OK OK, I know this is cheating. These are technically two restaurants which sit side by side, not one! But both restaurants at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski have opened in quick succession and ever since my visits I’ve had a real battle trying to choose between them. In the end, I gave up and decided that both were deserving of the accolade of number four in my fine dining in Doha series.
Allow me to explain why.
First of all, stunning food deserves a stunning setting, and you don’t get much better than the Marsa Malaz in Doha. You may remember it from my pre-opening review when Rich and I enjoyed a behind the scenes tour (a.k.a a really good snoop) of the hotel on the day before it opened – but for those of you that don’t, here she is in all her glory at night.
Both restaurants are housed in a pretty little courtyard to the left of the main hotel, where contemporary Arabic architecture and a serene ambience create a sense of anticipation before you enter either of the restaurant’s front doors.
The other reason why both of these restaurants deserve your attention is that they both have a really interesting history behind them.
Let’s start with Antica Pesa shall we?
Antica Pesa, meaning “The Old Scales” in Italian dates back to the late 19th Century, when the food and wine that was offered as a customs function at the tollhouse in the Vatican was replaced by a real restaurant. Ever since, four generations of the same family have run the restaurant from its home in the Italian capital, a rare feat in today’s restaurant world.
Following the opening of a second restaurant in New York, it now comes to Doha where it has been welcomed with open arms by the media and general public alike.
This might have something to do with its homely and relaxing atmosphere, which reminds me of a rather upmarket Roman Trattoria.
It might be because of the strong family influence and culture of impeccable service laced with true Italian passion. And it is most definitely because the menu is everything that Italian food should be, using simple, wholesome ingredients coupled with big flavour.
We started our meal with a herby crouton amuse bouche which was delicate and elegant…
As well as a big bowl of hearty and soft freshly baked bread, including some beautiful herby pizza bread which may be my nemesis.
With a Montepulciano in hand, I was una ragazza felice.
Rich had opted for the Fiorentina steak with butter, which he found to be juicy and tender, but a little lacking in the side dish department.
Luckily, we had had the foresight to order a few tasty accompaniments, which were seasoned to perfection.
I was a little more adventurous, and went for the Tonnarelli Alla Carbonara D’Anatra (duck carbonara). It was absolutely divine.
The home made Tonnarelli was nicely al dente…
And beautifully complemented by the grated Parmagiano which was brought to the table by our friendly waiter (who promptly told me off for taking too many photographs as my food was sure to get cold – thank you for saving my Tonnarelli!).
We were sadly unable to stay for dessert on this occasion, but I did return a couple of weeks later to interview Executive Chef, and COO of Antica Pesa, Marco Calcaterra. He has a really interesting story to tell, and revealed some exciting ‘hot off the press’ news about the restaurant. I also discovered that he is probably going to kill me for including Antica Pesa in my ‘fine dining’ series as he views it as a relaxed and family-friendly space without frills or exclusivity. Keep an eye out for this post later in the week!
For now, let’s hop across the courtyard, where large double doors are fiercely guarded by two angry-looking bulls.
For my second visit to the pretty Kempinski courtyard, I had been invited to the media launch of Toro Toro, the internationally renowned pan-Latin American restaurant, and I was extra excited. Mr Sunshine-to-be and I had visited the Miami branch of the restaurant last Summer during our tour of the US. I remembered the fusion of flavours and siesta-like atmosphere, and couldn’t wait to see if it had translated over here.
The brainchild of celebrity chef, Richard Sandoval, Toro Toro burst onto the restaurant scene in 2011, with the opening of its first outlet in Grosvenor House, Dubai. With numerous accolades and awards under its belt, it started a rapid expansion across the globe. The opening in Doha marks its second in the Middle East.
The upstairs bar was abuzz when I arrived, with waiters busily handing out the restaurant’s signature Tequila-laced cocktail.
With drink in hand, I quickly sought out some familiar friendly faces, and got chatting.
Later, when seated at our table in the restaurant downstairs, the alcohol continued to flow, courtesy of our very own cocktail sommelier who camped out our table with a trolley of goodies. It was Cachaça this time, which took me back to lazy days on the beach in Brazil.
We were also invited to sample a spot of Argentinian Malbec, which was fruity and delicious.
A few glasses were consumed as we waited patiently for the main event.
A selection of cold dishes came first, including Salmon Tiradito, Tuna Tataki and Ceviche, all of which were fresh, light and moreish.
Then came the hot dishes: Crispy Prawns, Beef Filet Antichuco, Grilled Octopus and Choclo Empanada.
Next, we were treated to the restaurant’s acclaimed ‘Rodizio Experience’, as waiters brought round skewers of tender meats, which had been cooked slowly over a charcoal grill. Brazilian Wagyu Picanha, Australian Lamb and Achiote Marinated Chicken came to the table in quick succession, and we were invited to use our handy traffic light cards to indicate whether we were hungry for more, or required a little break…
Finally, just when I was thinking I wasn’t able to eat another morsel, out came a selection of South American desserts, and as always, somehow I made room.
I was a guest of Toro Toro for this event.
All in all, these Marsa Malaz restaurants could not be more different, but both are equally deserving of a visit. Where Toro Toro wins points for its vibrant atmosphere, party spirit and variety of dynamic and interesting dishes, Antica Pesa scores high on rustic charm, incredible service and authenticity.
Have you visited these restaurants or any of the other new eating establishments in this new hotel on The Pearl, Qatar? Which would you recommend?
Marsa Malaz Kempinski,
Phone: +974 4035 5555