Nothing evokes a memory like the taste of good food. So this is all about my food journey through Doha. Traditional Qatari dishes consist of rice, meat and vegetables and are always shared. You will be served more than you could ever eat and it is a wonderful way to enjoy food. However, Doha is a cosmopolitan city with thousands of ex pats who have made their home here. Their influence is everywhere and is most apparent in the food you eat.
1. Qatar International Food Festival
I had the good fortune of attending the Qatar International Food Festival this year. Set on the grounds of the Sheraton Grand Doha against a spectacular skyline this was truly an event to remember. It was the 7th annual QIFF and attracted over 20,000 visitors from home and abroad.
Street Food for Everyone!
The festival was split into several zones making it easier to navigate. I started in the central zone of mixed food booths. The area was brimming with stands from all over the world. Italian pastries, Turkish baklava, brightly decorated popsicles, frosted cupcakes, skewered round chips, milk shakes, smoothies, mixed snack booths and any mouthwatering street food imaginable was available here. Never ending queues of curious foodies flocked around each stand to sample their delight of choice.
The festival spans over a large area and it’s not possible to cover it in a single day. This is possibly why it runs over a week. With an extensive schedule and big name chefs in all parts of the festival the challenge was deciding the highlights.
So after much deliberation these are my 3 highlights of QIFF:
I. The Cooking Theatre
The Cooking Theatre hosted renowned chefs from across the globe. Live demonstrations from big names such as Chef Marco Arlotti Teatro (Four Seasons, Doha), Chef Elias Gemayel (St. Regis Hotel, Doha), Chef Erhan Ahacan (Marriott, Doha) were a big hit with the crowds. Many had secured seats their seats well in advance and it was easy to understand why. How often would we get the chance to witness masters of the culinary art practice their skill in this way?
II. Chef’s Table
The Chef’s table was an exclusive dining experience. Top chefs such as Chef Andrew Bozaki (Nobu, Doha) and Chef Sanjeev Kapoor (Melia, Doha) were on hand to cook your meal for the evening. Yes, you heard me right! Internationally renowned chefs were on hand to cook you a scrumptious meal to remember. Needless to say advance booking was required.
III. The Hotel Park
The Hotel Park zone offered taster menus from a broad range of luxury and mid range hotels. Big hitters such as Four Seasons, W Hotel, and Sheraton Grand took the opportunity to serve bite sized delicacies from their menus reaching out to an audience wider than their patrons. An absolutely ingenious idea which proved immensely popular.
However, all things considered, it was when the sun began to set that QIFF really came into itself. Families arrived with mouthwatering picnics. The grassy areas were covered in gingham blankets and children were running free. Entertainers on stilts appeared handing out balloons and blowing giant bubbles. Play fountains were turned on and the festival took on a carnival atmosphere. By the time I was ready to retire and go back to my room, around 9.30pm, QIFF was in full swing with no sign of anyone going home any time soon.
Food festivals in general are popular because they offer visitors a chance to experience food in an informal and relaxed setting. QIFF is unique in that it brings together cultures and tastes but more importantly it brings together PEOPLE. They come from all walks of life and have one thing in common – their love of food. As far as food festivals go, this one is not to be missed.
2. Dinner in the Sky.
How would you like your three course gourmet dinner served? “Buckled up and hanging 50 feet above the city of Doha”, you say. Well then, Dinner in the Sky is just the thing. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
The second stop on my culinary journey is Dinner in the Sky. A 40 minute experience offered through QIFF and courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel. I and 21 other guests were strapped to our bucket seats using safety harnesses. Then guests and staff were slowly raised 50 feet in the air as our three course meal was served.
This is arguably the best seat in the house. The panoramic view of Doha from this elevated position was incredible and the cool night air was invigorating. There was no dress code but I loved that everyone had dressed for dinner. There’s something about dangling in the air while dressed in evening attire! I don’t suffer from vertigo nor have any fear of heights so I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. It’s one of the most fun things I have done without risking my life.
The Four Seasons pulled out all the stops here, starting with a great lounge for pre-drinks for guests waiting to be seated.
My smoked salmon tartar with dill cream starter was surreal. The grilled angus beef tenderloin was served with baby vegetables and tyme jus – what a treat! Desert was white chocolate passion fruit mousse with mango and raspberry coulis. The food was as thrilling as the ride. For me, it only added to the excitement. A word of advice however – don’t drop your cutlery.
3. Idam by Alain Ducasse
The final stop in my food journey is Idam. It is Alain Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East and is headed by Chef Damian Leroux. The interiors were designed by Philip Stark and the restaurant seats 60 diners.
If great views and great food are your things well, this is it. It was difficult not to stare into the distance while I tucked into my blue crab and mango salad starter followed by small spelt with asparagus.
My mains of quick seared bonito fish, aubergines and cumin looked so pretty on the plate that I could have photographed it all day. I savoured every bite and made it last as long as I could. I can honestly say that I didn’t want it to end. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better I was served Iranian pistachio souffle and pistachio ice cream.
It may seem or sound like this is a great deal of food to eat in one sitting. However, when ingredients are this painstakingly sourced, cooked with such knowledge and presented with such passionate love the results are heavenly. Every bite was akin to a breath of fresh air; light as a feather and divine on the tongue.
So if you are in Qatar, be sure to make a reservation. Make it a special occasion because it is.
The small print:
QIFF is an annual event and took place between 29th March – 8th April this year. Entrance is free but you will need to reserve tickets to attend specific events.
Dinner in the Sky costs QAR 500 per person.
Lunch menu at IDAM costs QAR 200 per person.