The Middle East is, well, very Middle Eastern. That’s great for visitors looking for the Arabic experience but Doha residents often crave something a little more contemporary and, dare I say, exotic on the dining scene. Crave no more! La Mar, a restaurant dedicated to sharing the flavours and culture of Peru with Qatar, and Manko, a sophisticated Parisian ultra-lounge, are here.
They say you only get one chance to make a first impression and I certainly got that ‘this looks great’ feeling when rocking up to the new building that houses La Mar and Manko. Situated just to the left of the main Intercontinental Doha hotel, and with its own approach road, I was immediately struck by the impressive entrance – to call it an entrance is not doing it justice, portal maybe? – two massive, oversized doors that hint at what lies beyond.
To the très chic reception area and we are greeted by very smart, very elegant and very professional staff. First impressions again. Then led through another set of huge and no less impressive doors to La Mar where I was immediately struck by the almost triple-height ceiling – what a magnificent sense of indoor space the architect has created. There’s a mix of indoor and outdoor dining and, as Doha’s winter season is just about perfect, there was only one option – outdoors. And how lovely it was too, sitting out beneath a softly lit gazebo, the beach, the buildings of Al Dafna and West Bay reflecting off a glass-like sea, a cool, gentle breeze brushing against the cheeks…what more could you want other than to relax and sip a Peruvian cocktail. Peru is famous for producing pisco, a popular type of liqueur, so it was no surprise to find a wide selection of cocktails built around a pisco base and a great change from the traditional offerings that, let’s face it, can actually get a bit boring.
Seafood dominates the menu and, speaking as a carnivore, I thought this experience may not really be that suited to my palate, but I can tell you now that I was in for pleasant surprise. Starting with two dishes to share – Nikkei, a tuna dish with cucumber and avocado paired with Lujoso, a salmon dish – I am pleased to report that in neither case did the seafood taste dominate! The finely chopped fish, ‘cured’ with leche de tigre, literally translated as ‘milk of the tiger’ but, in reality, a blend of lime juice and spices, really produced a very pleasing taste sensation. This experience was starting to score points! The weather, however, was not so kind and, at the first hint of rain, there was a mass exodus indoors. This wasn’t a bad thing as ushered in by Mr Soufiane Bahili, the floor manager, we now felt connected to the kitchen instead of the landscape and could really watch chefs Jesus Delgado and Tomas de La Paz Valenzuela in action.
I don’t know why he would, but assuming he may have been feeling guilty about the weather, chef Delgrado personally delivered the next dish, Limena, to our table, Now, I have to admit that I do like the taste of crab but I really can’t be bothered with the ritual of cracking various bits open just to get a morsel. No need to worry about that now, as I was staring at king crab meat and avocado mousse, served on a bed of Peruvian whipped potatoes – that’s cold mash to us mere mortals – and delicious it was too. Did I mention that chef Delgrado told us there were over 3,000 varieties of potato in Peru?
Continuing the seafood theme, I have to say these Latin American dishes were offering a taste sensation like no other.
Now I was staring at seared scallops, served with a delicate parmesan cheese foam, fish roe, our old friend leche de tigre, and crispy garlic all presented in a giant sea shell. What can I tell you other than to say ‘delicious’? So far, the restaurant’s contemporary design, with Latin American touches, had provided the perfect backdrop for La Mar’s signature cebiches, causas, tiradatos and para picar. I know, I can hear you asking what those words mean and my unequivocal answer, at this point, is to visit La Mar and find out for yourself but stay tuned as it’s not over yet!!
Even as a confirmed carnivore I still wasn’t missing the meat and now it was time for Lomo Saltado, one of the ‘classicos La Mar’ and a dish that really showed off Latin American cuisine, but with an Asian twist. Beef tenderloin, onions and tomatoes, wok stir-fried in soy sauce, with fried potatoes and rice with corn. It worked for me and I’m sure it would work for you too.
It’s at this point, as my waistline was beginning to expand beyond what I had previously thought were the physical limits, that I began staring wistfully at the menu, trying to imagine what the desserts must taste like. So far, each dish had been just enough to keep me wanting to try something new so, onwards and upwards it was to be!
Maybe I watch too many advertisements but there’s something about the mention of lime that, to me, suggests a fresh, zingy and tangy palate reboot. The lime cream, lime mousse, almond crumble merengue and lime sorbet was it. Listed as Pie de Limon, it did the trick and I felt satisfied. Surprise, surprise! To make up for the rain we were treated to Suspiro Loco, a foam concoction of vanilla ice cream, port infused berries and crispy meringues, and Choclo – Peruvian corn cake, even more ice cream, dates, candied popcorn and spiced honey. It would have been a crime not to!
Now I was truly at the point of no return and there was nothing for it but to retire upstairs to Manko. As we took the lift up one floor to this ultra-chic, three-in-one lounge, I had to admire the architect’s foresight when it came to anticipating just how diners were going to feel after dedicating themselves to the best of Peruvian cuisine for a couple of hours. As Manko’s cigar lounge was on the cusp of being finished, we moved on to the impressive bar and then flopped into chairs out on the balcony to take in Doha’s impressive skyline.
I have to say the building really impressed me. Distinctive architecture, food and professional staff have combined to create a great vibe and, if you’ve ever wandered along the beach in Thailand or Bali (or even Lima!) admiring those funky, softly lit restaurants with their huge windows, then this place, with its atmospheric setting overlooking the beach, is for you.
Lima has long been a popular destination among foodies, and its dining scene is now hotter than ever. Now we have a piece of that action here in Doha.
Learn more about La Mar and Manko by visiting the InterContinental Doha Hotel and Residences website.
International man of mystery, beachcomber extraordinaire, raconteur and bon vivant
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