Some places I appreciate in Doha: a review post

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

For the past week or so I've been mainly holed up in doors with a nasty ear infection and sore throat. I'm terrible at being ill, largely because I get so incredibly bored so quickly. As a result, most of the time in my sick bed was spent day-dreaming about all the fun things I was going to do as soon as I was better. You only live once, and I think it's very important to fill your time with as much good stuff as possible.

In order to share some of the brilliant things we've been up to in the past few weeks, I thought I'd write a quick review blog. Part food, part entertainment, here are the places we've visited, and the reasons why we'd definitely go back.

1. Ipanema, Renaissance Doha City Centre

An authentic Brazilian Churrascaria (char-grill) with Rodizio-style service, Ipanema is a great place to go for a fun, relaxed night with friends. The concept is simple. You fill your plate with a wide range of salad and side dishes from the buffet, then sit at your table, flip your traffic light mat to green to show the waiting staff that you are ready...

And wait for the endless selection of juicy, sizzling meats and fish on skewers to be brought to your table and carved in front of you.

Carry on eating until you can eat no more...

And then flip your traffic light to red for a bit of a breather before starting again...

The staff are fantastic, describing what each meat is in detail, there is a live band and well-stocked cocktail bar, and if it's your birthday then you may even get a live rendition of happy birthday and a cake brought to your table.

Oh, and did I mention that they let you dress up like loons in the Carnival-style headdresses that they have lining the walls?!

Food: ****
Service: *****
Value: ***
Atmosphere: ****

Overall: ****

2. Sharq Village and Spa

Set in picturesque surroundings not far from the airport, this hotel and spa is a real gem. Owned by the Ritz Carlton but run by the royal family, they have built a beautiful, opulent and authentically Middle Eastern complex of villas, pools, restaurants and lounges looking out over the Persian Gulf and the city of Doha across the Corniche.

Just visiting the spa, before you indulge in any of the treatments is an experience in itself.

The building and decor inside are traditionally Arabic, with exposed rough wooden beams and girders, and white-washed walls, and the attention to detail in the fixtures, fittings and furnishings makes this place feel even more special.

We were greeted by the warm reception staff and asked to choose from the wide selection of treatments available. Then I headed off to the ladies changing room, and Rich to the gents...

Before reconvening for a couples massage in a room filled with soft, soothing music and sweet incense.

An hour later, we emerged, completely relaxed and took some time to enjoy the rest of the facilities and a steaming pot of English Breakfast tea.

After a long week of hard work, the massage had really done the trick and one of us was a little tooooo relaxed.

The treatments are pricey, but if you make full use of what the Village has to offer while you're there, it's thoroughly worth it. Particularly if it's for a special occasion. 

We finished the day with Cheshire cat grins

And a couple of scrummy sliders on the outside terrace of the Cigar Lounge.

Treatments: *****
Service: *****
Value: ***
Atmosphere: *****

Overall: *****

3. Argo Tea

We found this place completely by accident when we were in need of quick rejuvenation during an exhausting shopping trip (don't ask how much we spent that day! Let's just say, Rich has taken back his credit card for the time being). Located in Landmark Mall, but with Cafes in Chicago, New York, Boston, Abu Dhabi and Dubai to name a few, this tea shop offers something a little bit different.

A bit like an adult sweet shop, self-dispensing jars of teas line the walls. Very exciting for someone like me who drinks approximately 10 cups a day.

And as always, it won a few brownie points for hitting the right note with its CSR policy

We opted for two of the specials on display, the creamy, sweet and delicious White Frostea Chocolate (served cold)

 And the warming Carolina Honey with milk (served hot).

A great concept, but not so great in execution; we loved the huge range of teas to select from, and the fact that you can make your own concoction under the guidance of the knowledgeable 'tea sommelier', but the finished product lacked a bit of finesse.

Maybe it's because they added so much to the drink that it no longer tasted like tea, or that it wasn't served in china...or maybe we are just snobs.

Tea: **
Service: ****
Value: ***
Atomosphere: ***

Overall: ***

4. Khalifa Tennis Complex

Tennis fever hit Doha once again last week, as the WTA Qatar Total Open advancing on the Khalifa Tennis Centre. Being ill, I resigned to watching much of it on the coverage that Rich was producing on BeIn Sports from bed. However, I managed to get out to watch Rich take on the tournament's pundit, and ex world number 12 tennis player Tatiana Golovin in a hit around on centre court after filming finished for the day.

The tournament eventually culminated in world number 9, Simona Halep beating world number 8, Angelique Kerber in a nail-biting final.

A world-class venue; the tennis complex is well worth a visit during a tournament for the atmosphere and crepe van (flown out from Paris by the organising committee for the occasion) alone. However, it's also worth visiting outside of these times to take advantage of the top notch facilities for a knock about yourself. Importantly, the staff are the friendliest bunch of people you will ever meet.

Oh, and they also do a great line in merchandise.

Snug. As. A. Bug

Facilities: *****
Service: *****
Value: *****
Atmosphere: ****

Overall: *****

5. La Mer, Ritz Carlton Hotel

Located on the 23rd floor at the top of the Ritz, this five star French restaurant  boasts panoramic views across the whole of the city, including a close-up view of our home on The Pearl. We came here to celebate Valentine's Day, and despite the rather large bill at the end of the night, the evening didn't disappoint.

This hotel is something special from the moment you arrive, from the treatment you receive as you step out of the cab

To the specially designated lift that takes you directly to the restaurant

To the attention to detail on the tables.

The whole meal was exquisite. We very wisely opted for the same dishes to negate inevitable food envy. These were:

Delicious homemade breads and flavoured butters brought to the table to start us off

Followed by a yummy amuse bouche of cream cheese wrapped in the crispiest filo pastry

Sweet sweet scallops with a parsnip and vanilla puree and a black truffle emulsion

A fillet steak of tender and perfectly cooked Wagu beef as big as your fist served with crunchy Asparagus

And finally a sweet, chocolatey Valentine's surprise (which was big enough for doggy-bag leftovers that lasted well into the next day).

After all of this (sloshed down with a lot of Saint Emillion), we were pretty happy

And retired next door to Bar 23 to have a Baileys amongst plush, oak surroundings while listening to Hardwell's Tomorrowland 2012 set and trying to pick out our flat from the twinkling lights below us.

Brilliant night.

Food: *****
Service: *****
Value: ****
Atmosphere: *****

Overall: *****

6. Chapati and Karak, Katara Cultural Village

Finally, a very simple review for a very simple place. Chapati and Karak does exactly what it says on the sign. You turn up, order your Chapati from the simple bar (choose from savoury or sweet), and a sweet, aromatic Arabic tea (Karak). It's delivered to your table (or car if you're in a hurry) in minutes, and you can eat and run, or linger for a while longer and soak up the traditional Qatari atmosphere and people watch.

The offering is cheap but delicious, but the serving staff don't speak much English. But I think that's part of its charm.

Food: ****
Value: *****
Service: ***
Atmosphere: ****

Overall: ****

So, contrary to popular belief you don't always have to spend a lot of money to enjoy your life out here.

I'd love to hear about some of the places and activities that you appreciate in Doha too.