Just between us, one Brother Rue has a tendency to blurt involuntarily at stage-whisper volume when taken aback.
Occasionally, such verbal spontaneity has proved amusing, at least in the utterer’s own estimation, but mostly these quirky exclamations manifest themselves as a mildly alarming form of suppressed, spittle-spattered excitement.
We arrived in pomp late one morning via one of the fleet of 20 stylish, comfortably fitted, airconditioned catamarans at our island destination. On the last occasion, the Brothers had visited it was little more than a rocky sandbank providing the nautical set with something at which to point their boats on a Friday.
Apart from the interminable roar of jet-skis piloted by kids young and old learning the art of road rage, it was a peaceful place. And there was not a restaurant in sight back then.
Now, much to the consternation of the startled sibling and other disembarking Rue relatives the afflicted Brother suddenly, in barely hushed tones, exclaimed “Recipe!”
As passengers eased warily away with perplexed expressions the restrained Rue explained that the destination clearly had been transformed in exactly the same way as a meal could be transformed by an exquisite, scrumptious and delectable. . . recipe. The result, he declared, was an imaginative, inviting attraction of a quality surely unsurpassed anywhere.
Yes, en famille, the Rues had alighted on the jetty of Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara, which, after just three years with Anantara at the helm, already stands as a five-star haven on the world map of tourism.
Following a warm percussion-and-vocals welcome from musical members of staff, our engaging host Dimitri was now in the driving seat. Embarking on a lightning golf cart mini-tour we sat open-mouthed at the beautifully designed and landscaped surroundings.
This encompassed the over water villas (sumptuous), the Balance Wellness Centre and Anantara Spa (blissful) and children’s (timelessly appealing) pool much favoured by Amelia Rue, aged 7½.
Why? she was asked.
Because 1., when you get there it is nice and warm, 2. because there are three absolutely cool water slides, and 3. because there is a beach next to it. And, oh yes, 4. because it is right next to Ted’s Diner where they are very friendly and have everything to eat that children like.’
The more or less mature reviewing Rues soon found themselves, now bereft of encumbrances, at one of the island’s most respected restaurants – the award-winning Al Nahham offering Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Of elegant, contemporary Arabic design and with the outside seating positioned above the water there seemed to one Brother Rue, as he gazed over the azure ocean, to be no finer place to relax and engage the senses.
The business-like sibling had tarried inside, inspecting through the glass-walled kitchen the tempting seafood fare on display, anticipating a gastronomic adventure to follow.
Soon, both seated over gently lapping waves but under sail-shade from a pleasantly warm sun, one Brother surveyed the tranquil scene and ventured that there was a cruise-like feel to the proceedings, although with no need to find one’s sea-legs. The other Brother (never one to be intimidated by his deafness of tone) attempted to amuse by adopting the role of the Shantyman (the translation of Al Nahham) and conjuring up half-remembered refrains of sea-shanties.
It was therefore of relief to nearby diners that at this point Basim Afaneh, the enthusiastic and welcoming Jordanian restaurant manager arrived to discuss the lunch menu, introducing Basher El Halabi, Anantara’s proactive oriental chef from Tripoli in the Lebanon.
Explaining that they wanted to select typical dishes to be found at all Middle Eastern restaurants in Doha as a means to discover what made Al Nahham so widely acclaimed, the cunning Rues opted to begin with a mixed platter of Mezza (small dishes) from the chef’s selection. And there followed a mouth-watering, appetite-whetting display and a sampling of the staples of any Middle Eastern meal.
Hummus (cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, the finest extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt) was creamy, soft and outstanding, served with hot home-baked pita bread.
Moutabel was crafted in perfect proportions between fresh eggplants, tahini (sesame paste), plain yoghurt, lemon juice and salt – as well as pomegranate seeds. It was similarly delicious with hot pita bread yet had a completely different, rarefied taste.
Muharrama (another dip or spread but made from roasted red bell peppers and walnuts) with paprika, red pepper flakes, ground cumin, pomegranate paste, olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper was distinctly different again but no less ambrosial.
Fattoush, the colourful tossed salad with crispy croutons made from pita bread and served in a lemon-garlic dressing, was a perfect accompaniment and complemented the fresh tabbouleh (tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgar – made from the parboiled groats of various wheats but mainly durum, or from couscous, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and salt).
Perhaps the Rues looked ravenous but to complete the chef’s selection the most freshly delicious garlic prawns arrived, luxuriating in their cilantro (coriander) butter, olive oil and lemon juice sauce . . . a fabulous foretaste of what was to follow.
It may have been the sea air or Bashar’s chef’s secrets or even Basim’s enjoyment of the Rues’ enjoyment but neither brother could recall a more memorable mezza in all their combined 40-odd years in Doha (or anywhere else, for that matter).
Pressing pause for a few minutes before the introduction of their next platter, we enjoyed the company of executive sous chef Sanjay Makoona, hailing from the Maldives, Ishtiaq Rashie, proud F&B service manager, and Emad Taboulsi, newly arrived hotel manager who is clearly committed to raising the Banana Island Resort bar even higher.
Then, having demolished one platter, along came another masterpiece of calamari (fried in a light, tempura-like batter), lobster (prepared so the flesh was easily accessible), king prawns (ditto), hamour (grilled to perfection, as befits Qatar’s national fish dish) and a delicately cooked sea bass.
Our American cousins often say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and this mantra could apply equally to the superb Al Nahham sea-food platter, all of it either cooked or prepared with subtlety, which either gently enhances or quietly compliments the flavours and textures, rather than smothers them with good intentions.
Of course, as one Brother Rue observed (somehow, while smacking his lips), the quality of produce must be of the very highest. No argument there, it was agreed.
Fully replete and convinced their satisfied glows would be persuasive enough to allow them to bring the curtain down on their gastronomic performance the Brothers were mildly dismayed when Basim, brandishing a menu, explained the desserts were neither pre-cooked nor pre-prepared – and insisted on another platter.
This one was to consist of knafeh (“kataifi” dough, the Greek iteration for knafeh), which features in several types of Lebanese pastry, typically of the syrupy-sweet kind. Here, though, chef Bashar uses no sugar, preferring a little honey, and he bakes the mozzarella/akawi cheese with pistachios sprinkled with vermicelli.
It is a dessert to savour – as is umm ali. Thought by one Brother Rue, who shall remain nameless, to resemble an upmarket bread-and-butter pudding it is actually made with puff (sometimes filo) pastry, broken up with raisins, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios and coconut. Milk, with sugar or honey, and vanilla is separately prepared to pour over the mix and the whole delicious dish is then baked.
Although the platter included ripe watermelon and fresh strawberries and blueberries, one Brother Rue got no further than the knafeh and umm ali, as he is not (but perhaps should be) ashamed to admit.
Eventually, having bid fond farewells and stopping by the children’s pool to retrieve the Rue relatives reluctant to return, the Brothers were carted off (literally) to take the ferry for the 25-minute trip back to mainland Doha.
Gliding by moored dhows, the ever-striking Museum of Islamic Art and Richard Serra’s 80-foot high sculpture “7” (aka The Magnificent Seven), the rapacious Brother Rue reached out for another of the succulent pistachio and walnut filled dates being offered to each of the 50 contented fellow passengers. We wondered how such a stunning attraction had escaped our attention for so long.
A Family Affair
by Lucy Kean
As the very fortunate daughter of a certain Brother Rue, my family and I (husband Gavin and children Amelia 7 and Elliot 5) were delighted to be invited, observe and enjoy the facilities at the fabulous Banana Island Resort Doha. Our task was to focus on family entertainment.
Having visited the island frequently as a child in the 1980s, I was utterly amazed to see the incredible development of this now luxury resort.
After an enthusiastic musical welcome we visited the intimate and thoroughly luxurious cinema (showing a current film), a superb eight-lane bowling alley and the Cool Mint Kids Club, which houses a huge three-storey soft play facility, together with film showings and arts and craft sessions run by extremely friendly, experienced staff. Open from 9 am to 9 pm, younger children would love spending time here – mine certainly did!
Ted’s Diner was the setting for lunch where a lively, colourful, fun vibe created an ideal family atmosphere. Superb service from attentive smiley staff who obviously enjoy interacting with children, healthy portions, a wide variety of menu choices and “a perfectly cooked burger” ensured a great dining experience. For those with a larger appetite there’s the 1k challenge – to consume a 1-kilo burger within 60 minutes! Those who manage the challenge receive a t-shirt, cap and photograph on the restaurants “Wall of Shame!”
Ideally situated right outside Ted’s are the family swimming areas and adventure pools. Highlights include three flumes of varying speeds, a toddlers’ splash and water play area and plenty of shaded seating space. Or, if you are really in the mood to relax – like I was – very comfortable double bed shaded loungers. Two lifeguards were on hand, which made the relaxation process much easier!
Yards from the pool complex is the stunning, uncrowded, clean and inviting beach where numerous activities can be enjoyed, from volleyball, badminton and beach soccer to tug of war, beach streetball and sand art to name just a few.
We only had a day on the island to enjoy the superb facilities and activities but there is an abundance of wonderful things on offer. Time didn’t allow for the golf putting course or the wave pool, but if we’re ever lucky enough to return, they will be first on our list!
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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