How does a truly exceptional restaurant seal its reputation? There’s word of mouth. Or the law of reservations two months in advance. Perhaps it is judged by an ever-evolving menu featuring the most exotic if not esoteric of ingredients.
Or — is it just one dish? One dish that compels us to return for more… that singular genius we wished we could recreate at home, if only to bask in the adulation of dinner guests?
At The Ritz-Carlton’s Porcini, Chef Ricardo Acquista must be an acolyte of that final commandment. For his green spinach risotto with red pesto is transcendent. It receives no fanfare on the menu. In fact, it meekly sits in the penumbra of such jewels as a grandly presented sea bass papillote and the house signature of seafood cappellini.
Don’t be fooled. The risotto is the showstopper. Tender Arborio rice drenched in aromatic stock; spinach that blazes a shade of spring; and a tomato-herb paste unifying everything into an ode to fresh food — dutifully prepared then beautifully served. While Acquista’s classical training is evident from starter to sweet, it is his culinary wit as a molecular chef that shapes Porcini’s personality.
The amuse bouche itself sets the tone for an evening of showmanship: salmon smoked on the table inside a glass cloche and mango juice spherified into deceptive, yellow caviar balls on a bed of foamed blue cheese. It could be the chef’s tenure at the eminent elBulli that underscores his penchant for drama and post-modernism on the plate. But there is no doubt. Acquista is a master at manipulating textures and flavours. Strawberries and tomatoes come together in a cold soup with grilled shrimp. Pureed sweet potatoes round off the richness of a glazed duck breast. Even a wedge of mandarin is given the trompe l’oeil treatment. Try it – we won’t ruin the surprise.
Of course, an ineffable dining experience must be the perfect synthesis of heavenly food and warm service. Porcini rises to that challenge. The manager Umberto Panella deftly circulates the floor, providing equal attention to the new as well as the die-hard. In fact, regular patrons insist on being addressed by first name, and Umberto remembers them by their preference of still or sparkling water.
A dinner at Porcini is an affectionate reminder that haute cuisine is very much alive in Doha. Dessert ought to be made mandatory here, for it is the closing act of dreams. Foamed chocolate, poached berries, a crumbly fregolatta, sparkling lemon sorbet… all deserving of a standing ovation. There’s only one problem: how to possibly fit just one spoonful of risotto for a cheeky encore.
Porcini – The Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Tel: +974 4484 8514
**A version of this article appeared on the website What To Do? Where To Go? Qatar**