Having lived in Doha for two years now, Mr Sunshine and I were starting to feel like we'd begun to exhaust all of the fine dining options available to us. We are both complete foodies, and love nothing more than getting dressed up and heading out for an evening of good food, great wine and excellent company...and we've pretty much been doing this every week since we arrived in the country!
I was therefore over the moon when The Ritz Carlton contacted me to tell me about new chef Moreno Miotto's new concept and menu for Italian restaurant Porcini. Tucked away on the ground floor at the back of the hotel's grand lobby, I had walked past the restaurant many times on my way out to the grounds and the pool beyond, but I had never ventured inside, tending to bypass it as a dining option in favour of old-time Ritz Carlton favourite La Mer.
Two years later, having returned from Italy a few weeks earlier and craving some authentic Italian cooking once more, we felt that it was about time we addressed this by heading out for a slap-up meal with all the trimmings. After all, we had a lot to celebrate; not only was it my birthday, but we had also just told our closest friends and family about our exciting baby news!
I was bowled over by our warm welcome to the restaurant. Manager Felix was on hand to introduce the menu and tell us all about the new concept, and despite a modest number of diners, Chef Miotto made time to come to speak to us as every course was laid in front of us. This meant that we could ask questions to our hearts content, and that I could put to rest any concerns about what I couldn't eat because I was pregnant, something which was kindly accommodated.
We had taken up Chef Miotto's suggestion of sampling a selection of his favourite dishes from the menu, and having glanced over the delectable items on offer, I was quite glad that I wasn't going to be forced to choose!
Having settled into our seats, and been handed a couple of drinks (a Chianti for him; plain old water for me), we took the opportunity to survey the room. The combination of terracotta reds, golds and dark wood interiors combine to give a dark and grand, yet cosy feel, and you could almost imagine that you are in some up-market Trattoria on the outskirts of Florence.
Mr Sunshine and I discussed the exciting few weeks we had ahead of us. First, my birthday the next day, and our first visit to Banana Island (more on this to follow in due course) followed by a trip back home to see family and friends and celebrate my pregnancy all over again.
The food at Porcini was a perfect complement to our mood: simple, Italian flavours, but using fine ingredients; it was a meal fit for a celebration.
Allow me to apologise for some of the slightly blurry shots from the evening. It really is incredibly dark in the restaurant, and my camera doesn't fare too well in low light situations - but I couldn't miss out on including a picture of this gorgeous bowl of bread. The crisp, buttery grissini were among the best I have ever eaten (and this is high praise considering that we had just returned from three weeks of eating at some of the finest restaurants in Italy!).
Chef Miotto had chosen exceptionally well for our starters. I had Gnudi, which were spinach, ricotta and cheese dumplings with black truffle and pecorino cheese cream. They were described to us as a kind of deconstructed ravioli. And they were delicious.
Mr Sunshine's dish was an all-time favourite of mine, and I looked on with envy as he consumed his beef carpaccio with Panzanella. He commented that the salty and sweet parts of the dish were perfectly balanced, and everything tasted clean and fresh.
Up next, an Italian classic of Caprese salad, which we largely shared. We had been craving fresh, sweet tomatoes and 'real' mozarella ever since we had returned from Italy, and despite being initially skeptical that this dish would match its Italian cousins in terms of freshness and taste, it really hit the spot.
The Bresaola con Melone was mainly consumed by Rich, because I wasn't sure whether I could eat the meat, but the melon that I tasted was perfectly ripe and more-ish.
It was pasta time, and I was delighted when Chef Miotti told me that I was going to have gnocchi. These little plump parcels are another favourite of mine, and I don't think I'd ever tasted them smothered in rich, thick beef ragu like this. I scraped the plate clean.
Mr Sunshine had Spaghettini with crab, and he allowed me a taste. I immediately knew that this is the dish that I would opt for on the menu ifI had the choice next time, as the flavour of lemon, tomato and a slight tang of chilli was sharp, sweet and fresh, and reminded me of balmy afternoons on the Amalfi Coast.
Now I have to admit that my small pregnancy appetite had been satisfied by this point, so Mr Sunshine had the tough job of polishing off most of the mains. He obviously protested about this...not. Actually, I think he had probably been waiting in anticipation for the entire meal for the magic words, "I'm full" because his fork seemed to be hovering already, waiting to swoop in and steal the food from my plate! He's going to make an excellent daddy dustbin.
I'll rely on Mr S's thoughts for these ones, although I did force myself to have a taste of elements of both dishes. The rosemary marinated lamb loin was cooked to perfect tenderness, and fell off the bone. It was complemented nicely by a zingy mint salsa verde. The Sea Bass fillet with cherry tomatoes, olives and potatoes was another knock-out dish. Mr S commented on how everything tasted so fresh, something which is so rare for Doha, and when asked about this, Chef Miotto explained that he was very careful in selecting specially shipped ingredients, and using things that were in season, just as you would in Italy.
By the time our desserts were brought out, we were very happy customers, and even I found room to taste the semi-frozen hazelnut parfait with chocolate ganache, and the Chef's special take on Cannoloni (I won't give too much away on this one, I suggest you go there yourselves to try it!).
I wasn't sure that the night could get any better, but suddenly I saw a sparkler coming my way, and there was singing....
I have a sneaky suspicion about who organised this one. Thank you very much, Ivana!
I always say it. The food can be top notch, the ambience electrifying, but if a restaurant does not have great staff then the night will always fall flat on itself. Porcini has all three in abundance.
From restaurant manager Felix, to the entire kitchen staff, everyone was kind, welcoming and generous. As we left, we both said at the same time, "How nice were they?!!"
I was a guest of The Ritz Carlton Doha on this occasion, although the alcohol that Rich had was paid for ourselves. As always, I only write honest reviews, regardless.