Fundamentals matter. You can get all gussied up in designer label from bowler hat to Balmoral boot; but if you neglect to wash, you still make the wrong impression. The same rule applies to restaurants.
All the calfskin leather loungers, chrome chandeliers and bucolic views of the sea cannot be substitutes for good cooking. The extra trimmings are nice to have; but serve forgettable food, and you’ll be forgotten.
I’m at the launch party of a new music lounge/restaurant on the water. Let’s call it Ella’s Escape for no particular reason except to spare the identity of said restaurant (and also because I’m listening to Her Majesty Fitzgerald as I blog this). Why the unexplained generosity? Well, the place is brand spanking new, so I’m hoping it’ll be able to get its act together before word gets out to stay away.
Consider this post then a suggestion of how not to waste a brilliant concept. The thus named Ella’s Escape has evidently spent an exorbitant sum creating a space like no other in Doha. The furniture is funky, the outdoor murals are edgy, and a row of listening pods help reinforce the idea of a hangout devoted to music. In the very simplest terms, this place is super cool. Each evening, a band plays on the terrace overlooking a marina. As I roam around the different alcoves, I think to myself that this could be the next big thing.
Then I sit down to dinner. The evening is devoted to media and other invited guests, and we’re told to expect some of the kitchen’s proudest items on the menu. The scandal begins almost immediately with a wannabe Italian salad. Fresh mozzarella plopped on top of bland, watery tomatoes then covered in fat squiggles of grainy pesto do not caprese make. Disregard for a moment that the gloppy balsamic reduction has turned the normally refreshing dish into something sweet, sticky and sickly. It just tastes and looks chaotic, like an angry Jackson Pollock painted on a tempestuous Wednesday.
The chicken lollipops are slightly better. The spicy, more-ish batter would have made this a winner, except the fried drumettes rest in a pool of Thai sweet chili sauce, very clearly out of a bottle. Sorry, not acceptable. In restaurant world, this is cheating. It’s the kind of stunt that gets you kicked off MasterChef if the judges are in a foul mood.
I really can’t go any further. I have no energy to describe the cold burgers or congealed gravy on the signature lamb shanks. It just feels like I’m picking on the kid who got braces, eyeglasses, and measles on the same day then wet his pants in public. It’s too easy, and it’s unkind.
It upsets me thinking about the meal not even in terms of a waste of my daily caloric limit, but because it is squandered opportunity. Why splurge on the cosmetics when you won’t get the basics right? If you’re going to open a restaurant, start by thinking about what food you’re going to serve. Now, isn’t that a novel idea?