Gridlock added to the grind of the day as we set off for The St. Regis Doha but time was put to good use with a lively debate about the best British chefs and their influences. It used to be primarily France and then Spain that elevated its purveyors of fine food to celebrity status as their restaurants gleamed with a galaxy of Michelin stars.
British cuisine was derided back in the Seventies and early Eighties during a time of social and political upheaval when a meal out for many meant a trip to the local “greasy spoon”. Monty Python caught the mood with typical parodic precision through their splendid “Spam” sketch (on You Tube for those of a lesser age).
Michel and Albert Roux led a French revolution in London when they opened Le Gavroche in Mayfair in 1967. It was unabashedly haughty haute cuisine. Perhaps more important than the price of a meal, which could be equivalent to a miner’s weekly wage without wine, these particular Roux Brothers offered impeccable service.
Their simple formula for success began to attract attention, especially after the opening of Le Poulbot on the site of an old London pub in the heart of the City. It served breakfast, lunch and dinner and was awarded the “Golden Plate” accolade by famous food critic Egon Ronay in 1971.
This rapid-fire Rue-on-Roux regaling stirred fond memories for one Brother Rue, whose long stint on national newspapers began in 1983 at a tender and vulnerable age. On arrival, his editor explained in detail the quaint custom of a journalist’s expenses and a list of suitable lunch venues for entertaining contacts was proudly presented.
One was Le Gamin. Here, the choice of location was another Roux brothers’ masterstroke because it was within staggering distance for hungry hacks on Fleet Street and a legion of lawyers at the Old Bailey law courts. It also served as an innovative training academy so hand-picked rising stars could learn the restaurant trade à la Roux.
The French influence on British chefs who later became international culinary cult figures cannot be underestimated so it was far from idle chat that preceded our arrival at Gordon Ramsay Mediterranean Doha.
One Brother Rue, who shall remain nameless, spent a day with Ramsay (and his staff fraught with first-night nerves) when Maze opened with fanfare on The Pearl in 2010. Ramsay’s fiery reputation had, of course, been well documented but he exuded professionalism, humour and calm with barely an expletive exhaled. Being a consummate marketer of the Ramsay brand wherever he may be, his only mischievous comment was to compare Doha (“St Tropez”) with Dubai (“Blackpool”).
His affection for Doha was affirmed when he opened two restaurants at The St Regis (the other being Gordon Ramsay Opal) even after Maze closed through no fault of his own and an unfortunate airport incident involving a confiscated bottle of Dom Pérignon attracted a few headlines.
After we were seated by Cedrix Cornet, the courteous restaurants and bars manager from Mauritius, we surmised about Ramsay’s early spell sharing the same kitchen as the oft-overpowering Marco Pierre White at Harvey’s in Wandsworth, south London. “Either the diners were offered ear plugs or the walls were incredibly thick,” was one brother’s remark.
Soon after, Ramsay went to work for Albert Roux at Le Gavroche and then at Hotel Diva, a Roux resort in the French Alps. Continuing his Gallic experience at a swift gallop he moved to Paris where he studied under two more master chefs, Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon.
“That is not a shabby résumé for such a young chef,” said one Brother Rue, understated for emphasis. Back in London in 1993 aged 27, Ramsay became head chef at La Tante Claire, a renowned Chelsea gem boasting three Michelin stars.
A few years later at the same premises on Royal Hospital Road he opened Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. It has been awarded three Michelin stars every year since 2001, which is an exceptional achievement. His current star-studded total is seven from more than 30 restaurants worldwide, albeit some way behind Robuchon’s tally of 28 but clear evidence that stars beget stars in this ultra-competitive world and a path towards fame invariably runs through France.
At Gordon Ramsay Mediterranean Doha, the expertly crafted menu enables dishes to be shared, which we both agree should be a pre-requisite for any successful fine dining experience. Amuse-bouches are always well received as well, as was the case when Marko, our ever-attentive and observant tour guide from Serbia, arrived with delicate aranchini (tomato-flavoured, deep-fried risotto balls) and capsicum salsa topped with caramalised onion on toast.
Recognising that we were embarking on a mini-marathon and not a sprint, we began judiciously with croquettes, comprising light fluffy potato, Spanish truffle and green pea purée accompanied by radish slices and rocket.
Then the wow-factor was introduced by way of Wagyu cheeks marinated in red wine, cooked for several hours and served with polenta and croutons. They were sensational, dissolving in the mouth as the flavour lingered. If we were cats we would have purred. One Brother Rue made a note to go to Mega Mart in the morning and ask for a kilo of beef cheeks. “Good luck with that,” the other said dismissively.
Marko, whose enthusiasm never waned despite a barrage of questions, recommended the Australian beef filet wrapped in mushroom purée, bresaola and a thin pizza crust. It was a variation of Beef Wellington and an original creation from Ramsay’s flagship London restaurant. The main courses were served with excellent garlic, chilli and breadcrumb roast potatoes and a classy Sicilian Caponata.
We are big risotto fans so the next dish required no selection process. A confit of red, green and cherry tomatoes had been prepared overnight, then roasted and blended with perfect al dente rice. It was enhanced with succulent prawns. Light and extremely satisfying.
For fish we chose the Grigliatta di pesce, a most inviting platter of local prawns, hamour, red mullet, white snapper, herbed hummus and a surprise element – aubergine pickled in white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. “If there is one way to get kids to eat aubergine this must be it,” was the verdict of one Brother Rue. Indeed, it was a perfect condiment.
A short break was required so Marko gave us a guided tour of both Ramsay restaurants. They do complement each other, with Opal offering a large patio area and outside grill where the chef was preparing “London Twist” night. At just QAR100 including one beverage it seemed a steal, but we concurred that both Ramsay restaurants offered excellent value – so often a rarity in Doha.
Suitably refreshed, we finished with an obligatory tiramisu containing hazelnut and peanut and bade our farewells, until next time. On our way back we duly accepted that decades of European unity and harmony among chefs had significantly influenced what many of us eat today!
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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