Porcini

Time Out takes Italian lessons from the Ritz-Carlton eatery Discuss this article

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The problem facing the Ritz-Carlton’s Porcini, and indeed any decent Italian restaurant, is that so many diners have been raised on food pretending to be Italian that they’re bewildered by any semblance to the real thing. Italian is one of the world’s truly great cuisines, yet no other country has had its food so thoroughly blasphemed by imposters.

A case in point: Porcini recently launched a new menu under its new chef, Luca Voncini. (Yes, he’s Italian.) At the press event, a young American writer scrunched her face and told me, ‘I’m not too sure about this.’ The uncertainty stemmed from her penne being cooked to a perfect al dente – it had that delightful, ideal consistency where you can feel your teeth sink into it as you chewed it. But in her mind, it was undercooked, unlike, say, a can of pasta shapes.

At dinner on a later evening, our meal was disrupted by another pasta complaint, this time about the size of the portions. ‘This is supposed to be my dinner!’ a guest howled from across the room. Actually, it isn’t. In Italy, pasta falls under the heading of primi piatti, or first plates: it’s the starch course to be followed by the meatier secondi piatti, or entrées. You’re not supposed to make an entire meal out of pasta any more than you’d make a meal out of mashed potatoes. The complainant’s dish returned to the kitchen. The staff huddled around it, presumably to confer about whether to smack the guest on her head or to pile on more spaghetti. Sadly, they chose the latter.

Even our waiter failed to grasp the difference between antipasti (appetisers) and primi piatti. ‘Four starters?’ he asked with befuddled shock, when my companion and I each ordered an appetiser and a pasta dish. The staff should really know how an Italian meal is structured, even if some diners don’t, but perhaps with the right leadership from the new chef this will be resolved.

Thankfully, the kitchen staff has no need for Italian lessons. The food is rooted within Italia’s borders, but the cooking style is contemporary, rather than rustic. This ain’t mamma’s cooking. Light, fresh and lean is the order of the day. Even when the creamiest sauces are called upon, they’re used in moderation.

As a result, the ingredients’ flavours carry the tune. The mushroom soup with chicken and smoked duck tortellini tastes like earthy, fresh mushrooms, unhidden by blankets of cream or butter. You can almost taste the soil they’re grown in. The broccoli and seafood soup is even more spectacular. Prawn, clam and scallop swim in a puddle of liquefied broccoli that’s infused with the ocean-fresh brininess of the seafood. Close your eyes and imagine a seaside garden.

You need to be bold to cook like this – to put your ingredients centre stage. More importantly, you need to be fanatical about choosing the right ingredients, which from looking at the dishes so far here the kitchen staff seem to have mastered no problem.

The rest of the meal progressed with the quality you’d expect from a hotel restaurant of this caliber. The dishes are refined, rather than revolutionary. The pastas are both simple and simply delicious. The tomato sauce for the spaghetti with prawns tasted like it had simmered in seafoody goodness. The ravioli had just the right amount of cheesy, creamy sauce, so you didn’t feel like you were drowning in it.

Indeed, the primi piatti were so good, they largely overshadowed the secondi piatti that followed. No complaints in this department – the ingredients and the execution were both spot on. But you’re left thinking about why Italy is more famous for its pastas than for its mains.

The exception to this anticlimax is Porcini’s extraordinary duck breast and confit of leg, garnished with celery root, balsamic and berries. Salty, juicy duck combines with sweet balsamic vinegar, and tart, sugary fruit. The flavours and textures work so harmoniously together. This is a secondo that’s more than just satisfying – it wows.

Porcini has its food nailed down pretty tight, but the front room has room for improvement. This is an expensive, white-tablecloth restaurant in a five-star hotel. On the night we visited, some horrible pop singer blared in an endless loop. The New York Times’ recent list of 100 restaurant don’ts wisely warns, ‘Do not play an entire CD of any artist. If someone doesn’t like Frightened Rabbit or Michael Bublé, you have just ruined a meal.’ Indeed.

The staff should be able to talk effortlessly about the food, but simple questions, such as how thick the steak is, were met with confused looks. The servers work hard and are well intentioned, but are sometimes lost.

All of this places extra onus on diners if they are to enjoy their meal. Italian cuisine seems so familiar yet, to most diners, it remains terra incognita. But it’s terrain well worth exploring and Porcini is a good, albeit pricey, place to start.

The bill (for two)
1x Asparagus antipasto QR50
1x Mushroom soup QR50
1x Seafood and broccoli soup QR65
1x Prawn spaghetti QR90
1x Ravioli QR95
1x Beef tenderloin QR180
1x Duck breast and confit QR160
1x Peach pie QR80
1x Pannacotta QR55
1x large San Pellegrino water QR30
Total (inc service charge) QR855

By Time Out Doha staff
Time Out Doha,

Time Out reviews restaurants anonymously and pays for meals. Of course, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or independence of user reviews.

Details

  • Location: The Ritz-Carlton Doha, West Bay Lagoon, Doha
  • Tel: 4484 8000
  • Travel: Al Istiqlal Street
  • Website

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