Contrary to popular belief, Doha in the wake of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is anything but static these days. The dynamism that the Qatari capital put on a little over two months ago has far from died down. And one that is getting itself steered in a whole other delicious direction.
A few days spent in the ‘shape-shifting city’ is enough to see how dramatically the vanguard has pivoted from football in favour of another firm favourite— food. No great surprise then, that with almost everything else getting a much-needed overhaul, the city's rather eclectic and sophisticated dining scene, too, has undergone a change like never before.
Everybody, from luxury hotels to museums and even man-made islands built to house and entertain the FIFA lot, are starting to rope in celebrated, big-ticket chefs and high concept-driven restaurants to curate residencies.
We take you on a food tour to a few such places to add to your post-FIFA Qatar travel and dining list.
On paper, the idea of a ‘casual fine-dining restaurant’ might seem like the ultimate oxymoron. Add to that its highly unusual setting at the very top, eighth floor of the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum, that’s attached to Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium. But in person, Naua by chef Tom Aikens, of the Michelin-starred Muse by Tom Aikens in the UK, segues into both concepts rather effortlessly with its pretence-free vibe. To top it all, Naua, which is the Arabic word for nucleus of the seed, promotes mindful and healthy eating. This, via a menu that offers refined dishes made from high-quality, seasonal ingredients. One that is largely cuisine agnostic, focussing on the rare-to-chance upon fusion of the healthy and the gourmet. From in-house made ‘colas’ and other herb-based libations like the karkade (hibiscus) cooler, the drinks here may be bereft of alcohol, but loaded with flavour. The seed leitmotif that gives Naua its name runs through almost every dish. Be it the generous bread basket—replete with everything from sesame seed crackers to a fragrant flaxseed-speckled saffron brioche—to appetisers like the crumbled pistachio-studded raw tuna pizza served on a thin phyllo pastry sheet. Mains like the za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice and mixed nut blend) crusted lamb and the chickpea tagine, too, reflect this ‘seedy’ philosophy with all their brilliance.
With its muted, almost all-white colour palette, Arabic calligraphy printed black carpet and giant hoop chandeliers, IDAM by chef Alain Ducasse is all about sophistication, steeped in the Islamic golden age. From its perch on the top floor of the iconic Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, this Phillipe Starck designed space takes you to new heights (both, literally and figuratively), affording stunning views of the cerulean waters of the Persian Gulf below. With quirky elements like mismatched water goblets for each guest at any given table and an entirely wall of more glass goblets, the spirit of playfulness and whimsy is on ample display. Offering a choice of multi-course set and a la carte menus, the food at IDAM is a blend of contemporary Mediterranean cuisine with a twist of French elegance and eclectic Arabian flavours. The latter is seen in everything from dishes like the goat cheese tartlettes topped with camel meat floss and the omnipresent loomi (black lime) that’s found in non-alcoholic drinks like the black lemonade. Camel shows up once again accompanied by foie gras and black truffles for mains. If you’re still craving some more French-Qatari fusion, the gossamer delicate date soufflé that’s perfumed with exotic tonka bean and served alongside a laban (fermented milk) sorbet, piped into a dainty rosette, should seal the deal.
Just like its Italian-American antecedents, Carbone is one restaurant that’s super big on everything. Be it the loud, boisterous ambience, large portion sizes or the extensive wine list. Yes, this restaurant created by chef Mario Carbone is the only restaurant on this list to serve alcohol. Located on Doha’s man-made Al Maha island in the Lusail City neighbourhood, the restaurant pays homage to the great Italian-American restaurants of mid-20th century in New York. Here, one can order up a plate of grilled octopus and follow it up with an assortment of pasta and primi (main) courses like the giant tomahawk steak and lamb chops. For afters, prepare to wage war against ginormous slabs of lemon cheesecake and gingery carrot cake.
With an apt name like Hadika, which means a “walled garden” in Arabic, this Levantine cuisine restaurant is a fecund oasis, walled in from Doha’s busy, main Corniche road to its right. Set at the back end of the brutalist architectured The Ned hotel, it reflects the decor of the brand new hotel to the hilt. A mid-century modern, 60s-style remodelled building that once used to house the head quarters of Qatar’s Ministry of Interior, its design is retro chic to the nth degree with velvet upholstery and shag carpeting. The restaurant itself is an indoor/outdoor space serving some of the best mezze in town with scrumptious walnut muhamarra and smoky eggplant babaghanouj. Mains like the mixed meat platter feature everything from juicy chicken shish tawook to whole grilled hammour fish. Desserts are a procession of Arabic sweets like the basbousa and the cheesy kunafa, that are served with mint tea or Turkish coffee.
As its name might suggest, BOHO Social is a casual dining restaurant with plenty of au courant Bohemian decor elements and a view of the sea to die for. Housed in a circular structure on top of Doha’s Katara Beach club, the restaurant’s almost Greek-like interiors are the product of award winning interior designer Paul Bishop. As part of the Katara Cultural Village which is the largest and the most multidimensional cultural project of Qatar, BOHO Social checks most of the boxes you’d seek from an easy breezy restaurant. But sans the alcohol! It more than makes up for this with an imaginative array of mocktails and a food menu that takes you on a culinary journey into the Americas, Asia, Southern Europe and the Middle East. Easy fuss-free dishes here like the grilled salmon with cauliflower rice and the feta salad seem familiar with traditional ingredients, but infused with local flavours and a modern presentation.
Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.