Doha’s dining scene can be fickle and driven by fads, as anyone who has seen a line outside the latest specialty coffee house can attest. A few weeks ago I went for my third visit to The Pearl Social at the Kempinksi Marsa Malaz. For a Friday night, the restaurant was at half capacity. The bar (aka the Diver’s Club) upstairs was busy. But the restaurant was not.
Occupying the spot that was once home to the overrated, overpriced and over itself Antica Pesa, the Pearl Social completes the trio of restaurants on the hotel’s mini island. This venue has been hit and miss – the location on the water is stunning. Toro Toro has finally hit its culinary straps after a shaky start, thanks to a new menu and more refined focus. While Nozomi continues to confound – great food and vibe at the start but its high prices tend to deter.
But back to The Pearl Social. To be fair, my first two visits were for the opening and for a visit by its celebrity chef founder Jason Atherton – not indicative of their menu or diner experience.
But a recent Friday saw me book a table with a group of friends on a whim. The outdoor terrace is perhaps one of the best in the city and on this still cool April night it was perfect. the restaurant interior meanwhile is clubby and comfortable and the floor to ceiling windows allow you to experience the view even with the looming Doha summer.
My only quibble with the outdoor space – it’s dark. Very dark. So dark you have to whip out your phone to peer badger-like at the menu. Extra mood lighting came later, but there’s romantic and then there is dark
On the subject of the menu, it leans heavily on flavors of the Mediterranean with starters, pastas, mains and even a crudo (raw) bar, an interesting risk in this market. It does have one annoying trope that restaurants globally just won’t give up – the tyranny of the “small plates”. Are you meant to share them? Or is it for one person? Can’t you just call them starters? I’m an only child – I hate sharing.
My food trend issues aside, the small plates on offer are so tempting we almost order all of them (OK now I get the point). A whipped burrata with honey glazed figs and sourdough toast is silky smooth and the fruit is sweet.
Burrata appears again and the prosaic menu description does not do justice a dish of Italian beef tomato and aged balsamic. The tomato had been blanched whole and peeled, encasing the cheese. The almost syrupy vinegar is tart yet smooth – swoon worthy.
A salad of olive oil poached lobster sees tender small medallions stud a melange of shaved fennel and leaves – the aniseed hit of the fennel lifting it beyond just another Doha salad. This was perhaps our most expensive dish,
My favorite dish of the night was a last minute order – salt cod with a slow poached egg and endive. Salt cod is a divisive dish, but i won the argument. The cod was pureed with potato – it was like comfort food had found a new incarnation – the creaminess taken up a notch thanks to the egg.
The mains on the menu on this visit were classic comfort food. A bowl of casarecce (the twisty pasta), basil, parmesan, pine nuts and rocket (let’s call it pesto ok folks?) was nutty and sharp thanks to the cheese. another bowl came with a deliciously tangy tomato sauce. Both pastas were hand made and al dente – a rare occurrence in this city. My selection of dish and chips was inspired if I do say so myself.
The hammour was just meaty enough for the perfectly crunchy batter that encased it. the chips were crisp and the tartare sauce was clearly house made.
Our appetites didn’t stretch to dessert but a quick word about the wine list. As is all alcohol in Qatar in 2019, it’s expensive. But a few decent bottles hover around the QR200 mark, making it a less painful proposition for a night out. On my most recent visit, service was slow to get started but once the full team was on deck it was seamless, discrete and well informed. My only annoyance is that cocktails, which are offered in the restaurant, are made in the upstairs bar. There was a noticeable delay between ordering and delivery, and they arrived almost at the same time as the first (small) plates of food.
Starters begin at QR35 and head upwards from there while mains sit at around QR75 for a bowl of pasta, QR160 for fish and QR200 plus for meat like a rack of lamb. These prices put it on par with say, Doha favorite La Spiga.
Whether by design or the fickle attitudes of Doha’s diners, the Pearl Social has been under the radar since it opened early in 2019. Either way this is a shame. This is simple, accessible but beautifully executed food in a setting many restaurateurs in this city would walk over broken glass for. this has been one of my best meals of the year food wise. Put bluntly the Pearl Social is the best restaurant in Doha you have never been to – and you should change that as soon as possible.
Marsa Malaz Kempinski
The Pearl Doha
*While I have been a guest of Pearl Social (at their opening party and during the Qatar International Food Festival) on previous occasions this review is based on a meal I paid for myself.