I was taken to Quisine by Guy Savoy – it’s a five-star fine dining gastronomic playground. You should go, too; just make sure someone else is paying…
I am not a restaurant reviewer, and Bright Lights, Little City is not a food blog (and isn’t about to become one, either).
But last week I had such an outlier of a meal, one that pinged off the end of every scale you might care to measure it by – be it expense (had I been paying), presentation, humour or taste – that it bears reporting.
Before I moved to Doha, one phrase kept cropping up in the blogs and guides to the city when it came to culinary choices: “Five star or no star” – and, by and large, it’s true.
Here, it would be too easy to be spoiled. Not that we knew it when we signed up, but we’ve moved to a country where pretty much everything that can be done by somebody else is, so maintaining some perspective, reminding yourself that life here is the exception, rather than the rule, is crucial.
So I feel duty bound to point out that there are many places you can eat very cheaply and very well in Doha. Try Just Here, Time Out or follow @dohadives. Take anyone who visits you to Turkey Central. Yum.
That way, when you experience something truly five star, you can really appreciate it.
That ‘something’ was dinner at Quisine, a relatively recent opening by the Michelin-starred chef Guy Savoy (I got this from his website, like I would have any idea. It’s like me talking to Mrs LC about Roger Deakins’ Oscar chances*.)
Far beyond our everyday budget, Mrs LC and I were there because she had won dinner for two courtesy of a Christmas competition organised by MENA Times. She was thrilled, and I was curious.
You might wonder what qualifies me for the role of dining companion, apart from being married to a foodie? Near the top of the list has to be the fact that I will eat just about anything.
(My reaction to the horse meat scandal currently sweeping Europe was to think about the “quality poultry items” I ate as a student; all the post-pub kebabs-of-questionable-origin I’ve devoured; all the plates of whatever I’ve inhaled at greasy spoons…and shrug. When you’ve deliberately ordered and eaten warthog carpaccio, it’s a little hard to be sniffy about these things.)
There’s basically only one thing I won’t eat.
Not for me hating something obscure I’m rarely going to encounter, like squid ink or yam paste. No, it’s bananas. (It seems that my punishment for a single item ‘No’ list is to be haunted by their ubiquity. And price. And healthiness. And portability. And the fact that my kids love them, and how, every time Amnesiac asks me to chop one up to put on his cereal, I wince and think to myself: “…this is how much I love you.”)
So I genuinely feel for people whose first reaction to a menu is to scan it for all the things they either can’t or won’t eat.
If that sounds like you, then I recommend you give Quisine a wide berth. And that’s a shame, because it’s like a culinary theme park and sent me home grinning like a loon.
I can’t fault the ambience: the décor was anonymously tasteful, the noodle jazz piped discretely, the climate spot on (something many places here get wrong as they drop the a/c down into the trenches) and the staff attentive without being fussy.
Not being an aficionado of culinary hot spots, I can’t compare Quisine to the other high end restaurants in town. According to one of our waitresses, Alain Ducasse’s Idam at the Museum of Islamic Art is where fine dining fans should also make a beeline for.
I’ll have to take her word for it, at least till Mrs LC wins another competition. Because let’s be clear about this: your wallet is going to know you’ve been to Quisine.
All the clues are there before you arrive.
It’s nestled unobtrusively at the mouth of the Pearl, between the Rolls-Royce and Ferrari showrooms. Klaxons should be going off by this point.
(For non-Doha readers – hi! – the Pearl is a development of luxury apartments, high end boutiques and sports car showrooms, built on extravagantly-landscaped reclaimed land.
When it’s full, 45,000 people will call it. That’s one and half times the population of my home town, yet there is precisely one way in and out of the development. Can’t see any problem with that; none at all.
You can have your car valet parked at the Pearl for QAR60. Or you can park it round the corner yourself for free and walk back in less than two minutes. It’s that kind of place.)
So my first tip would be to make sure someone else is paying. We reckon our (dry) meal for two would have cost in the region of QAR2,000 (£300/US$450). So it’s probably a good thing that the Pearl’s alcohol licence shows no sign of being reinstated any time soon.
I’m not sure M. Savoy intended his dazzling creations to be washed down with mango smoothies, but when in Rome, and all that. (And they were amazing smoothies.)
It also helps if you’re a carnivore. This is French fine dining, after all. After the waitress took our order, she paused before asking, “And do you have any…allergies?”
This is French waitress code for “Are you vegetarians?” We both shook our heads no, and she went off smiling back to the kitchen with our order.
Contains scenes of giggling
Now, I’m not going to exhaustively list everything we ate, partly because – despite spending the entire drive home trying to remember it all – I’m fairly sure we’d forget something, and partly because you really should go, and I don’t want to spoil all the surprises.
But when we sat down the table our Serbian provocateur (waiter doesn’t begin to cover half of what he did throughout the evening) apologised that the nature of our prize meant we were restricted to the á la carte menu. (The QAR1,050 tasting menu was out of bounds to us). But he needn’t have bothered. There was no danger of us going home hungry.
We couldn’t even cross the reception area to catch the lift out without having a muffin and salted caramels forced upon us.
It was all a bit Willy Wonka to be honest, but in our lifetimes we eat so many meals that are basically gussied-up fuel, we should stop and celebrate the rare one which is quirky and fun.
It’s the same principle as squirting ketchup into the shape of a face to brighten up a plate for our kids. Sometimes, childlike wonder and giggling is the best response; here, it was the only appropriate response.
At various points across the evening, I ate onion custard, black pepper custard, a mushroom brioche, several of nine different types of bread, edible clay…
There were things that sound horrible written down (like seaweed granita, essentially tiny pearls of seaweed and lemon ice with oyster tartare) but which were heavenly to eat.
There were things that smoked and bubbled and evaporated.
There were things that melted away to reveal other things. It was like the Mad Hatter’s tea party (literally; even the tea was a performance. Hand-clipped leaves from your choice of seven herbs and infusions, immaculately pressed and brewed. Try the sage and pineapple; it’s extraordinary.)
But you can’t eat over 30 different dishes, courses and ‘surprises’ without something backfiring. Two memorable wrong turns were a caviar-topped vanilla sponge, which was every inch as distressing as it sounds (why was the sponge crunchy? and sweeter than American cereal?) and a complimentary celery-based infusion I was handed at one point which tasted like something you’d punish naughty vegans with.
But on the whole, the amount of delectations, amuse bouches and assorted edible fripperies that were presented before, during and after our starter, main course and pudding simply gave me the giggles.
My bouche was very much amused.
So if someone asks you where’s really special to eat in Doha, and it sounds like they might be picking up the tab, head for Quisine.
You won’t regret it, even if their wallet will.
* * * *
* Always the bridesmaid, he’ll lose again, this time to Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi, you mark my words.**
** No refunds given for any losing bets placed on the strength of my misplaced confidence.