Park kiosk in Qatar
© Fabienne Dupuis
Park kiosk in Qatar
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Last updated: April 29, 2013

Culture, fine dining and herbal tea in Doha

The oriental city that never sleeps is now focusing on cultural and gastronomic assets to carry on developing its global attraction.

People who travel regularly to Qatar, and more particularly to Doha know that regardless of the amount of times you visit the city is never the same. Enthused by the 2022 Football World Cup, the tiny Arab state is speeding up its developments. And one key goal is to give its metropolitan city a depth that state of the art skyscrapers might have failed to give Doha.

It all starts with connection. If so far, Doha’s inhabitants’ best friend has been their car, it soon won’t be the case any longer. Tube, but also trains, will soon be running all over the city and beyond its actual limits to give the opportunity to connect places and people. Commuting won’t be limited to car trips anymore but rather to links and timetables.

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But there wouldn’t be any point to create those transport systems if there weren’t any targets to hit. And there are plenty of them, the very same ones part of the city’s grand scheme. Culture, culture, culture, that’s all they’re talking about here with a specific predilection for museums and gastronomy.

If the trend was set with the Museum of Islamic Art designed by world renowned Ieoh Ming Pei in 2008, the city has now opened another venue entirely dedicated to contemporary Arabic Modern Art. Opened in 2010, the Mathaf has already gained a strong regional authority, opening its doors to artists from the entire Arab world, from Morocco to Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Jordan.

That authority should soon go beyond its current limits with the opening of 250 artists’ villas right in the heart of Katara, a cultural village committed to world cultures currently under construction. That and the opening in 2014 of the National Museum, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, as well as the Olympic and Sports Museum scheduled for 2015 should add the last touches of polish to the cultural summit of the 2022 host city.

“The Qataris were nomads; they lived with very little belongings. What I like is these tents, these few objects on the ground, these immense landscapes in which they lived. The challenge is to translate the beauty of their origins,” Jean Nouvel said in a NY Times documentary about the design of the National Museum.

On the gastronomy side, Qatar had already proven a certain taste for exceedingly talented and world-renowned chefs such as Jean Georges Vongerichten and Gordon Ramsay. With the arrival of two more Michelin starred chefs, Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse, the Arab peninsula confirms its global dream of exceedingly state-of-the-art projects.

Nested on the Pearl in a simple but elegant venue designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, Quisine by Guy Savoy offers the chef signature menus (“Prestige” and “Colours, Textures and Savours”) as well as some “local” surprises.

Alain Ducasse opted for the Museum of Islamic Art to set his pans and whisks in a Philippe Starck-signed interior decoration. At Idam, guests can now enjoy a menu forcefully oriented towards local products, which in Doha are hard to find and hard to grow. Local vegetables and raw flowers are part of the impressive menu, which also comprises a superbly revisited Moroccan Harira and the Camel à la Rossini with its lump of pâté de foie gras and potatoes soufflé.

“We work locally with the meat, which is precious here. It’s very, very high end. We hang it in the fridge for three to four weeks and we slow cook it, braise it, for six days to reach the level of tenderness,” Ducasse told Bloomberg.

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A blast into the Qatari dining scenes that locals and visitors won’t forget any time soon, with one exception possible being that those two venues are currently serving their food with no other drinks than water, tea, juices or herbal concoctions.

With the camel, Alain Ducasse suggests a drink called “So Good”, which is a mix of white grape juice, tonic, iced tea and rose syrup.

A recent ban on alcohol on the Pearl has caused a severe drop in sales at restaurants on the man made luxury island. Although some believes it will be squeezed out soon, for now, many expats prefer dining at the hotels of the Doha business district, where alcohol still flows freely.

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Fabienne Dupuis
Fabienne Dupuis has been working as a freelance travel journalist for almost a decade, endlessly roving around the planet and more particularly the Middle East.
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