There’s more to Qatar than just football – try the food, glorious food.
I’m standing in the middle of Al Sa’ad Plaza, Lusail Boulevard. The streets are lined with food stalls, from Harrods’ afternoon tea to La Petit Chef. People of all ages are soaking up the atmosphere, from adults scoffing shawarma to children licking ice cream. Welcome to the 12th Qatar International Food Festival.
New York is the Big Apple in the United States, Ukraine is the Bread Basket of Europe, and Doha may well be the dining destination of the Middle East. The food festival takes place in the spring every year, and brings together more than 100 vendors and 7,000 daily visitors. The festival showcases everything from celebrity chefs to homegrown talent and hosts cooking classes, live entertainment and fireworks.
Even if you can’t schedule a visit to the festival, there are plenty of remarkable restaurants in Doha. The city is home to concepts ranging from female-led businesses to world-famous brands. Proving there’s more to Doha than just the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, here are the restaurants worth the plane fare.
Al Maha Island
Al Maha Island feels like a playground for adults and children. On the one side, you’ll find Winter Wonderland with its traditional fairground attractions. On the other side, you’ll find heavyweight restaurants, from Billionaire Doha to LPM Restaurant. Don’t worry, you won’t be able to hear the kids scream from the restaurants.
Tatel Doha opened in the autumn of 2022, and knows how to make an entrance – you won’t miss the brightly lit logo and towering living wall. The concept draws its inspiration from America’s prohibition era in the 1920s. The Lamb Shank and Gratin Dauphinois is so slow-cooked, it just falls off the bone. The Cheesecake, with its fluffy texture and gooey filling, is one of the best we’ve ever had. We’d rock up just for this dessert.
Step back in time at Souq Waqif. The original buildings date back to the late 19th century, and it was renovated in 2006. Travel through the winding marketplace and soak up the smell of incense, herbs and spices. The marketplace is a tourist attraction in its own right – lookout for the Falcon Souq; one of Doha’s first hotels, Bismallah Hotel; and Al-Salem’s popular stall, which created Lionel Messi’s bisht for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 final.
Souq Waqif is home to one of Doha’s most heart-warming restaurants, Al Shoomoos. Shams Al Qassabi is a true trailblazer, as she is behind the souq’s first female-led business. She has a larger-than-life personality, greeting diners, recommending dishes and taking photos with tourists.
We catch up with her over breakfast, and she shares the restaurant’s origin story. She moves at ease between Arabic and Hindi, and explains: “At the time, society was conservative. I faced a lot of challenges, even just to go outside. Now Her Highness Sheikh Moza bint Nasser has pushed women to be more advanced – this has helped me and Qatari women.”
The humble eatery opened in 2014, and is famous for serving traditional Qatari food and her own creations. The Saj Bread options are a great way to start the day, and we finish the Crispy Sugar Regag in a matter of minutes.
Today, the walls are lined with celebrity snaps as well as awards – a FACT Doha Dining Award, no less. So, you know you’re in safe foodie hands.
The Pearl Qatar
The Pearl Doha is a true gem. The manmade island is home to charming cafés, marina walks and super yachts. Kai’s Songbird opened in November 2022, and has already made its mark. The London MICHELIN Starred restaurant’s first international expansion is located in the Corinthia Yacht Club.
Kai’s Songbird feels more like a spa than a restaurant, thanks to the oh-so-chilled vibes. Look out for the floral art, decoratively placed apples and umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. Sit under the towering trees, and eat your way through the Nanyang-inspired menu. Make sure you order the signature dish, the London Aromatic Crispy Duck, which we’re told is a British invention.
Pure Eats prides itself on being the first 100 per cent gluten and dairy-free restaurant in Qatar. We catch up with the founder, Jill Bordelon-Munir, who shares how her daughter’s disease inspired the concept. She laughs: “Eating gluten free and dairy free isn’t as hard as you think – it doesn’t have to taste like cardboard. There are so many people who cannot eat gluten or dairy, and they have to leave restaurants – we don’t want that.”
On our visit to The Pearl Qatar, EL&N London catches our eye with its gram-tastic décor. The instantly recognisable design includes pink walls, floral features and motivational neon slogans. We have a soft spot for the signs pointing to London’s Belgravia, Chelsea and Mayfair. Note: there is also a branch in Msheireb Downtown.
It’s easy to spot Doha’s West Bay. The area is home to some of the city’s tallest skyscrapers and architectural wonders. Doha Exhibition and Convention Center with its floating blade roof, anyone?
We are fans of the recently opened GAIA and Shanghai ME, both of which opened in November 2022. The UAE’s Chef Izu is behind the concepts, which first opened in Dubai.
GAIA brings the easy breezy feel of the Greek Islands to the heart of Doha. The venue is a masterclass in relaxed elegance – think white tablecloths, hanging plants, an open kitchen, a seafood counter and Greek sculptures in framed photos. Plus, in true Izu-style, lemons are part of the décor as well as dishes.
The Mediterranean menu covers spreads, salads, starters, seafood, raw and mains. The highlights are the rich Black Truffle Pasta, and harissa style seafood – make sure you order what you want from the counter.
Shanghai ME is a celebration of Pan Asian cuisine, and fuses together Japanese and Chinese cooking techniques and flavours. The venue combines Art Deco and Oriental touches across the red-hot sofas, wall dividers and Pop Art of Mao.
The menu covers noodles, sashimi, sushi and rice dishes. There is an almost academic-like approach with the Dim Sum Library (aka menu), and a drinks list inspired by Chinese zodiac signs. The surprise is the zingy King Crab and Apple Salad, and the standout is the flavourful Beef with Garlic and Black Pepper Sauce.
After dining our way around Doha, we’re sure of one thing – we’ll definitely be back for seconds.
GO: Visit https://visitqatar.com for more information.