6 Reasons To Try The Caramel High Tea at City Centre Rotana, Doha

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

I love High Tea, or 'Afternoon Tea' as we call it in England. I grew up on a staple of clotted cream and jam on scones still warm from the oven; pretty china tea pots of steaming English Breakfast (with milk of course!) and delicately assembled sandwiches with their crusts removed. Naturally, I was delighted when I discovered the array of options available in Doha, and I set myself the challenge of finding the best on the market. Now, three years (and countless High Teas later) and I think I've found it...and it's probably not what you would expect.

You might remember how much I enjoyed the Afternoon Tea at La Mer and how much I felt at home at Tea Garden in The Torch, but my top pick of places to enjoy this very British past-time, is City Centre Rotana for their Caramel High Tea which takes place every Thursday.

Here are ten reasons why it's not to be missed:

1. You can sample the array of Dilmah tea on offer before you choose your tipple

On entering Caramel Lobby Lounge, guided by your waiter, your first stop will be the extensive tea station.

I feel an affiliation to Dilmah, a family-run brand renowned for its passion and commitment to quality and authenticity in tea. The range of teas on offer at Caramel Lobby Lounge's tea station is impressive, and I love the fact that you are allowed to have a little taste of as many as you like before you make the important and taxing decision about which one to commit to.

2. The sandwiches, scones and cakes are faultless

Executive Chef Matias Ayala has poured passion and precision into the main feature of the evening and created something very special. Imagine warm, buttery, slightly crumbly scones smothered in cream and home made strawberry jam...

Close your eyes and conjour up an image of the perfect sandwich, with soft bread and a tasty filling with a twist: Coronation Chicken with green apple ever-so-slightly curried mayo; foie gras mousse with smoked duck and cranberry jam; truffled egg; cucumber textured mint cream cheese; roast beef with baby spinach, celery and onion jam...

Finally, pick some of the world's best-loved sweets and assemble them on a plate: from Florentines to Fig Tart, Vanilla Profiteroles to Dark Chocolate Truffles. The options and execution of this High Tea are unparalleled elsewhere in the city.

3. You get to enjoy several courses, spread out over several hours

I was surprised to discover that the Caramel High Tea is far more than your usual sandwich-scone-cake combo. A selection of homemade and deliciously nutty and sweet Arabic treats such as Ma'amoul and Baclava accompany the traditional cakes and scones.

At some point in the evening a carving trolley will be wheeled out by the chefs to your table, where pink and tender slow-cooked Beef Wellington will be served to you straight from the oven, with a spoon of mushroom duxelle, a scoop of potato purée and dash of rosemary jus.

And if that's not enough,  a warm ratatouille tart with goats cheese covered with puff pastry will swiftly follow.

 Set aside a good two to three hours for this one, you're going to need it!

4. There are a few surprises thrown into the mix 

Getting the opportunity to watch the chefs carving their creations directly at our table was a spectacle in itself, but when they wheeled up an interesting looking contraption in between courses, which they proceeded to add liquid nitrogen to, and concocted a three-minute sorbet, along with all the drama of liquid nitrogen 'smoke' pouring out over the table, we couldn't help but stare on in open-mouthed wonder.

Aside from its theatrical beginnings, this sorbet is something special: apple pie flavoured, with Dilmah tea-infused meringue and passion fruit sauce. I was in heaven!

5. The staff are the friendliest I've encountered

From the moment we arrived, they made us feel warm and welcome. I was meeting a friend, with our two eleven month olds in tow, and the waiting staff went out of their way to ensure that they were well-catered for by bringing some baby-friendly vegetables and extra sandwiches for them to munch on.

What's more, they didn't bat an eyelid at the mess that ensued, and smiled on as they escaped our clutches following the meal and burned off their excess sandwich-fuelled energy by crawling all over the restaurant wreaking havoc before we could reach them.

In fact, rather than being irritated, I do believe the waiting staff were actually rather taken with them...

Any place that carries off an air of class, yet still manages to be welcoming and friendly to children and babies is a winner in my book.

6. It feels like a real celebration... at a very reasonable cost

The lilting, live piano music, the plush marble interiors, the high quality food and all of the theatre described above combine to create an event which I can only describe as pretty fabulous.

This is not the afternoon tea to rock up to in jeans, for a casual munch. Instead, it's befitting for a special occasion such as a hen party or birthday celebration, a long-overdue catch-up with a good friend, or simply a celebration to mark the end of the week.

Astonishingly, despite the impressive creativity and thought that's been put into every element of the High Tea, it remains one of the most competitively priced out there at only QAR 125 per person.

Now, do you think I can justify heading over there for the second Thursday in a row? I would do it for those scones alone.

The Details

Caramel High Tea, every Thursday from 3-7pm
Caramel Lobby Lounge, City Centre Rotana, Doha, PO Box 25522 | (+974) 4445 8888

I was a guest of City Centre Rotana Doha this time, but as always all views are my own.

Review: Travelling with toTs by smarTrike

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The more that we travel with our baby, the more I realise that comfort and practicality have to take precedence above everything else. We've tried lumbering fancy travel cases and complex games to keep her entertained around the world, but when it comes down to it, all Sophia really needs on a flight and in a hotel room are some books, an iPad and a few home comforts. For us, the toTs by smarTrike accessory range ticks that last box perfectly.

Most people know smarTrike for the world's best selling and most awarded baby tricycle (which also happens to be Sophia's favourite Christmas present and a much-loved toy...more on that in another post), but very few realise that the brand have recently branched out to include toTs: a range of stylish but practical solutions for the fashion-conscious parent. Two of these items have become absolutely vital to our travels and I have vowed to never leave Doha without packing them again.

When we have to take a long haul flight, we try to opt for an overnight option so that Sophia sleeps (marginally) better, and we can manage to squeeze in a movie, a cheeky glass of red and some shut eye in relative peace. The drone of the engines and vibration of the aircraft used to really help in this respect when she was a newborn (the one and only time that she ever 'slept through the night' was on a flight from Doha to Norwich via Amsterdam) but these days a little more is required to lull her into a snoozy state. That's why we always travel with her toTs Joy The Bunny Comforter (or 'Pinky' as she is more affectionately known to us).

I love that this comforter is so much bigger than your standard size, meaning that even now that Sophia's pushing on 11 months it's still large enough for her to tuck under her arm and wrap around her body. It's double-sided, with a super soft jersey material on one side, and a pretty polka dot pattern on the other, and comes in bright blue and lime green as well as our fuschia.

Sophia is a little smitten, and these days when napping, both at nursery and at home, Pinky rarely leaves her side.

A product that I really struggle with when travelling with Sophia is a towel. Hotel offerings are usually either far too big or too scratchy for her delicate skin. Her toTs Joy Bunny Hooded Towel is therefore another vital addition to our suitcase. The 100% cotton velour-style towel is large and soft, and kept her snuggly and warm in the freezing temperatures we returned to on our recent trip home to the UK.

Her favourite bedtime ritual these days is snuggling up against me after a warm bath, wrapped in her Joy Bunny Towel and reading some books (we're talking at least three or four here spread over half an hour...and often the same one twice!).

I'd love to say that this helps her to settle in for a nice, long night's sleep, but if I said that I would be lying (have a read of this post if you'd like to find out what sleep is like for us these days!). However, it relaxes her enough to go down for the first couple of hours at least. And when we're travelling and she's in a strange bed a long way from home, this is all I can ask for.

Products were provided for review purposes.

For my Qatar readers, the toTs by smarTrike range is currently not available in the country, however if you have if you have an Aramex account then you can still order them from smythstoys.com in the UK and have them delivered to your door. Hoorah!

Sophia Molly: Nine to Ten Month Update

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Wow, once again I have found myself constantly exclaiming at how quickly time is slipping away. 2016 turned into 2017 in a flash and the turn of the year has also brought with it lots of new developments in Sophia's life. My bubbly and sociable baby has become an even more loving and chatty little girl, who embraces life with enthusiasm and makes the whole world smile around her.

These two months Sophia has liked...

Going for long walks around The Pearl and around the Museum of Islamic Art Park and enjoying the view from her favourite vantage point on daddy's shoulders.

Playing in her new makeshift 'playroom' we have created in a corner of our open plan living / dining room using colourful fencing and mats.

Visiting Abu Dhabi, where she enjoyed playing in the extensive grounds of the Emirates Palace Hotel where we stayed (blog post to follow).

Experiencing her very first Christmas and everything that comes with it...


This month Sophia has disliked...

The pain she has been in while cutting four teeth all at once!

Having a nasty sickness bug which wiped her out for a week, and even made her go off food for a while which is very unlike her.

This month's firsts...

Her first four top teeth came through - making a total of six altogether!

First time saying 'hello' (eyoh) and 'bye', 'moo' for a cow and 'baa' for a sheep. She also says 'yum!' when she's eating food she particularly likes and even when she picks up a packet that she knows contains food! So clever!

First time walking unaided with her little trolley.

We're less than two weeks away from her 11 month birthday now, which means only one thing...I'd better start thinking about how we're going to celebrate her first birthday! Oh dear Lord...

Behind The Scenes of Our Family Travels

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

As bloggers, one thing we're always accused of (and sometimes, I admit, rightfully so) is painting a glossy picture of idealised lives. Living life through a social media lens encourages disreputable behaviour when it comes to colouring in certain (less than perfect) experiences in order to make them appear flawless to the outside observer, while our grimmest of moments are swiftly swept under the carpet while we pray that nobody noticed.

I'm as guilty as the next blogger human at doing this. OK, I might have been a little more honest recently about some of the truths about being a mum and offloaded how I feel about having not slept for ten months straight, but what about the other things? The rest of my blog is plastered with shiny images of luxurious five star hotels, exotic travel destinations and fine dining, and while that's all very pleasant, I sometimes think that what lies behind some of these images would be far more entertaining to my average reader.

Queue a little behind the scenes snoop into what really goes on on our family travels, or some outtakes if you like...enjoy it while you can because tomorrow business will return to normal!

Behind the shiny shots

It probably comes as no surprise that while traveling (or eating at restaurants, or joining friends at social gatherings...or whenever there is a photograph-able moment come to think of it) I am a bit of a nightmare. People are made to stand still for far too long in less than favourable weather conditions, food gets cold, my baby goes into hysterics. But it's all worth it in the name of a good photo...isn't it?!


At least 20 minutes and one ruined marriage later....

Behind the beautiful bouncing baby moments

Everybody knows that with a baby in tow nothing ever goes to plan but like most parents I had to learn this the hard way!

Take Sophia's first ever holiday to Anantara at The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, where we were super excited for her first swim in the idyllic lagoon-like pools. I imagined us cradling her in our arms as we floated in the water, while she giggled and splashed about. However, she had other ideas and as Rich lifted her into the water for the first time, she promptly fell asleep...as she did the next time we went back...and the next!

What can I say, those pools are just too relaxing!

She actually falls asleep at inopportune moments quite a lot on our travels, spoiling some excellent photo opportunities. I was desperate for a family photograph at the Sheikh Zayad Grand Mosque on our recent trip to Abu Dhabi, but once again this happened:

Funnily enough, when we really do want her to sleep while we're travelling she never actually does. This was me at our 'romantic' dinner in Il Teatro at our recent staycation at the Four Seasons Doha. Sophia was supposed to be sleeping soundly in her pram while mummy sipped on wine and daddy whispered sweet nothings in her ear over perfect plates of pasta...but why would she do that when she'd miss out on all the fun?!

We don't mind her not sleeping much on our travels one bit though because even in the middle of the night, Sophia is always a happy, bubbly and inquisitive baby.

That is, until you put her on a camel...

Whoops! That one won't be making it into my forthcoming blog post about our stay at the Emirates Palace.

And I probably won't ever mention that while we have heaps of fun traveling as a family once we've actually arrived at our destination, most of the way there and way back is spent like this, while I am crushed back against my seat, praying for the damn flight to be over!

Behind the luxury

On our honeymoon we stayed in some of the world's most luxurious hotels (remember this one?). However, we also had one experience I would really rather forget. The hotel was in a great location on the Amalfi Coast, with stunning views over Positano from the little balcony in our room.

However, that's where all features of merit ended. The A/C was broken on Italy's hottest day of the year. There was no hot water. The wifi didn't work. On top of this, the staff were rude and continually lied to us about all of the above and when it would be fixed. We couldn't wait to leave the hotel at the end of the stay and I had to inform the Manager that I definitely would not be writing a blog post about his hotel.

I was mortified as we left. Hopefully this is an experience that we will never have to repeat!

Behind the comfortable expat life

Probably the biggest fallacy of my blog is that our expat life in Doha is 'perfect'. No, we don't eat out at fancy restaurants every day of the week. No, we're not always nipping across the Arabian Gulf for a quick jaunt to the UAE. Actually, a lot of the time we're working hard at being working parents on no sleep and it's actually really, bloody hard!

The most difficult part of all is living away from our wonderful family and friends. We spend so much time glued to our phones FaceTiming them that I'm sure Sophia thinks that they're an extension of our hands!

But right now I'm OK about all this because I'm writing this post from the airport, about to hop on a flight home to see these people and I could not be more excited!

I'm interested to find out how many more travel outtakes that we will accrue on this trip that you guys will never get to see!

The Best New Restaurant Openings in Qanat Quartier

Saturday, 28 January 2017

If you take a stroll along the Venetian-style roads of Qanat Quartier, following the intricate network of canals past its pretty pastel houses, you will soon notice that things are starting to pick up. This previously sleepy corner of The Pearl has a new hustle and bustle about its characterful squares and plazas; friends sit at little iron tables sipping coffee and chatting; families can be seen milling about, taking photos on stylish bridges. Finally, this small segment of Qatar is starting to display some of the Riviera lifestyle and Italian charm that it was built to represent. But what has brought about this sudden change?

Well, the restaurants have started to open of course!

There is nothing like the rumour of a decent new eatery opening to tempt Doha dwellers out of their villas and into their four by fours for a little visit. And if its 'Little Venice' you're visiting, you won't be disappointed. Here are my top restaurant picks in the area, and why I think they're worth the trip.

1. Best for Breakfast: The Breakfast Club

With an extensive menu of all of my favourite breakfast items, including some unique and surprising alternatives from around the world, this restaurant caters for a wide variety of tastes and will be sure to kick-start your day. Hailing from Kuwait, The Breakfast Club now has restaurants in Bahrain as well as Qanat Quartier, and I've heard rumours that it's about to open a second branch elsewhere in Qatar. It's the first breakfast place to open on the Pearl to really rival Eggspectation (but in my opinion it's not quite there yet).

Don't miss: the Shakshuka

2. Best for a Sweet Treat: Waffles and Coffee

If you're looking for a waffle that will blow you away you might be disappointed, but if it's a quick sugar hit you're after, accompanied by a swift injection of caffeine then this place defintiely hits the spot. Waffles and Coffee is a pretty little cafe located on the Rialto Bridge, and its terrace showcases gorgeous views over the pastel houses and canals below.

Don't miss: the fully-loaded Signature Waffle

3. Best Healthy Option: Evergreen Organics

Evergreen Organics opened in 2016 to widespread acclaim and a deluge of 'big name' visitors. And rightly so - it is the country's first 100% vegan cafe and it's pretty damn chic after all! Focussing on seasonal, organic, raw ingredients, the items on the menu are not only good for the waistline but good for the conscience too (and it's no secret that they even taste pretty good too. Just avoid the raw brownie. Cakes like these just aren't the same unless they're oozing chocolate and sugar in my opinion).

Dont miss: the fresh coconuts, Acai bowls and raw Zucchini Putanesca

4. Best Atmosphere and Views: Esmer Chef

My experience at Esmer Chef was mixed, but the location and ambience is unrivaled in Qanat Quartier. With an outdoor terrace which takes diners right to the edge of the canal, and views over the Rialto bridge and some of the prettiest of the pastel houses, I could have wiled many hours away chatting with friends while enjoying the al fresco dining and picturesque scenery. Some items on the split Italian/Turkish menu could do with a little refining, but it's worth a visit for the ambience alone.

Don't miss: the Spaghetti Bolognaise

I'm now on the look-out for a decent lunch spot, and somewhere that does an excellent coffee in the area. Any recommendations?

I was a guest at two of the above restaurants but as always all views are my own.