There aren’t many hotels in Doha quite like the Marsa Malaz Kempinski. Mr Sunshine and I had a little snoop around just before it opened at the beginning of this year and were wowed by the architectural splendour and opulence of the place. It really is a hotel fit for a Sheikha.
Since then, twelve months have passed by in the blink of an eye, and the hotel has rapidly become our most frequented venue in Doha. But why?
Allow me to explain by taking you on a little journey through a weekend of socialising, eating and relaxing, all within the four walls of this very special hotel.
In Doha, the weekend starts on a Thursday evening. Mr Sunshine and I have generally worked hard all week, and with his changing shift patterns and my long working hours, we have barely seen each other. This calls for a date night, but where to go? It has to be somewhere with a casual and relaxed vibe as I’m shattered and don’t fancy making too much effort (plus I’ve just sifted through my wardrobe and I can’t for the life of me find a nice dress that will fit over the ever-expanding bump). It would be a bonus if the restaurant had an outdoor terrace so that we can take advantage of the cooler weather. Maybe some live music and a bit of soul to get us in the mood for the weekend. And it goes without saying that the food has to be top notch.
There is of course, one restaurant in Doha which ticks all of these boxes: the Spanish restaurant, El Faro at the Marsa Malaz.
It’s the perfect Thursday evening venue because it oozes casual chic, with its cavernous space and polished concrete floors…
Punctuated by tiles shipped in by the restaurant’s Spanish owner from his very own home! It is this kind of personalisation and attention to detail that makes this space extra special.
I particularly love some of the old-school touches within the space of the restaurant,
such as this authentic Spanish antique oven, sitting solitary on one wall below a painting, like a perfect piece of art in a gallery.
A stark contrast to the bespoke graffiti wall opposite which runs the whole length of one side of the restaurant. There are little nods to Qatari culture and the restaurant itself in the artwork, although you have to search a little to pick them out.
We stopped to admire the enormous, well-stocked bar, and the more intimate tapas bar next door.
But this cool winter’s evening called for a seat on the open air terrace outside.
Apart from the relaxed and funky vibe, here are the reasons why I think El Faro makes the perfect Thursday evening spot.
There is always live music and entertainment, which changes on a regular basis so that you always see something new. We were lucky enough to come on a night when these talented guitar players were strumming their stuff.
The set ‘Paella – Chef’s Choice Menu’ is slightly pricey at QAR 900 for two people, but it is sure to get you into the spirit of the weekend, as the price includes a whole litre pitcher of Sangria to accompany your food.
Or your Sangria can be made with alcohol-free wine if you’re that way inclined.
This degustation menu, designed by inventive Head Chef, Raul Cobb takes you on a journey around Spain, starting off in Catalonia with the restaurant’s special take on Pan Catalana: toasted sourdough served with special tomato and aioli sauces. Moreish to the extreme.
The tapas-style appetizers are a veritable Spanish feast. From gazpacho and mixed croquettes, to Patatas Bravas and Gambas Al Ajillo, by the time you have finished this wheel of tasty treats for the senses, the cobwebs you have built up over the week gone by will be completely blown away.
But it’s the main event, the paella, which El Faro is really known for. Usually one pan of paella is shared between two, but we were kindly given two to sample. We opted for the seafood paella, which was perfectly cooked so that the rice was just beginning to stick to the bottom in a nice crust, and the ‘Fideua’, which is a vermicilli seafood paella, an old Spanish dish first invented by a group of fishermen, who far out at sea ran out of rice for their paella and had to resort to using the noodles they had left instead.
Both were delicious and filling. Perfect Thursday night fayre.
It was the huge selection of Spanish desserts that really got us in the spirit for the weekend however. Thursday evenings through to Saturdays are all about sharing special moments with your loved ones…and there isn’t much I’d rather share than a basket of steaming Churros and numerous other tasty delights.
We sat in the breeze long after the last dish was scraped clean, enjoying the lilting sound of the guitar, before sloping off to bed. The weekend had truly begun.
Now those of you that live in or have visited the Middle East will know that Friday over here is all about brunch. And I’m not talking about simple Eggs Bene and a Bloody Mary here folks, I’m talking a full-blown, all day, all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink affair with extensive buffets and usually some music and entertainment thrown in for good measure.
I was excited, because this Friday, I was returning to brunch my little socks off for the first time since my birthday back in September. As Mr Sunshine got ready to head into work as he always does on a Friday, I flung dresses over my head until I found one that fitted, slapped some make-up on and headed back to the Marsa Malaz to meet some friends at Sawa.
Outside on the terrace when I arrived, chefs from each of the restaurants were already cooking up a storm, and I spotted a familiar and delicious-smelling pan of paella sizzling away.
A little walk around revealed that there were in fact a huge array of different cuisines to choose from.
For someone that enjoys food as much as I do, this huge selection is a little overwhelming, and having glanced at the feast of options inside the restaurant too, I decided that the only way forward was to opt for a little bit of everything. This is after all, what a Doha brunch is all about – eating as much of as many different things as you can until you feel sick, pausing to let it go down and then starting again.
Meanwhile, my friend Gerald had opted for a different tactic. Cutting out any indecision about where to start, he was found at the dessert table, filling his plate with sumptuous cakes and creamy dessert pots. “Life is too short not to start with dessert Polly’, he explained. I think we all need to take a leaf out of his book sometimes!
We all sat back and chatted away into the afternoon, them supping on their limitless cocktails and sparkling wine, me on a pretty awesome mocktail.
It was the perfect place to catch up with friends while indulging in a few Friday treats. We all deserve a little spoiling on a weekend after all.
Saturdays are often far more chilled. Mr Sunshine works late on a Friday, and we tend to indulge in a long lie in, often not emerging from the flat until the early hours of the afternoon. By this point, we’re usually ravenous, and once again begin the debate about where we should go to find food.
This particular Saturday, our thoughts turned once again to the Marsa Malaz, where the sumptuous Cafe Murano had launched its Golden High Tea, to much local acclaim. Of course, as dedicated Brits, we are never ones to pass up the option to try a new afternoon tea. So back to the hotel it was once more for a third and final time that weekend.
Prettily served, on not one but TWO separate stands, this afternoon tea is delicate yet decadent, traditional but with a twist, and absolutely delicious. I particularly enjoyed the soft sandwiches which you could tell had been freshly made just moments ago.
And the buttery scones, which were a little dry but tasted so buttery that with some clotted cream and jam it really didn’t matter that much.
Saturday afternoons are all about sitting back, chilling out and taking your time so that you’re fully relaxed for the week ahead. This includes taking your time over the difficult decision of choosing which tea you would like to accompany your scones. Thankfully, Cafe Murano has provided a little vial of tea leaves next to every description so that you can have a little sniff so that you can be confident that you’re making the right decision. This part of the afternoon tea process is quite important to us Brits, and we need to get it right!
It’s just a real shame that there’s no decaffeinated options for us preggos on the menu! I had to make do with my water instead.
The tiny petit fours, balanced carefully on their silver ferris wheel were the real highlights of our afternoon. Each was delicately flavoured and was decorated with a little touch of gold to remind us that this was no ordinary afternoon tea.
Cafe Murano is no ordinary cafe either. Traditional Arabic motifs and furniture is adorned with modern hints to Murano, and modern art; a special and interesting touch.
As we scraped the last crumbs from our plates, and prepared to leave, we stopped by the counter in the centre of the room. It would have been rude to leave without asking for a selection box of sweets and chocolates to take away…it might have been Saturday evening and the sun was going down, but the weekend wasn’t over just yet.
We were guests of the Marsa Malaz Kempinski on these occasions. However, as always all views are my own.