We were once coerced into visiting the spectacular Six Senses Spa at Sharq Village for a facial and manicure. Trepidation followed hesitation but it proved to be most refreshing and uplifting until a few days later we were asked if we had ever considered cosmetic surgery.
“That was cruel and callous,” one Brother Rue remonstrated while humming “If I Could Turn Back Time”. Serious efforts to hone our haggard image ground to an abrupt halt soon after when holiday plans to a Mayan health and beauty resort were put on indefinite hold.
Now, although we firmly believe that digression is a valuable literary detour when used subtly to engage more imaginative minds, we will now get to the point. We were back at Sharq Village & Spa, a venue full of fond memories, to sample seafood night at Al Liwan restaurant.
It is evident from recent excursions that several hotels spent the summer completing ambitious revitalisation projects. Sharq Village is no exception. Since opening in 2007 this palatial estate has embraced beautification and fabulous food befitting a Ritz-Carlton property.
So, with lingering thoughts of our mini-makeover as fresh as a morning’s catch, we entered Al Liwan sprightly of step. Confronting us was a vision of splendour. If first impressions really do matter in life and love, we were smitten.
Amin, the amiable restaurant supervisor from Morocco, seated us close to the entrance, which enabled us to survey a bustling scene worthy of Spain’s famous Fiesta del Marisco and formulate a plan of action. “A map would be handy,” said one Brother Rue with only a pinch of exaggeration.
We decided to split up as if on military manoeuvres and report back to HQ laden with supplies. One Brother Rue, who shall remain nameless, would have tiptoed over a minefield to grab the oysters from France, mussels and dressed Omani lobster so fresh that the roe remained in place. During a debrief, the accompanying dressing of olive oil, garlic, oregano, ginger and spring onion leaves was considered strategically important.
We have ventured afar during culinary quests, which has tended to stifle any element of surprise, but Al Liwan succeeded in causing much bemusement by offering Pacific razor clams. After failing this cunning ID test one Brother Rue turned a few heads by shouting “Molluscs!” out of exasperation. “Rhyming slang,” he murmured, suddenly demure. Natasha, our ebulliently obliging guide from Macedonia, looked on bewildered.
Meanwhile, elegant quiches that adorned an area close to the Asian live cooking corner, just had to be sampled. They were baked in loaf tins and comprised chunks of hammour and salmon, spinach, green peppers and excellent sharp cheddar cheese for a superb savoury sensation.
Dim sum, skordalia (puréed potato, garlic and nuts), stuffed olives wrapped in pickled anchovies and baby red peppers packed with delicious crab meat were chosen to complete a blaze of disparate taste and colour.
It remained too early to pick up the pace so we decided to forego the attractive shrimp burgers topped with melted cheese but we could not resist the plump prawns shipped in from Vietnam – further evidence that Qatar has become most adept at sourcing food from friends far and wide. As one Brother Rue rightly said: “Shopping is no longer a chore or a bore.”
It was time for a lull so a little more exploring was in order. There seemed to be no little commotion outside Al Liwan so the inquisitive Brother Rue took a peak to find that the patio area close to the pool had become a magnet for shisha aficionados being serenaded by an excellent jazz duo. Evidently it was the first night for such chic al fresco fun and it seems certain to become a trendy spot whenever weather permits.
Back inside, the musically minded brother had cornered Chip Wickham, whose versatility with tenor-sax and flute had impressed us since arrival. Trying too hard to match a restaurant and music can result in a dissonant din so opting for a talented soloist is often a most satisfactory solution.
We were now suitably well rested for the second-half onslaught although one Brother Rue did find it amusing to complain of mussel strain. No problem was apparent when he ambled towards the seafood thermidor and managed to snare the lobster among many morsels of fish cooked in the customary rich and creamy sauce. To complement, stirred fried rice with sesame oil was recommended.
The other brother, perusing the dozen main courses with a little more restraint, remained in curious mode so he decided to indulge in a small portion of abundant seafood moussaka followed by a couple of fish cakes, which required sweet chili sauce to add a necessary flourish. Crisp pak choi and asparagus were an irresistible adjunct.
Other highlights included the delicately prepared shrimp saganaki, excellent king fish salona (an Arabic vegetable broth infused with many spices) and the vibrant paella decorated with shrimp and mussels.
Early in the evening one Brother Rue had decided that the live kebab station would be a happy last hurrah before dessert. What he didn’t expect was delirious delight. Chef Francis was the attentive and knowledgeable master of the marinade.When he revealed that he not only used an array of fruit juices for the scallops, shrimp and lamb but also stayed faithful to the fiery creole seasoning crafted many years ago by Emeril Lagasse whoops of joy had to be contained.
Two tips must be passed on here. First, don’t leave without trying the kebabs and, second, when mixing Emeril’s seasoning for any dish make much more than is necessary because it deserves pride of place on any spice rack.
Francis insisted on serving the kebabs at the table and he even brought several slices of seafood pizza, which were gratefully accepted by our long-suffering photographer Mar, whose consumption capacity never ceases to amaze even us.
With this in mind, we ushered the lensman towards the live dessert station to order crêpes with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce while we decided that sharing dark chocolate sponge cake would more than satisfy our meagre appetites.
In conclusion, should Sharq regulars be feeling restless because signature seafood restaurant Al Dana is also being renovated, there is no cause for alarm. We guarantee that, on any or every Thursday, Al Liwan will douse any disappointment.
The Rue Brothers review restaurants exclusively for Marhaba. They have spent a combined 40+ years in Qatar and think they know their onions, and kofta kebabs, by now
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