To start, a firm bread: golden crust with a soft, chewy centre. To finish, custard: vanilla kissed, smooth and incontestably delicious.If those are the standards by which a fine French meal is measured, then La Varenne in Doha’s West Bay is not to be trifled with – for it does both brilliantly.
This brasserie on the 28th floor of the ultramodern Tornado Towers is part of a burgeoning breed of restaurants in Doha. It provides five-star service without being in a five-star hotel. It’s upscale yet relaxed. And the food is stunning.
The executive chef Stuart Collins hails from the kitchens of Michelin-starred establishments in London and New York. That culinary pedigree is evident first in his menu, pithy yet descriptive, then notably in his cooking.
Each plate that lands on the table displays elegant restraint. A lamb shank is served simply in its own jus and a dollop of cauliflower puree, with the fragrance of cumin to give the meat depth. Braised leaks, bursting with sweetness and tender to the core, come drizzled with a tangy vinaigrette. The elements are minimal but thoughtfully paired.
We assume La Varenne is named after the eminent 17th Century chef, whose cookbook documented the earliest recipes of French cuisine as we know it. If so, the food in this Doha treasure is a faithful rendition of those textbook classics.
The lard in the duck rillette takes on a butter-like creaminess. The stock of the Provençal bouillabaisse is perfumed with saffron and fennel, boasting the character of all the seafood used. The vegetables are prepared so flavourfully it’s tempting to fill the entire table with a medley of side dishes: braised endives, young green beans tossed with a shallot confit, potatoes simmered in duck fat, and broccoli with lashings of beurre blanc, a veritably splendorous sauce.
Just when you’re ready to surrender in an ecstasy of butter and cream, the dessert menu arrives. Between the tarts and clafoutis and ganache, a decision will be formidable, and it might be tempting to overlook a standard fare such as the crème brulee. Give it a chance. The vanilla custard under a layer of torched caramel is dynamite.
The most encouraging sign is the busy dining room with tables of chatty diners slicing Roguefort tarts and spooning down their pistachio parfait. Perhaps La Varenne fills an untapped breakfast niche in Qatar of a restaurant with smart service to do business over a Croque Madame. Or it could be the view that draws regulars back for more — the way the financial district unfolds below is rather spectacular.
But for this humble foodie, it’s the experience of flawless dining in Doha with from start to finish: fresh, hearty bread and perfect custard to seal the deal.
La Varenne – Tornado Tower
Tel: +974 4499 0680
Lunch Express: QR95
Friday Brunch: QR180[/infobox]
**A version of this article appeared on the website What To Do? Where To Go? Qatar**