We imagined contestants in the annual World Pie Eating Championship going through a strenuous exercise routine involving forlorn attempts to bend over and touch toes with unwilling fingers just hours before the big event.
This particular competition, peculiar to Wigan in north-west England, made international headlines in 1997 when a former champion’s pet dog Charlie scoffed 20 of the meat and potato delicacies after raiding a fridge the night before. That record has stood ever since.
“Skip lunch,” was the early order of the day from one Brother Rue to the other. “Lunch is for wimps,” came the riposte, delivered in a quite convincing Gordon Gekko Brooklyn brogue. We were off to Rodizio at the Crowne Plaza Doha – The Business Park, to use its full name.
This five-star hotel opened in 2012 as an imposing structure on one of the city’s main thoroughfares between Grand Hamad St and the “old new” airport. Its creative composition and sparkling blue façade were instantly eye-catching.
Rodizio is a Brazilian restaurant, another notch on the rolling pin for Brothers Rue as we gallivant as inconspicuous gourmands from one international cuisine to another. It has been a few years since one of us sought solace in a hippie commune and truly understood the bohemian pleasure of working only for food. Strangely, it was all he could remember from those days.
Forgetting this evening of immoderation would be a more testing task, so please persevere. A churrascaria is a traditional South American eating place from centuries yore that has evolved from rustic roots to become a cherished destination for meat lovers across the world.
Several different meats are cooked on a rotisserie grill and are served consecutively at the table by Passadores armed with a large sharp knife and no ordinary skewer. In Brazil it is called rodizio service and a word of advice: be nice to them.
Our maitre d’ for the evening was Namrata, a charming and highly professional young lady from Mumbai who could easily have been from Macapá, such was her knowledge of all things Brazilian. Her first enamouring task was to grind with captivating grace a signature caipirinha cocktail comprising Cachaça rum with crushed ice and limes.
Suitably refreshed (due to the fruit content) three authentic Brazilian bite-sized, deep-fried appetisers arrived. In order of merit they were corn and cheese balls, cassava chips and cheese bread made of farofa.
In the meantime, melodic bossa nova, samba and frevo rhythms from the perfectly pitched Trio Habanon (Emilio, Jane, Anabel) lulled us into a false sense of security. The music was not intrusive (others please note) but elegantly complementary.
Even though we were pacing up and down on the starting line for the meat marathon, salads arrived. One Brother Rue (who shall remain nameless) suggested that our deceptively lethargic demeanour had convinced Namrata that we were incapable of walking to the salad bar itself, a mere dozen strides away.
We have long believed that a restaurant can be judged in an instant by the quality of its salads and Rodizio passed this test with aplomb. Perfectly marinated artichoke hearts, delightful mushrooms with spinach leaves (and a dressing to drool over) plus mussels in a light creamy sauce suggested we could not have chosen a more compelling combination ourselves.
We felt we were building a decent rapport with the already long-suffering staff when Boniface (and later Danson) made his introduction with samurai-like cleaver in hand. We were asked if we wanted to begin and did not argue.
Boniface and Danson are from Kenya (Kikuyu) so, as is his custom, one Brother Rue immediately began conversing in pigeon Swahili. Mercifully, vocabulary was exhausted after just a few moments and the first cut was carved.
It was prime US rib-eye. Having been grilled vertically, allowing the fat to trickle down like an aristocratic shawarma slab, it was expertly sliced and simply melted on impact. Yes, fat in moderation does have its nutritious benefits (protein, A, B and D vitamins) so just cancel that guilt trip and enjoy the taste.
We were now on a roll (we would roll over later) when the chicken thighs were thrust into the limelight with dramatic precision. They were marinated with rosemary and lots of garlic and joyously aromatic they were. Maminha, or rump steak, swiftly followed.
Determined not to break momentum, the broad grin of Boniface with unsheathed sword and shining skewer emerged with the celebrated chef’s special of the evening. Beef tenderloin cubes had been marinating for about five hours in Dijon mustard and parmesan cheese. There was a collective purr as the portions hit the plate and it was a speciality to savour.
We thought it was prudent to take a mini-break but affable Brazilian Chef Marcio had other anarchic ideas. He insisted a piping hot barbecued provoleta dish with olive oil, garlic, oregano and thyme was a necessary “interlude” and preferable to a jog around the car park. It was homely and wholesome but by now we were wondering about the evening’s direction. Only eight cuts left.
Then, like a mirage through frightened eyes, pineapple arrived. Yes, fat-free pineapple grilled with a humidifying air of cinnamon, a spice more associated with over-priced, rain-forest friendly coffee in this eco-sensitive era.
As the aroma dissipated the flap (or flank) steak entered from stage left. It may have become an understudy to choicer cuts over time but it tasted like it had been slow-roasting in an oven since morning. Delicious.
Australian leg of lamb with rosemary appeared on the horizon. It was a touch salty but glistening with natural juices. Next up was another Brazilian speciality called picanha, a top sirloin cut grilled with garlic. By now we had asked Boniface to cut the meat with a razor blade rather than his weapon of choice.
A sliver or two of American veal leg then ventured forth, followed by spicy chicken wings with chilli and paprika. Boneless chicken thighs doused for about one hour in yoghurt, garlic, parsley and olive oil maintained the frenetic pace, followed by a finale of lamb chops with rock salt.
Oh, and somewhere between the dozen courses came the camel. We have been in the region long enough to know that these kindly sweet-smelling beasts of burden require taste enhancement during cooking so we were happy soy and teriyaki sauces made up the marinade.
Peering out from under the table there appeared to be no more enemy fire so we sat back in horizontal position to reflect. According to the menu you should “arrive hungry”. We did. “Take a minimum of 90 minutes”. We took three hours. “Explore this very special dining experience”. We most certainly did.
The World Pie Eating Championship awaits.
© 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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