Can a collaboration between a Spanish tenor and a famous restaurateur change the image of Mexican food? Reviews

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Mexican seafood restaurant Pampano, a collaboration between Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval, is the latest high-end eaterie to open on The Pearl. Mexican food has had a bit of a fast-food stigma attached to it for many years, stereotyped for repetitiveness of ingredients: minced beef or chicken, salsa, guacamole, refried beans and cheese, presented in variations on a theme. We wondered whether Pampano would be able to change this perception, and on learning that Sandoval has 15 restaurants worldwide (with four branches of Pampano, including Doha), expectations were hopeful.

Top marks for the location, which really couldn’t be better. Situated at marina level, the atmosphere sets the scene perfectly for a restaurant that specialises in seafood. There is an option to sit outside at one of the candle-lit tables, but given the time of year we headed inside. Walking through the huge glass doors and past giant sand-coloured columns and an enormous fish ornament, we were surprised to see that the restaurant itself is actually quite small, although a floor-to-ceiling mirror at one end gives it the feeling of being bigger.

The long, narrow space runs perpendicular to the water’s edge, offering great views over the harbour. Seating areas are divided by golden material hanging from the ceiling, providing a feeling of intimacy, complemented by soft lighting. Thankfully the music, one of the few obvious indications that we were in a Mexican restaurant, was less ‘arriba arriba’, and more relaxed, kept at a discreet volume.

Despite the fact that it was quiet when we dined, the waiters were attentive without being overbearing, and guided us through the menu, written in Spanish with English explanations of each dish underneath. Classic dishes have been given a contemporary twist, as traditional food becomes the accompaniment rather than the main. Our waitress recommended the guacamole from the ‘para la mesa’ options, translating literally as ‘for the table’, and the tacos de filete (beef tacos) from the selection of Mexican appetisers. We were hesitant about the tacos, which scream ‘Tex-Mex’, but we went with the suggestion anyway.

For mains, it’s good to see that there isn’t a quesadilla in sight, but rather a list of dishes such as snapper with red and green salsa, red chilli-marinated salmon, and shrimp with pineapple and bell pepper. I opted for the camarones – sauteed shrimp with chipotle sauce, black bean empalmada and Monterey Jack cheese. While about 90 per cent of the menu is fish, there are options for non-fish eaters. My partner went for the churrasco – grilled beef tenderloin with white bean puree, grilled asparagus and wild mushroom escabeche. The wine list is not overly long, but perhaps that’s because a margarita is really the correct drink to accompany Mexican food.

The tacos were brought to the table, but instead of being the expected minced beef, there were little cubes of beef tenderloin, sitting atop small, perfectly rounded tacos, garnished with flecks of avocado and onion. They came with a roasted tomatillo salsa that was richly moreish and melt-in-the-mouth, despite the fact that the taco directly underneath the beef was a little soggy. More pleasing, however, was the guacamole. Our waitress wheeled a small trolley over to our table and proceeded to use an impressively large pestle and mortar to crush and bind together the avocados, tomato, garlic, onion and coriander. She left the mortar, complete with the freshly made guacamole, on our table for us to dip the slightly salty, warm tortilla chips into.

We were given ample breathing space between starters and main courses, which was appreciated given we had scraped every single bit of guacamole from the bottom of the mortar, resorting to spoons once the tortilla chips ran out. When our mains arrived, we were impressed with the standard of the beef tenderloin, which was tender and cooked exactly as we had requested. The six enormous camarones were arranged daintily on a large, white square plate and the prawn shells had all been removed. The empalmada with the cheese in the centre of the plate was more like the kind of food we were used to eating in a typical Mexican restaurant, while the shrimps, which were cooked to absolute perfection, were juicy and succulent. I was not overly keen on the sauce that accompanied the dish, as it was a little overpowering. Luckily it hadn’t been poured all over the shrimps, so could be avoided.

Pampano offers a small selection of desserts, and we ordered one each – the fruits of the forest sorbet and crème brûlée with a twist. Crème brûlée is a firm favourite of mine, and I was a little disappointed that the twist didn’t work for me – the creamy velvetiness of the custard clashed with the lumpy texture of the rice pudding that was hiding in a layer underneath. The sorbet was, however, a tasty palate cleanser, prettily presented with three scoops served individually in their own little bowls.

Although Pampano has not been open very long, it is undeniably a slick operation. Judging the restaurant purely on our dining experience alone, it appears likely that Doha residents may soon be converted to a new way of looking at Mexican cuisine, one where sombreros or plastic cactii are nowhere to be seen.

The bill (for two)

1x sparkling water QR35
1x guacamole QR40
1x tacos de filete QR85
1x camarones QR110
1x churrasco QR155
1x crème brûlée QR40
Total (incl charges) QR500

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.


  • Location: The Pearl-Qatar, Doha
  • Tel: 4495 3876
  • Travel: Al Istiqlal Street

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User reviews:

Posted by: carol Hnasen on 21 May ' 11 at 12:51

Be very careful of your bill here, and everyplace at the Pearl. Wait staff regularly deliver the wrong bill, or a bill with extra drinks. Margaristas are good, but not worth $20 USD! Tacos are seriously lacking. If you are used to LA street tacos, sorry, these are tiny, bland and offer no comparison.

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