow crab leg was cooked en point and came with three sauces (honestly, not needed) including a weirdly chunky and clunky tomato salsa. On its own, the crab meat held its own – soft and sweet and more than enough for two to share. However, the wasabi prawns, which showed great promise, were a let down. the prawns, covered in a batter were actually juicy and well cooked. The wasabi sauce was a gloopy and just too much. On the plus side, an accompaniment of Singapore noodles was a success, often noodles in this city are a let down. Not so, just the right balance of meat and vegetables and noodles.
We didn’t make it to desserts – although I did notice a selection of cakes and pastries – but our coffee on the terrace was a great way to end the meal.
The vibe and service
For a Saturday lunch, as you would expect a new opening, business was brisk and Novikov Doha only recently started opening for lunch. Tables filled up by 2pm with couples and a few big groups. The outdoor area (which is cooled) was empty but I imagine this would come alive after 5pm. Service was informative and attentive without being overwhelming. We did have a minor issue – we wanted to take home leftovers (I am my mother’s daughter). But the restaurant as yet didn’t have the containers or the waiver (a newish trend for Doha and the rest of the world is signing waivers for doggy bags) in place as yet. I hate food waste and maybe we did over order, but really this needs to be sorted out. To be fair, our waiter and two managers came over to explain this.
I’m not going to lie, when we got the bill it was in the vicinity of QR900 and there was a distinct, audible intake of breath. For a casual Saturday lunch, that stings. BUT, we ordered heartily, there was a king crab leg (QR225) in the mix and Novikov Doha doesn’t pretend to be budget friendly. Starters and sushi sit at around QR35 to QR80 (up to an eye watering QR290 for a lobster tempura rolls) depending on the dish, rice and noodles from QR45 and mains from QR70 but most in the QR90 wheelhouse. their signature Peking Duck is QR300. We didn’t even look at the caviar (starting from QR590 for 50g) or the foie gras dishes, which as you can expect, clocked in at budget busting levels. I was also a little underwhelmed by paying QR30 for a Diet Coke – sign of the taxing times I know.
Does Novikov Doha live up to the hype? As I said, I had been prepared to slate this place. But, I am happy to be proven wrong. With fresh, mostly crowd pleasing dishes, engaged staff and a crowd magnet location (which would be stunning at night), I would make a return visit, but the prices mean it could be a special occasion restaurant.
21 High Street, Katara Plaza
*Surprise! No disclaimer. I paid for the meal myself.