Of course, the conversation then turned to the fact that most posts on Follow Your Sunshine are overwhelmingly positive, and it has only been on very rare occasions that I have stuck my neck out so much as to say 'this wasn't OK'. There's a reason for this. I am so keen to maintain this blog as a happy and uplifting space which always looks on the more sunshiney side of life, and I am constantly aware of not coming across as a moaner, with ridiculously high standards and a whole suite of unrealistic and egocentric entitlements. Nevertheless, just sometimes it's only right and fair that I speak my feelings. Therefore, I'm taking a big gulp, and sticking my neck out to say that on three occasions in three different restaurants recently, I have left feeling a little underwhelmed.
1. Aceite, The Melia Hotel
A group of food bloggers had gathered for a meet-up at this new-ish Spanish restaurant, and I was excited to see some familiar faces that I hadn't caught up with for a while. So much so that the bland and uninspiring finger food that greeted us upon arrival didn't really register.
I admired the usual well thought-out set-up that Food Bloggers Qatar had put together, and the organisation of the staff of the restaurant and Zomato, who were helping to host the event.
Unfortunately, as the food was brought out dish by dish, it was all downhill from thereon out. The sauteed prawns with garlic were overcooked, and were accompanied by watery, tasteless mushrooms swimming in an unidentifiable brown liquid.
The deep fried calamari with black ink aeoli just tasted a bit strange. And I didn't even photograph the black ink paella, which I felt had been put together more for effect than for taste. Invariably, it was pushed away by my table mates in favour of some of the other dishes in front of us.
The semi-liquid croquettes were quite tasty and probably the biggest success around the table, but there weren't nearly enough to go around.
However, my biggest disappointment of the evening came when I asked one of the staff whether they might be able to make me a vegetarian paella in place of the more seafood-heavy dishes. I explained that I was pregnant and therefore had to limit the amount of seafood I ate in a day, and my waiter assured me that they would easily be able to knock something up for me. Half an hour later, this still hadn't arrived, and after a couple of reminders to staff who were frankly quite rude, I gave up, finished chatting with the bloggers and headed home with a grumbling stomach.
It was quite an unusual set-up for the restaurant that night, with so many of us to feed at once, so I can forgive the standards slipping on a few of the dishes. I can't forgive really poor service and rudeness however, and it is for that reason that I won't be returning to this restaurant any time soon.
If you are looking for good Spanish food in Doha, then my advice is to swerve this restaurant in favour of the brilliant El Faro at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski.
2. Isaan, The Grand Hyatt Hotel
I was quite reluctant to include this restaurant in my list, because it's one of my favourites in Doha, and I would like to make it absolutely clear that it still is! However, at a recent new menu tasting, a few of us left feeling that the restaurant's menage of tantalising Thai tastes weren't quite up to Isaan's usual standards.
I did however, thoroughly enjoy the entire experience - especially watching the chefs hard at work in the open kitchen, meticulously creating complex flavour combinations from the fresh produce before them.
However, when we eventually tucked into our food, I wished that they had laid off the spice a littlein some of their dishes - particularly the hot Kaeng Leang Goong soup which was inedible to my untrained palette!
Nevertheless, some of the sharing plates retained the high standards we've come to know and love at this restaurant. One of these was the Penang Gai (chicken curry) was creamy and coconut-y with lashings of sauce that drenched the sticky rice that was ladled onto our plates.
The shrimp spring rolls, although beautifully presented, were a little lacklustre.
And controversially, myself and my compatriot sitting next to me really weren't fans of the Mieng Pla Thod (deep fried sea bass in tamarind sauce, which we scooped up and wrapped in betel leaves) which, despite being fun to put together, were a little sharp. The taste of the leaf unfortunately completely overpowered the sweet chicken.
Despite these slight niggles, I will definitely return to Isaan. I know that they have been busy ironing out the kinks in their menu, and making it absolutely perfect once more.
3. Toro Toro, Marsa Malaz Kempinski
Long term readers of Follow Your Sunshine might remember that Toro Toro is one of my top restaurants in Doha. This made it another very difficult one to include in this list, particularly because I wasn't entirely disappointed with the food here per se, but because I had built the evening up in my mind for so long that when it finally arrived, I had incredibly high expectations which were probably going to be impossible to meet. Our food was going to be cooked by none other than founder and celebrity Chef Richard Sandoval himself, you see.
I really enjoy evenings like these, where you are given the opportunity to speak openly with someone who inspires you. Not to mention fellow food bloggers who have the ability to make you laugh until you well up.
With the usual happy buzz around the table, we all looked on expectantly as the first set of dishes were brought out, while Richard described the composition of each in detail. The first blow came when I realised that I wasn't going to be able to eat a lot of what was laid before us, and I looked on enviously as everyone tucked into Sea Bass Tartare and Scallops Tiradito, which I am assured were beautifully fresh and delicately flavoured. Not the restaurant's fault however, and I made a mental note to return for these bad boys post-baby.
The Quinoa Solterito with Canary Bean Humus, and the Cachapas (slow cooked beef on corn pancakes) really stole the show that evening, and I'm sure I devoured more than my fair share to make up for my lack of raw fish.
However, I was left disappointed by all of the larger meat dishes. The Parrillada (charcoal-grilled cuts of chicken, beef and lamb) seemed to be tougher and chewier than I had remembered previously.
And the skewers of meat, although juicy and tender, didn't pack the same punch.
However, I still left full and contented, and importantly, extremely happy with the service and atmosphere of the evening. Toro Toro can do very little wrong in my book (although I really do wish that they would reduce some of the prices on their menu!), and a slight disappointment won't stop me coming back for more.
When we all dine at really great restaurants time and time again in Doha, I think it's important to remind ourselves that each and every plate of food we eat can't always be the most exciting dish that's ever been placed in front of us. Instead, for me, it's important to differentiate a few 'one-offs' from ongoing errors and poor customer service before I lay down my judgement too harshly.
Have you had any restaurant disappointments recently? What would put you off ever returning to a restaurant again?
I was a guest of Aceite, Isaan and Toro Toro on these occasions. As always, all views are my own.