Best Restaurants in Qatar,  Restaurant Reviews

Review: Is Kai’s Songbird Doha the Real Deal or a Flight of Fancy?

I had fully approached my return to this restaurant with a high degree of cynicism. Of the belief that the borderline  cultish proclamations about Kai’s Songbird were a result of them being mesmerized by the location and the concept.

For months, since my first visit, I had demurred – “it’s good….but….”.

And you can see why I held this view. On arrival, it’s easy to be dazzled by Kai’s Songbird. It’s harborside location, soaring atrium interiors and almost over-designed plush furnishings are unlike anything in Doha. And, of course, there is the novelty of drinking alcohol. Not in a hotel! At The Pearl! With that view! OMG! Swoon!

The rest, as they say in the classics, is just details.

The Kai’s Songbird Weekend Brunch

I’ve visited twice now. Once for lunch when they first opened as an invite. On that occasion I found the food good and the location stunning but it seemed like the menu was designed to fit social media. So, to see what the recent fuss is about, I booked the much-vaunted Friday brunch for a group of friends.

The brunch menu is a tour of the restaurant’s greatest hits and at QR390 for the alcohol package, is considered mid-priced by Doha’s insanely inflated brunch index. They do have a more “elevated” drinks package (QR750), which includes Laurent-Perrier champagne. We opted for the mid-ranking package, reasoning that almost unfettered access to this champagne, Hendricks and Maker’s Mark would only end if the authorities were involved.

Our group was however treated to a glass of the Laurent Perrier by the team to kick off proceedings. And yes, it did the trick. A word about the wine and cocktail choices, the brunch offering includes some surprises, such as an organic red. More of this please!

The Kai’s Songbird Brunch Menu

The food is served family style with starters to share and each diner chooses a main. The service team offered to send all of the mains…our reply was “let it rip”. For starters, a plate of yellowtail is served sashimi style with apple and radish – it’s fresh and clean. As is a cured tuna dish with tangy plum sauce and lemongrass.

I’m a turnip cake lover, it reminds me of my trips to Malaysia and Hong Kong Dim Sum afternoons, and I relish the almost delicate texture when handled properly. This version is crisp and light. A second plate of the wasabi prawns was ordered. It was moreish but a little generic for me.

The “Nest of Imperial Jewels”, is a take on sang choi bao, minced chicken in lettuce wraps – this was the least popular starter, a little pedestrian in comparison to others. Two baskets of well executed baos –  one an earthy mushroom and truffle; the other a sweet honey glazed chicken filling – seems almost superfluous but worth the trouble.

88 Ways to Eat Your Duck

Much has been made of the Aromatic Crispy Duck 88 Ways – the 88 ways meaning the combinations you can make with the condiments and accompaniments. It comes with pancakes (which are topped up) as well as leaves to wrap it in and the duck is shredded tableside by our server. Not everyone appreciates Asian style duck, it can be fatty and the spicing confronting. But this a crowd pleasing take on the traditional Peking Duck and even this purist enjoyed being able to customize my wraps.

The mains saw us receive a second visit from Kai’s Executive Chef Foong Wai Loong (Lucas). He’s Malaysian and I can very much see this influence in many of the dishes. His arrival heralds the start of the live action, specifically the showstopping salt baked chicken.

A bit like pass the parcel, after shedding its decorative outer layer, the chicken is wrapped in layers of paper – emerging after several minutes, a steaming, glistening mess of perfectly cooked chicken with a moreish mushroom sauce. This was hands down my favorite dish of the day – so simple yet complex in its flavors and textures. It almost didn’t need the theatricality.

Hits and Misses

Another favorite, was a silky and spicy Nanyang chili garlic prawns and lobster, with a bao bun to soak up the sauce. A dish of roast chicken with chili and shallot was an empathic umami laden nod to Cantonese cuisine. The lacquered and shiny crispy beef was a good as I remembered it from my last visit. Chef Lucas very kindly sent us a new dish to try – again another exercise in simplicity. A grilled rib eye steak, cooked medium rare,  and glazed with a firey sauce. Look for this one on the menu soon.

Desserts were the least impressive dishes of the day – the sponge cake dry and the flavors paling in comparison to the savory dishes and forgettable. I’m not much of a dessert person, but I feel this is a missed opportunity.

Service and “The Vibe”

On my first visit I found service to be a bit clunky and rushed. The passing of time and a chance to embed a routine has seen the team settle. The service on my second visit was attentive and intuitive – so rare in this city. Although we had some minor blips when wrong drinks were brought to the table twice, but this is negligible.

During brunch a single boat left the nearby dock, cutting a path across the glassy, opaque waters of the adjacent Pearl Marina (this is a yacht club after all) into the bathwater warm Gulf. The Kai dining room on this Friday is packed – mostly large tables of friends and the odd family group, lured by the aforementioned pricing and the light and bright interiors. The vibe is buzzy and busy – bear in mind this is the middle of Summer in Qatar – I would love to see the mood at night.

The Verdict

I still bristle at the self-described and borderline pretentious “liberated Nanyang cuisine” label Kai’s gives its menu, which basically means dishes hail from Southeastern China and have a lot of Asian influences. But on this second visit, the concept of the menu being “liberated” from traditional notions of Chinese cuisine makes more sense.

This is also enhanced by Chef Lucas, who’s point of view and culinary references are very evident in the food. Between visits I’ve seen an improvement – the dishes are less sweet, more robust, even at brunch. But it is the simpler, more homely dishes that win my praise – the salt baked chicken, the chargrilled beef – showing a subtle and deft touch.

I may say this often, but we need a place like Kai’s Songbird in Doha right now. A restaurant that is equal parts social media sensation and serious food.

The Details

Kai’s Songbird, Corinthia Yacht Club, The Pearl

$$$$ but brunch is $$$

Must order: The Duck 88 Ways and the Salt Baked Chicken

Good to know: brunch is a good sampler of the wider menu and very cost effective

Rating: ***

Qatar's favorite food and travel blogger.


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