Unless the European Union has since claimed intellectual property ownership, brunch began as a distinctly British invention. Back in 1895, a quaint reference in Punch magazine declared the late Sunday morning meal as popular among “Saturday night carousers”.
It is therefore unsurprising that such notoriety led to brunch being adopted across all continents. In the Gulf, and particularly in Dubai, grateful hoteliers have been boasting about the size of their buffets for years, competing fiercely to fill their Friday coffers through fulsome deals.
With this in mind, Marhaba graciously allowed us out on day release to sample The Westin Doha Hotel & Spa, which is preparing for its grand opening on 24 March after what those in the trade like to call a “soft launch” about one month ago.
There have been few boundaries restricting Qatar’s growth over the past two decades, which has meant an inexorable shift towards the sumptuous new suburbs of West Bay, The Pearl-Qatar and Losail.
However, we are happy to report that frantic expansion has not occurred at the expense of more historic habitats. Apart from the widening of Salwa Road, the neighbourhood around the Ramada junction (Bin Mahmoud) may not appear to have changed much but, nestling inconspicuously across from the Radisson Blu, the Westin awaits.
According to Construction Week, the first plans for the hotel complex were drawn up in 2007 and local planning regulations demanded a property not exceeding seven floors. The result is an architectural masterpiece in which there are more angles than a world-class billiards player could possibly contrive. Incredibly, there are 67,000 square metres of space and the ballroom alone comprises 2,400 square metres, making it the biggest in Qatar.
Experience (and an inherent cynicism, some would argue) has taught The Rue Brothers never to be unduly effusive but there was a certain “wow factor” that confronted us from arrival until day turned into dusk. Indeed, if we had stayed any longer we would have apprehended a couple of rooms for the night.
A five-star hotel without an imposing chandelier is like a Ferrari with three wheels, it seems, but at the Westin there is an intricate “Lightning Bolt” of blown glass fulminating from the top floor to the foyer. And, within the grandiose grounds, both waterfalls and greenery abound, just a few dozen metres from the C Ring Road, Doha’s clogged artery of years past and present.
So, in suitably tranquil mood, we entered the all-day dining restaurant named Seasonal Tastes, which can seat 230 guests indoors and out. It will soon become the venue for the Bubbalicious Brunch, a Friday phenomenon at the Westin Dubai where a confirmed reservation can be as coveted as a drop of rain in August.
Westin is a Starwood Hotels & Resorts brand and is extremely keen on wellness. Embracing this slightly alien concept and prior to moving on to sterner stuff, we were confronted by fresh pineapple juice and liquid concoctions of beetroot, carrot and grape and apple, cucumber and mint. Recognising a breakthrough moment we were tempted to tell our doctors immediately.
“Express” business lunches may be fashionable but they are a fad we find difficult to digest. A good brunch must always be savoured over time and we began with succulent Australian lobster and mussels and shrimp from the local market. An excellent medley of simple shellfish.
After a brief look at the enticing infinity pool outside we had a chat with Sona Shah, the resident marketing manager whose energy drink intake must be voracious, such was her infectious verve and vigour.
Eager to ensure that our eyes would not dwarf our stomachs (that would change later), we moved on sensibly to a terrine of salmon, which was expertly stuffed with morsels of shrimp, capers (a much neglected accompaniment for fish), cornichons, button mushrooms and muhamarra, a delicate and slightly spicy Syrian salad dish of roasted red peppers.
Seasonal Tastes is a perfect size for brunch. There is no feeling that you are jostling for position as you amble around the self-serving areas armed with plate in hand. Too many hotels are over-eager to “stretch” the experience and position cooking stations in outlying corners as if they should be in a different postcode.
So, having decided an omelette cooked to order may appease the appetite a tad too much, we marched straight to “Meat and Greet”, christened by one of us (who shall remain nameless) because the sous chef welcomed him with such assiduous ardour.
The roast duck and chicken were deliciously devoid of fat and the beef skewers were equally noteworthy. However, one Brother Rue wandered well beyond the call of duty as the leisurely pace became a canter when word arrived that the kitchen was closing. What emerged was a thick, succulent slice of rare rib of beef that made the plate disappear. Having felt it required some mustard (jus was surprisingly not an option) it was devoured avariciously in a matter of minutes.
Eager to meet such discerning diners, executive chef Yann Giacomoni dropped by the table. Born in Corsica with culinary experience in France (Nice and Cannes), Lebanon and China, the delightful Yann is a proud leader of the Westin Doha’s kitchens.
After our customary debate about grain-fed versus grass-fed cattle and farmed fish, he felt it was an obligation to try some cheese. Diplomatically, he selected Tomme de Savoie from the French Alps and Cheshire from England – perhaps a hint that Britain should remain in the EU despite our contrarian views.
Then, as Chef Yann left to prepare an evening banquet, we were whisked away by Sona to experience Mix, the hotel’s cavernous cocktail venue with an outside terrace as big as a football field. It is a fine addition to the Doha social scene.
Its affable manager Matteo Biagini is from Umbria, a region of Italy that always seems to conjure images of retirement among The Rue Brothers. Judging by the day’s long and exceptional experience, though, perhaps Doha is like Hotel California, the classic song by the Eagles. You can check out any time you like. But you can never leave!
For inquiries and reservations, call The Westin Doha Hotel & Spa at 4492 1555 or visit WestinDoha.com
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.