One Brother Rue has just launched a new business and has been heard ranting relentlessly, often in his sleep, about the madness of modern metrics thrust upon a humble start-up company these days.
Everyone is becoming cloud-obsessed, he exclaimed, as his bemused brother looked to the heavens wondering if it was going to rain.
Any hope of cohesion or clarity within this one-sided conversation remained murkily distant. “Success is measured by search analytics,” he tried to explain, while insisting that intense scrutiny of “inbound marketing data” had become the holy grail that will determine success or failure in a nanosecond.
“It used to be a New York minute,” his sibling said unhelpfully. Fearing the sudden appearance of men in white coats he whisked his brother away to escape cyberspace for an evening, gratefully accepting an invitation to unwind at the Sharq Village & Spa.
This imposing property is managed by The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, a business built on traditional bricks and mortar with a history that is rich and colourful. It began late in the 19th century with César Ritz, a Swiss hotelier beguiled by the allure of luxury, and Auguste Escoffier, the French chef whose culinary creations had captivated aristocracies first at the Ritz in Paris and then the Savoy in London.
By 1899 the pair had taken over the Carlton Hotel where English royalty and high society would soon flock. In the 21st century, the bamboozled business-minded Brother Rue explained, marketing “experts” paid handsomely to explain the obvious would probably assign such success to “brand-awareness”.
For Ritz and Escoffier the waves awaited as they embarked on a succession of restaurants aboard opulent ocean liners. On one voyage in 1913 they met Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was as impressed with food as he was with war. Evidently, he turned to Escoffier to announce: “I am the Emperor of Germany and you are the Emperor of Chefs.”
“That would have been a great testimonial to have on his website,” said Brother Rue with head still circling the clouds. As the conflicts in Europe escalated, a far-sighted businessman named Albert Keller bought and franchised the Ritz-Carlton name in the United States.
Today, as a subsidiary of Ritz Carlton, there are 91 properties in 30 countries bearing the famous marque, of which Sharq Village & Spa is most certainly a crown jewel. We dined at Al Dana where we were treated to the lavish service and hospitality for which the Ritz-Carlton is rightly renowned.
General Manager Wael Maatouk stopped by. He was an integral part of the Sharq Village story a decade ago when the huge palatial estate opened to much fanfare and Al Dana was unveiled as the showcase restaurant with a model fish market as its centrepiece.
For several years Al Dana stood alone and imperious on the oceanfront until Parisa, a delightful Persian restaurant, was conceived. The beauty of space spawned an ability to be creative and the two high-class establishments are now conjoined in harmony. Outside, the C-Lounge by Al Dana has been transformed to offer a casual alfresco experience with an imaginative menu to match. Live jazz adds to the convivial air at weekends.
We were greeted by chef de cuisine Evangelos Liakouris, who has brought a distinctive style and panache to Al Dana, with a focus on healthy Mediterranean fayre. He is inventive and attentive, exemplified by his use of mild and peppery olive oil from Crete that would rival any low-acidity (0.2%) Italian contemporary. Evangelos is a master of technique and it is abundantly clear that considerable time and effort are afforded to preparation and presentation of all his dishes.
With hot bread we began with Skordalia (a traditional Greek fine purée of potato with aioli), Tzatziki (the lightest of yoghurts with garlic, cucumber and marjoram, a favourite herb), wonderful eggplant salad with tiny chopped peppers and smoked paprika from Spain and a special hummus (sans tahini with garlic, caramelised onion and the most incredible plump capers from Italy).
A simple but spectacular platter of Greek salad followed, comprising a paste base of finely chopped black olives with creamy feta, heirloom tomatoes and more wonderful capers atop.
We were delighted to hear that Evangelos is no great fan of sushi, but raw fish aficionados will undoubtedly be contented by the marinated salmon tartare and smoked salmon with beetroot (a combination that works), both of which were served with pearls of salmon caviar.
The signature sea bass ceviche is a frenzy of contrasting taste. Coconut complements the lime, chilli, coriander, finely chopped celery and beetroot and a sweet sliced mango base completes a perfect arrangement.
Beef tenderloin tataki, seared but bloodless and peppery with pomegranate molasses sauce, came with an unlikely companion in the shape of Eryngia, aka king oyster mushrooms from South Korea that were blanched, marinated and cut so thin that a razor blade must have been the weapon of choice.
Another signature dish is the shrimp in a thick lobster-based tomato sauce reduced to perfection with fennel, herbs and white onion. Next up was grilled octopus from the Greek island of Santorini that had been marinated for four hours with red cabbage, fennel and mustard puree, producing a subtle taste.
It should be emphasised that Al Dana has several alternatives to fish. We were treated to braised Australian short ribs that simply melted along with a creamy onion sauce and slivers of green apple
And, despite the array of aforementioned courses, we had not over-indulged, which again is a tribute to the kitchen, so we faced the finale with fervour. It was “deconstructed” Black Forest gateau with mango cremeux, white and dark chocolate ganache, berries, kumquat and cherry sauce.
It was amazingly light and airy, almost belonging in the cloud from which one Brother Rue had thankfully descended over a period of a few hours. You no longer need a search engine to find five-star service with cooking to match, came the apt response to a most satisfying evening.
© Marhaba Information Guide 2016. 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
Click here for more reviews by The Rue Brothers.