Situated just to the side of The St. Regis Doha hotel, at the end of a short driveway within the complex, the Al Sultan Brahim Lebanese seafood restaurant occupies its own building, so for easy access, there is no need to go to the main hotel entrance.
An impressive piece of ceramic art and two beautiful fish-themed chairs in the reception area caught my attention, as did a lovely old photographic print, still recognisable as Byblos, but minus the traffic jam and reminiscent of a different, more relaxed age gone by.
On this evening almost all the guests were dining outside, confirming my theory that virtually all Doha residents look forward to the winter season – the equivalent of a British summer, but better and certainly more reliable – and the chance to wear a few heavier clothes. Nicolas Khoury, the restaurant manager, showed us to a table and left us in the capable hands of Mustafa, our waiter for the evening. Prior to selecting anything from the menu, Mustafa suggested taking a look at their very own ’fish market’. From hamour to red snapper, from lobsters to sea bass – pretty much everything was there, either jet-fresh or locally sourced. Mustafa knew his stuff and recommended that, for the main course, the sea bass would be an excellent choice.
Admiring the lovely full moon and enjoying the slight chill in the air – well it was only 20 degrees or so – rather than order directly from the menu, I mentioned which dishes I liked and Mustafa arranged for the chef to make small portions of each (just enough for two) to get a broader experience. At this point I think it’s only fair to point out that I’m not really a big seafood fan and I have to say that I wasn’t really expectingto register anything other than a ‘pleasant’ on the scale of dining experience …
First to arrive was Tripoli’s harra, a lovely spicy coriander, onion, tomato and sesame seed dip together with some of those delicate little balloons of bread that you later regret filling up with once the mains arrive. Was it only me who thought they looked like the bread equivalent of puffer fish? Quickly followed by warak inab, grapevine leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes and parsley, giving a sour taste sensation and, I reckon, a close relation of the Greek dolmades. Well, you just have to have some hummus with meat and a really nice cheesy-mushroomy shrimp and avocado salad, drizzled with a mustard and lemon sauce. Now I have to tell you, dear reader, that was delightful. Very light, really flavourful and it went down well with the other dishes. I thought it would be nice to add something warm and plumped for the cubed potatoes sauted with garlic and summak. The sea bass arrived – filleted to perfection and served as two pieces, it complimented everything else on the table. And there were plenty of other options for those more carnivorous than pescatarian.
Surely this was evidence of the inverse of the law of diminishing returns in action – the more we ordered, the better it got!
Another sip of Lebanon’s finest red and you know the saying that time passes quickly when you are enjoying yourself? Well, I can confirm its true…was that really the time?! And without any logical or scientific explanation, none that I could fathom anyway, my clothes seemed to have conspired against me and actually appeared to be shrinking while I was still wearing them.
The fruit platter was a welcome sight – nothing heavy, just enough to refresh the palate – and we were done.
According to Nicolas, the restaurant has been there since 2013, and there are two more in Lebanon, a beautiful country with spectacular valleys and snowy mountains.
One of the ways that a restaurant – or, for that matter, any customer-facing business – can distinguish itself from the competition is on service. And here they scored top marks: knowledgeable and polite but not intrusive. In a word, professional. Quite a catch for Doha diners. Come hungry, leave satisfied.
Visit Al Sultan Brahim at The St. Regis Doha Hotel, open daily from 12 pm to 4:30 pm (lunch) and 6:30 pm to 11:30 pm (dinner). Call 4446 0000 for inquiries and reservations. You may also log on to The St. Regis Doha website.
International man of mystery, beachcomber extraordinaire, raconteur and bon vivant
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