It’s inevitable, I guess. Because I eat out so frequently, many friends, colleagues (important distinction), and randoms ask me for restaurant recommendations on a daily basis. My mother-in-law’s in town; it’s the wife’s birthday; somewhere for the kids to run wild while we get sloshed this Friday. You catch my drift. It’s an exercise I quite enjoy. I consider one’s budget, cuisine preferences, and a matrix of other criteria before off rattling a list of suitable spots… boulangerry curated.
The past few weeks, as expected, have raised queries pointing to one event: February 14. Yes, we may be in a year of oil-compelled austerity, but romance isn’t quite dead yet.
Folks: listen up, for most of the best restaurants are filling up. Please make Valentine’s Day arrangements early. I simply won’t entertain pleas on Sunday afternoon when you ask me to “make that call” and get you an impossible reservation for later that evening. Tables don’t appear out of thin air. If a restaurant is full, it’s full. Full stop.
So if you’re planning a night out, here are some suggestions in no premeditated order:
The All-Rounder – Antica Pesa
Chic bar: Tick.
Outdoor seating with sea view: Tick.
Competent wait staff who are also easy on the eye: Tick.
OK, so maybe the last prerequisite isn’t pertinent on Valentine’s, but I really rate the setting of Antica Pesa at the Kempinski Marsa Malaz. It’s romantic without being sickly so. There are three distinct dining sections depending on what mood you’re in. The cuisine’s Italian, so make sure you tell the servers to calm down with the garlic on this occasion.
The Full-Proof Experience – Market by Jean-Georges
You only have to view my Instagram feed to surmise that I spend too much of my tough-earned Riyals here, wolfing down bowl after bowl of salted caramel and popcorn hot fudge sundae. It’s simple. Market at the W delivers every time. No matter the occasion, you’re assured a delectable meal in a handsome, pulsating venue. The restaurant doesn’t try to impress… it just does. Can you think of better vibe to give off on a date?
The Out-of-Ordinary – Jazz at Lincoln Centre
Live jazz coupled with Cajun cuisine. Hello! Talk about doing it differently. Jazz at Lincoln Centre at the St. Regis — a mouthful to say – is inexplicably one of the more underrated restaurants in Doha, especially considering its roster of world-class musicians. When JALC opened several years back, prices were admittedly overambitious; but the menu has been since revised to make it much more reasonable. Step in, and you might even think you’re at a jazz bar in New York or New Orleans. It’s that good.
The Vacation Reminder – Elements
Want to relive that beautiful beach holiday in the Maldives, Bora-Bora or any other fancy-pants destination you’ve been on? Elements at the Four Seasons is your answer. The recently refurbished restaurant embodies the vacation spirit of a seaside resort, with open-style bars and even loungers around a burning fire. The menu is pointedly pan-Asian, as in the entire continent, from the Near East to the Far East. Nothing says true love like Peking duck. Hmmm… ok, maybe TMI.
The Cool Kid – Hakkasan
Peking duck AND crispy duck salad. Be still my beating heart. Modern fusion Chinese: Hakkasan kinda embodies the story of my life. More relevant though, is how the restaurant has managed to stay ahead of the game by producing Chinese flavours in an ultra-sexy setting. The tables are cleverly sectioned off behind lattice work so there’s just enough privacy for intimate conversations with all the holes necessary to be see out and, crucially, be seen… for those so inclined.
The Really Relaxed – La Veranda
I continually send folks to La Veranda at the Sheraton with the same caveat. The indoors may look like a 1980s country club from the set of The Golden Girls, but the al fresco tables are tough to beat. Many seats are but centimeters away from the water, with breath-stealing views across the bay and of the West Bay skyscrapers. You could share a pizza over a glass of wine while watching the dhows sail by as you tell yourself: Yeah, Doha is pretty neat.
The Glittering Lights – The Anvil Rooms
The sea shouldn’t hog the spotlight. Views from high-up are just as romantic. For those who like to watch cars crawl through the West Bay grid like, it’s hard to go wrong at The Anvil Rooms steakhouse. The very intimate venue means you’re unlikely to bump into an undesirable on this special evening. While steaks are evidently the specialty, the sides are noteworthy (truffle fries and lobster mash lead the way) and the restaurant still serves up some of the best desserts in town.
The Super Old School – Maxim
I still remember walking into Maxim at the Radisson Blu for the first time and thinking I’d accidentally stepped into a Madam’s boudoir. The place is decked out in red velvet… you walk on it and sit on it. But there’s such a forgotten charm here. Maybe it’s the pianist/singer crooning everything from John Legend to Frankie Blue Eyes. Or it could be the classical menu items such as Chateaubriand and escargot. Best part, ladies are presented with a rose at the end of the evening. Score, saves you a trip to the florist.
THE BUDGET CONSCIOUS
Really, there’s no shame in this. Times are tough. Folks are getting sacked left and right without warning. So many have left Doha. Those left in Doha are fearful they might be next. I’m one. With tightened purse strings… where to go for a meal that’s delicious and will still leave me with enough for latte the morning after? I like:
MRA: Such lip-smacking Indian meals. I’d come for a creamy mango fish curry any night. If you’re the sort who loves sharing chappatis with a partner, this is definitely worthy of date night.
Debs w Remman: Oh holy Lebanese cuisine with your succulent meats and zingy salads. The food at this new spot in Medina Centrale on The Pearl has me dreaming hummous and waking up in happy baba ghanoush sweats.
B+F Burger Boutique: Juicy char-grilled burgers and evil, evil fries. The couple who can milkshake together stays together right? Of course right. And that this burger house is lit like a nightclub takes it a notch up.
Albisana Shawarma & Kunafa: For under QR50, you get two shawarmas, two bottles of water and a warm, sticky, gloriously stick-to-your fingers kunafa to share. Followed by an arm-linked stroll along the softly lit alleyways of Katara Cultural Village. A very happy Valentine’s Day 2016 indeed.