Doha's Best International Brunch: Five Years Of Excellence

Thursday, 30 March 2017

It's been five years since the finest address in Qatar: the iconic St. Regis Doha opened its doors to the public, and the hotel's success has been unwavering ever since. With an impressive thirteen industry awards to its name in 2016 alone, it's undoubtedly a front-runner amongst the luxury, five-star hotels in the country and throughout the region.

There are numerous reasons behind the hotel's five years of excellence, and the food served in the twelve world class restaurants, lounges and bars have a large role to play in it (see my review on Gordon Ramsay). However, there is one St Regis culinary tradition that stands out amidst them all, and that is the Friday Grand Brunch.

One of the first questions I was asked by people when I moved to Doha back in 2013 was, "Have you been to brunch at the St Regis yet?" as if I couldn't quite be considered a real resident until I had. It wasn't until my first experience there one month later that I finally came to understand what all of the fuss was about.

Diners can choose between the comfortable yet refined space within the hotel's restaurant, Vine, or outside seating on the terrace, where the shaded tables overlook the azure blue of the Persian Gulf.

Upbeat, live music lilts through the crowds. This is a brunch for groups of friends to mingle in a chilled-out setting, with a relaxed, party vibe. It's the perfect place for a celebration.

These days, the brunch extends beyond the confines of the outdoor area next to Vine, covering 2,500 square metres of lavish offerings and live cooking stations led by the hotel's acclaimed chefs from Astor Grill, Opal by Gordon Ramsay and Vine.

The resulting array of cuisines on offer could be disconcerting to the inexperienced bruncher. This is a brunch that requires an extensive map with a key. There seems to be something for everyone, and yet surprisingly, there is no scrimping on quality.

It provided the perfect location for a catch-up with a friend recently over a glass or two of bubbly (and a plate or six of food) while Sophia chilled out to the live music and napped in the cool ocean breeze.

It's not simply the food or the atmosphere that makes this my favourite international brunch in Doha, but the overall experience. To date, I'm yet to find another brunch that comes close.

What's been your experience of the St Regis Doha in the five years since it opened?

The details:

The St Regis Doha, West Bay, Doha, 14435, Qatar | (+974) 4446 0000

Price: QAR 350 with soft beverages | QAR 450 with alcoholic beverages

 I was a guest of the St Regis Doha this time, but as always all views are my own.

To read about my top child-friendly brunch in Doha, head here.

What A Year! Letters to Our Daughter on Her First Birthday

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Dear Sophia,

My dearest, darling girl. It's been quite a year.

With every passing week for the past twelve months it seems, I have exclaimed at how quickly time is slipping away and how much you are changing. It's been bittersweet watching you turn from an adorable and helpless little baby into an equally adorable, bubbly, sociable, smart and courageous little girl. I've been in a constant state of internal conflict as I've mourned each passing phase in your development whilst simultaneously looking at you in awe as you show me yet another skill you've mastered and proclaiming that "this current stage is my favourite yet!".

I can't begin to describe how much joy you have brought to my life little one. Some people have always known that they want to be a parent one day, and I was definitely one of them. As a little girl not much bigger than you are now, I carried dolls around with me wherever I went - I would pretend to feed them and put them to bed, and told my friends that they came alive at night (was this precognition of the fact that you would also come alive at night I wonder?!). I day-dreamed about what you'd be like and look like many, many years before you arrived in our lives but I could never have imagined that you would be quite so wonderful as you are.

While you've been learning new things every day, you have also been teaching me so very much too. You taught me that attachment parenting and everything that comes with it is hard but the only option for me - breast feeding you on demand throughout the day or night actually came naturally despite the sleep deprivation and forgetfulness that ensued. You taught me that life achievements are so much more than doing well at work and reaching new milestones with my blog; there is now something much deeper and more rewarding that lifts my spirits every day. You taught me a brand new way of loving, that is eternal, limitless and unconditional.

It's strange to think that one year ago today, I wasn't really sure whether either of us would make it to see this day. I was losing a lot of blood and I have never seen a doctor look at me with such worry etched in their face. In surgery, hearing you cry out as they lifted you from me was just about the sweetest sound that I had ever heard. That gentle mew was enough to solidify our lifetime bond; I didn't need to see you to know that I already loved you more than anything or anyone I've loved before.

I thanked God over and over that night as I held your little pink body against me in that hospital bed.

It wasn't until that first night of your life that it really started to dawn on me what an enormous responsibility it was to bring a baby into the world. I started to worry about whether I could live up to everything I needed to be to keep you happy, safe and protected at all times. But slowly but surely, with the wisdom I have gained during your first year of life, I have come to realise that it's not my job to wrap you in cotton wool and keep all danger from your door. It's simply my job to help you to understand a few things that will lead to you making better judgements that will make your life easier.

To understand that family is the bedrock of your life; that even though we may drive you insane at times, your daddy and I would do absolutely anything for you. In turn, we will try not to embarrass you too much with our frumpy dancing at parties and to keep our terrible parent puns to a minimum.

To understand that as much as I wish you wouldn't, at certain points in your life you will be subjected to evil and you will experience sadness, but please hold onto the fact that on the whole the world is kind and good. Remember that in every patch of darkness, light can still be found.

To understand that your worth as a person isn't measured in how many kilos you weigh, how many people follow you on social media or how much money you earn. To understand that your worth as a woman is not measured in how many men dote on you, how many strangers ogle at your beauty or how many other women wish that they were you. Your worth is measured in how kind you are, how much you care about the world around you and how much happiness you bring to others.

To understand that this is the most important thing in life; that happiness is the only thing that you should prioritise above all else. If anything is threatening your happiness, challenge it. If anything is obstructing your happiness, break free from it. Life is short and it is not meant to be spent in the shadows.

To understand that you can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it. You're intelligent, you're strong, you're a go-getter. Don't believe the nay-sayers, take the plunge, follow your sunshine.

I followed mine, and it led me to you.

I love you so much my little girl.

Happy first birthday.



Happy 1st Birthday! I can’t believe we are here already. My little baby is soon to become a little lady! I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday. With mummy recovering from the operation, the nurse brought you out to see me in the corridor outside.
As she wheeled you over in your hospital cot, time seemed to stand still.

At last, our eyes met. Now some people don’t believe in love at first sight but for me it’s now happened twice. First with your mummy and then with you. You were beautiful. You were tiny! And you were perfect.

I remember looking down at you, my heart bursting, and telling you how happy I was to meet you and how much I loved you.

In that precise moment, I can tell you that my whole perspective on life completely changed. I suddenly saw the world with new eyes. You were finally here. Our family was complete.

Looking after you, playing with you and loving you has given my life a new sense of purpose. Coming home to your laughs and giggles can turn the worst day into the best one. I love our little chats over breakfast and our bath time splashes in the evening. I love our hugs before work and our kisses at bedtime.

They say that family is one of nature’s masterpieces. On the day of your first birthday, I want you to know how much I love you and how I will always be here for you. I am so proud to be your daddy. Just try not to grow up too quickly!

Dada x

Sophia Molly: 11 Month Update

Monday, 6 March 2017

We are less than two weeks away from my baby's first birthday. I've been through various stages of disbelief, denial and refusal to acknowledge this fact, but finally I've settled on reluctant acceptance. At the moment we're busy putting the finishing touches to her party arrangements and ticking off her present list, and I'm regularly scrolling through pictures and videos of her as a newborn and quietly crying into my cup of tea.

Yes, this first year has gone far too quickly, and just like every mummy as they reach this precious milestone, I couldn't feel luckier or prouder to have been blessed with twelve whole months with this little girl in my life.

This month Sophia has liked...

Heading home to visit all of her relatives in England, seeing her Uncle Joe marry the lovely Hannah, and experiencing her very first freezing temperatures!

Accompanying us to the Emir's Sword Festival for her first horse racing experience.

Going for rides on her smarTrike around The Pearl.

Reading, reading and reading some more - especially while dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz on World Book Day at Twyla Nursery (she particularly enjoyed dressing up as a rock chick too).

Playing with and talking to her toys, especially her furry animals and her plastic farm animals.

Attending her first birthday parties with her little friends, and meeting her brand new friend Ellie when she was just a few days old.

This month Sophia has disliked...

Having a constant cough and cold which seems to have lingered for weeks, and kept her all of us up at ungodly hours of the night.

Is it still OK for me to say that she actually hasn't liked sleeping in general for the 11th month in a row? Or is this just a part of her personality that I really should have come to accept by now and move on?

This month's firsts...

Sophia can now point to her hair when you ask her where it is, and point to your nose (but misses the mark a bit when you ask her to point to her own nose). She can also do the actions to the first part of head, shoulders, knees and toes!

I forgot to mention last month that Sophia had started blowing air kisses, accompanied by a big "MWAH" noise, especially when greeting or saying goodbye to people that she has particular affection for (making my heart melt and my eyes go a little watery pretty much every time). Well, this month she has started doing it to random strangers on the street too. Particularly men. This I'm not quite so sentimental about.

Sophia's favourite words this month are 'yum!', 'gak gak!' for a duck, 'baa baa!' (for every other animal - she seems to have forgotten the 'moo' that she learned last month), 'bah bah' for bye bye and 'baba' for baby. You'll notice that most of these words sound pretty much the same, but my trained mummy ear can tell the difference, honest!

This month I realised how affectionate my little girl is becoming to those that are smaller than herself. She's fascinated by younger babies and can't stop saying 'Ahhh, baba!' when she's around them. She loves her toy animals and I can already see her nurturing instinct coming out, something that is incredibly heartening to watch.

She is now standing for long periods of time without holding anything. She can also walk along just holding onto my little finger and I know that she can do it unaided, but right now crawling is much quicker and easier and therefore the preferred option. It's just a matter of time though!

The biggest development of all this month is the devilishly cheeky sense of humour she's developing. At nursery, she's learned to fling herself backwards off their little green armchair to create a reaction, while giggling uncontrollably. She thinks it's hilarious to hold out a toy or piece of food for you and then fling it away at the last minute, much to your dismay. Holding a towel or item of clothing up to her face and then suddenly pulling it away while shouting a sound a little bit like 'boo!' brings on lots of giggles, especially if you pretend to fall over backwards in shock.

She's a little girl with a big, big personality and almost twelve months on, I am certain that she's going to make a huge impact on the world around her.

Our Honeymoon: Positano's Hidden Gems

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

By the time we arrived at Positano on the Amalfi Coast, we were halfway through our month-long honeymoon and had really started to make the most of la dolce vita. We'd slept off the post-wedding exhaustion, felt full of energy and were ready to explore. Conveniently, the beautiful and iconic settlement of Positano was just the place to do it. Its winding cobbled lanes, stunning pastel houses, interesting shops selling handmade wares and breathtaking views provided plenty to get excited about.

However, despite its breathtaking beauty, like most bustling tourist destinations, Positano abounds with overpriced, average restaurants and mediocre, touristy sights. It took us a couple of days to dig beneath the surface, and we soon discovered the town's true hidden gems.

1. Restaurants

La Sponda

This Michelin-starred gem of a restaurant can be found in Le Sirenuse (review to follow in due course) and boasts one of the most famous and romantic views in the world. We had one of the most memorable restaurant experiences of our lives, as the service, food, wine, atmosphere and live music were all impeccable (and we even lucked out and visited on a night when a full fireworks display was taking place right behind the hotel - result!)

Don't miss: ordering the tasting menu so that you can maximise your time spent overlooking that view (as well as your enjoyment of the food!). Arrive early and watch the sun set over the cliffs, then enjoy the romance of the view by candlelight.

Restaurants that are accessible via boat

These include the quaint little restaurant, Il Pirata, partially-built into the cliffside in the little cove of Marina di Praia (find out more here), and the shabby-chic Da Adolfo on Laurito Beach. Both of these restaurants serve up fresh fish and authentic Amalfi dishes in relaxed and romantic settings, and are a 10-minute boat ride from Positano.

Don't miss: a sunny, post-lunch slumber on a lettino, or sunbed next to Da Adolfo (which will be needed after one too many shots of Limoncello too early in the day), or a breezy walk around the winding cliff path by Il Pirata, from Praiano to Saracen Tower.

Chez Black

Positano's most notorious family-run restaurant which sits right on the beach front at the Spiaggia Grande and boasts an interesting history, laced with rumours of illicit affairs and its use as a meeting-place for interesting characters, serves up some the freshest and most delicious fresh salads and seafood that we enjoyed on our honeymoon.

Don't miss: bagging yourself a water-front table for a prime people-watching position.

2. Shops and sights

Boutique shops

From the hand crafted, fully customisable sandals at Don Ciccillo, 6-8 Viale Pasitea to the locally-made pottery at Umberto Caro on Via Pasitea, there are quaint little boutique shops down every steep alleyway and around every winding corner.

Don't miss: a little snoop around Franco Senesi Fine Art, showcasing talented local painters and sculptors.


From the VIP scene at Spiagga Grande to the quieter and more laid-back Fornillo Beach, a ten-minute walk from Positano towards the little village of Fornillo, Positano's beaches have something for everyone.

Don't miss: seeing and being seen as you strut your stuff along the seafront, and get an iconic photo looking back up at the pastel houses of Positano.

The Church of Santa Maria Assunta

This pretty pastel yellow Church with its colourful majolica tiled dome dates back to 18th Century and is one of Positano's most recognisable (and most photographed) symbols. It's definitely worth a quick view inside, just so long as you are modestly covered.

Don't miss: keeping an eye out for wedding shoots as couples travel from all over the world to have their photograph taken in front of this iconic building.

3. Bars

A lunchtime drink in the pretty courtyard of Ristaurante Al Palazzo

Take in the stunning architecture of the surrounding buildings and marvel and this little haven of peace just a hop, step and a jump away from the bustling, tourist-filled lanes just outside.

Don't miss: a little nosey around the historic Hotel Palazzo Murat while you're there.

An afternoon sip on the terrace at Hotel Poseidon

This hotel is perched on the hill above the town, and offers a completely different view of the pastel houses from an elevated perspective.

 Don't miss: ordering the best Gin & Tonic I have ever had in my life, laced with fresh juniper berries.

An evening tipple on the terrace at Il San Pietro Hotel

The views over Positano and the Mediterranean Sea from Il San Pietro are utterly sublime, and the romance of the setting is captivating. Block out a few hours to listen to the live guitar players and singers who will serenade you into the night.

Don't miss: the mind-blowing Espresso Martinis.

4. A visit to Praiano

The tiny hamlet of Praiano is a small but pretty fishing village which lies five minutes down the road from Positano, and is often overlooked in favour of its bigger, more tourist-friendly cousin. Yet it would be a shame to bypass this little settlement if you are staying nearby. Its many winding walkways, steep steps cut into the cliffs and authentic Italian 'vibe' make it a sight to behold.

Don't miss: watching the sun set from Praiano. Due to it's western-facing vantage point and sweeping views over Positano and Capri, locals say that this is the best place on the Amalfi Coast from which to watch the sun go down. My favourite place to do this is from the rooftop of the boutique hotel, Casa Angelina.

Once all of these hidden gems had been explored, I couldn't help but re-read the 1953 quote by John Steinbeck that I'd devoured while planning our honeymoon:

‘Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone’.

There's a reason why this town has embedded itself in the hearts of so many.

For more in my Italian honeymoon series, head here.