We’re halfway through this year so it’s a good time to take stock of what’s happening – think of it like the Doha dining scene’s mid year report card 2019.
After a year or two of stagnation, the restaurant scene really kicked into gear in late 2018 and early 2019 with a raft of new openings and a real buzz. There’s a lot to like but also a lot to be skeptical about.
Here’s a look at what we’re loving, what’s leaving us cold and what we are looking forward to:
What I’m Loving
This year continues to see an exciting new upswing in the number of new restaurants. STK, Sel & Miel, Novikov just to name a handful. Then there are the small markets and food trucks popping up like wildflowers in carparks and other open spaces. There has never been a better time to be a foodie in this country.
Both STK and Sel & Miel both launched brunches in June – always a good time to try out new concepts and refine them. STK’s is a distinctly party brunch – lots of big groups, loud and active with an impromptu dance floor and roaming live entertainment. The food needs a tweak (I visited on the first day of operation for the brunch) and in my view it’s too breakfast heavy and the quality not at the same level I had experienced with dinner at the restaurant. But I think this will improve with time and more customer feedback.
Sel & Miel’s Saturday brunch is a different beast and very much my speed. More like a “lunch”, the appetizers and desserts are to share and you pick a main each. I was impressed with several of the dishes in their inaugural outing including their chicken liver pate (anyone who knows me knows this is a big deal for me – I am usually not a fan!), the fresh seafood and the confit duck leg. Cocktails are classy and fun – an elderflower take on the Aperol Spritz hitting a home run for me.
When this hotel first opened it had real foodie cred with Opal leading the way. They lost their way for a bit, as the market opened up and new players surpassed them. But I’m pleased to say, they are back with a bang. Their pop up Riyasat Indian restaurant set Indian foodie hearts a flutter earlier this year. Opal is back to its best and Astor Grill has one of the best Friday brunch offerings in the city right now (it’s on a break and will be back later in the Summer). Add to this an impressive showing in the Ramadan tent department this year (that sushi!) – I’m looking forward to seeing what they have up their sleeve.
Home delivery heroes
While not strictly food related, the new delivery services by Monoprix and Carrefour have started to change the way people here in Qatar shop. Lulu Qatar has taken that one step further and added the ability to shop online for groceries and have them delivered. I regularly use this service (it’s QR15 for delivery) – it’s efficient, everything arrives on time and the range on offer (check out their organic selection) expands daily as does their delivery footprint.
Restaurants taking risks.
A great example of this is Le Colonial at the Al Wadi Hotel – a hotel restaurant that only does breakfast dishes – I’ve written about them before but I’m glad to see people love it as much as I do. It’s gamble in a city like Doha where we are a little set in our ways. Great food and concept and outside the box.
Add to this list the Dromedary Club – part cafe, part community hang out. They have leather crafting classes as well as puppy friendly days and even male grooming classes by barbers. Interesting, unique and making waves.
What I think can be improved
Plastic straws and containers. Everywhere. Literally. Come on guys, we can do better in 2019 – there are alternatives available in the market.
Also, how is it in 2019 in a culturally diverse and food loving country like Qatar that we still don’t have a decent Vietnamese restaurant? Asking for a friend….
The great alcohol drought of Summer 2019 The rumors are swirling as per usual thanks to empty shelves at QDC and missing drink menu items at hotel bars. It seems the bubbles have almost dried up and the box wine has made an appearance. Theories range from customs issues to secret price hikes and drops and a wholesale move of QDC to a new location. Qatar peeps love their conspiracies. I know as much as you do folks – I also know that the truth usually lies somewhere in between. Let’s see what July and the rest of the year holds in this department.
Empty restaurants…I recently bemoaned the fact the excellent and underrated Pearl Social was always light on guests each time I visited. This could be the result of a number of factors including cost, location, what’s in “vogue” and of course, market saturation. But restaurants with empty tables and underused staff continue to be an issue here in Qatar
The tyranny of Dynamite shrimp/chicken: It’s everywhere. On menus across the city, in venues you least expect and all with varying degrees of success. I blame PF Changs, bringing it here and having everyone think they can emulate. Heads up, you can’t. You can also add honey cake to this rant as well.
The cost of coffee. Specialty coffee to be precise. I expect to pay premium in a five star hotel, but QR40 plus for a specialty coffee in a paint-by-numbers pop up cafe? Don’t insult me.
What I’m Looking Forward To
I’m also excited about the renovation of the venerable Four Seasons Doha extensive renovations which begin this month. The process will take at least six months and foodies have a lot to look forward to – new restaurants, a new bar and a new look.
The Marsa Malaz Kempinksi has never really lit my dining fire – aside from the non-hotel restaurants, I found the food there underwhelming and without personality – but it seems to be about to change. El Faro, which started with a blaze of culinary glory then faded, has had a revamp and an injection of Michelin magic dust thanks to the visit of Javier Aranda . Expect to see more here in coming months,
Mandarin Oriental Doha opened their signature restaurant Mosaic finally. I’ve had a taste of the food and it’s exciting and well executed. Also be excited about their Chinese restaurant which will open later in the year/early next year – the ground floor will be noodles and dumplings and the top floor Michelin star style cuisine.
New restaurants at the National Museum of Qatar Café 875, on the mezzanine level of the Museum building, is inspired by Qatar’s traditional gold jewelry. Also coming soon is a fine-dining concept, Jiwan Restaurant. The fourth-floor venue’s name means “perfect pearl,” illustrated by the more than 4 million ivory-hued crystal beads adorning the interior.
So there’s my Doha dining scene mid-year report card. I would give it a B+. What about you? What have you loved/loathed this year? And what are you looking forward to?