The Ritz-Carlton, Doha stood graciously for many years in splendid isolation on the hinterland of Doha, far from the madding crowd – except there really were no crowds in Qatar back then.
At night from a distance it resembled a lonely lighthouse glistening out at sea but then came the clamour. All and sundry are now attention-seekers in this once somnolent part of suburbia. There are the “haves and have yachts” on The Pearl-Qatar, the vast estate of the Grand Hyatt, the wacky Zig-Zag Towers watching over Lagoona Mall and, of course, the landmark city of Lusail where the World Cup Final will have its home in 2022. New neighbours all.
Elegance and charm have been mainstays as the venerable hotel resort has kept its head while some around have been losing theirs. On entrance (after navigating another revised route and watching closely for unexpected chicanery on the road from West Bay) the huge chandelier remains the lobby’s welcoming centrepiece, adorned with 2,300 Swarovski crystals. The aroma of fresh flowers and coffee on arrival could be bottled and sold as a priceless scent.
Yes, both of us had a tinge of nostalgia as we re-entered separately after far too long without paying respects. Not much has changed since 2001 but a great deal will, we were told, as the property undergoes significant refurbishment.
One Brother Rue (who shall remain nameless) had arrived at Porcini unfashionably early while waiting for the other to finish listening to some high-brow policy discussion on Middle East geopolitics. The academic one was gently reminded that freedom of speech did not extend to the dinner table so any fascinating insights gleaned at this event were off limits.
However, Michelle Di-ayon, The Ritz-Carlton’s amiable and accommodating marketing executive from the Philippines, did later let slip her thoughts about the presidential election victory of Rodrigo Duterte, who makes Donald Trump appear diffident and demure by comparison. Eyebrows were raised.
Then along came Italian chef de cuisine Moreno Miotto, a confident connoisseur of his home country cooking, who had spent some time in the wonderfully cosmopolitan seaport city of Vancouver, rightly regarded as a food capital of Canada.
Whenever a chef offers to prepare his favourite dishes for sharing we never demur, partly out of inherent laziness but mostly out of good manners and respect. One of us is obsessed with porcini risotto and has it in his head that dried mushroom varieties actually add more flavour after a good half hour of soaking.
With a dumbfounded glance, Chef Moreno sauntered away only to return with the most amazing, aromatic fresh porcini specimens we had ever encountered. Suitably crestfallen, the offending Brother Rue was compared to a mushroom because he was constantly in the dark about fine cuisine. How unkind.
He perked up, though, when the grilled polenta with porcini and white wine cream sauce arrived. At this time of year before summer sets in and eggs can be fried on the roof of a car, executive chefs begin to prepare their new autumn menus on which this excellent dish will appear.
It is a period of great anticipation as a democratic in-house debate ensues among hotel staff over what to offer. Michelle, who has trained in Food & Beverage with the Ritz-Carlton, is a more than willing participant and provides a female perspective among the mostly male tasting team. “You eat with your eyes as well,” she so correctly commented.
We were also presented with Caprese, comprising buffalo mozzarella (from Campania, of course), basil, balsamic and increasingly popular heirloom tomatoes. Chef Moreno, a traditionalist at heart, told us that the best mozzarella is moulded by hand so he would never use a knife prior to serving.
The third appetiser was the almost obligatory and beautifully presented carpaccio of thinly sliced Australian tenderloin served with a Tuscan tomato and bread salad.
Of course, a good chef will always know his onions but preparing dishes that complement is also a skill to behold, as we soon discovered. The hand-made ravioli with Canadian lobster and rich tomato sauce with basil was a match made in heaven for the, yes, porcini risotto.
Italy is the rice basket of Europe. Favoured regions are Piedmont, from where an ancestor of one Brother Rue is believed to hail (to be confirmed at a summer family reunion), and Lombardy where the Po river valley’s swampy plains make ideal growing conditions. Carnaroli is one of the famous cultivars, selected to absorb liquid when cooked yet retain an al dente bite and a creaminess perfected by Porcini’s artisans.
The third triumph of the pasta and risotto course was the duck ragù with handmade egg noodle tagliatelle. Chef Moreno uses the whole duck (from France) with the bones providing the stock and the hand-cut meat combining after more than two hours of gentle simmering.
By this time the aforementioned Brother Rue of dried porcini fame had insisted he would never offer kitchen tips again but he did look aghast when Chef Moreno suggested the dish was too rich to make the summer menu. Vehement disagreement was barely stifled but we were both taken aback by the light silky texture of the ragù.
Before Moreno had to leave to spy on other Ritz-Carlton restaurant chefs (he was deputising for his boss) he had arranged for the main courses to be delivered. Along came Australian rack of lamb, superbly tender and pink with truffle pan jus and a Sicilian caponata, Australian beef tenderloin with potato purée, which should make the shortlist for autumn, and the pan-roasted Mediterranean sea bass with cherry tomato, olives and baby potatoes. “This fish will remain on all of my menus,” Chef Moreno had declared before departing. We did not argue.
At this stage, Michelle had only picked sparingly at her food but it became apparent why she had not over-indulged. Three good reasons, in fact: the Cannoli from Sicily with delicate ricotta, pistachio cream, caramelised citron and fruit coulis; the Tuscan tart with peach confiture; and tiramisu, that Piedmont classic with whipped Mascarpone cream laced liberally with strong Espresso topped with cocoa powder.
Indeed, the tiramisu provided the perfect wake-up call for both Brothers Rue, served to ensure that we return more often to see the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton Doha, despite those new noisy neighbours!
© 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
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