Time Out Says
Let’s dispense with the notion that the place is ‘fine dining’ and call it what it is: a classy, but casual place where you can get a meal that neither matches the virtuosity of the five-star set, nor stoops to the lows of crass, mass-market joints like TGI Friday’s. There’s a gaping void in Doha’s dining scene that begs to be filled with just such a restaurant. Food Network-generation diners who have come of age since the phrase ‘celebrity chef’ stopped being an oxymoron have far too refined palates to suffer through more curly fries. Yet the restaurateurs in this part of the world have been slow to catch on.
So it’s a relief to walk into a place like Restaurant 29. The décor is clean and modern, yet not so über-modern that the room feels cold. Dark, wood-like laminate covers the floors, and padded walls are coloured a nice shade of burgundy. The place could use a few plants or wall hangings to give it a more comforting, lived-in look perhaps, but altogether it feels a nice, relaxing place to visit. The only downside is the lighting – bright enough to expose any stains on your clothing, and it also casts a reflection of the windows that keeps you from enjoying what might be some expansive views.
The menu offers versions of popular fare like salads, steaks, pasta and fish. Hardly revolutionary, but the choice of aged, grain-fed USDA Angus beef for the steaks and free range chicken is a promising sign that some care is taken with the ingredients. I asked our server whether the salmon was farmed (bad) or caught wild (good). After asking the chef, she reported back that, ‘everything is free range.’ Good to see that they don’t coop the fish in small cages.
The filet mignon was everything you’d want it to be: fork-tender and dripping juice. The filet is usually one of the leanest steak cuts, so its juiciness was a pleasant surprise. Crisp fried onions added flavour, and the garlic mashed potatoes and Portobello mushroom underneath the meat were cooked with expertise and flair. Steak, onions, mushrooms and potatoes: it’s a classic combination, and here, there is nary a misstep in the execution. The one missing ingredient from this timeless meal is a nice glass of wine, which is not available in this alcohol-free establishment. Restaurant 29 serves its filet in a thick baseball cut, so consider asking for it to be more well done than usual, unless you want beef sashimi in the middle. My dinner companion’s medium-well was red in the centre.
We, on the other hand, had a love/hate relationship with my apple cider-marinated salmon. It was a big, gorgeous chunk of fish, but my love for it soured as we got on. The superbly cooked meat was fluffy and as moist as if it were still in the ocean. But the sweet Thai chilli sauce that was dumped on top of everything overpowered the salmon, and got more cloying as the meal went on. The lesson here is not to use bottled condiments made for chicken on such lovely fish. It’s crueler than raising your salmon in a chicken cage.
Book-ending the meal, we had both starters and dessert. The cream of mushroom soup (listed under ‘Salads’) was like drinking a molten stick of salted butter, which is to say it tasted quite good. Noise carries in the restaurant, as it’s furnished with many hard surfaces. We overheard another table dining on the mussels say, ‘These are delicious.’ And indeed they weren’t bad, if you like them big, chewy and briny.
The highlight of dessert was the bread pudding, a sweet delight that we had heard raves about before from an Irish girl and her British co-worker. The lowlight was the ice cream that accompanied it, which had a store-bought, generic flavour, and was full of crunchy bits of ice.
It seems that everything the chefs at Restaurant 29 prepare themselves is done with panache and skill. It’s hard not to admire them. But when they resort to stuff you can buy in a store, the differences are jarring. Such lapses in ingredient choices smack of a class of restaurants a few tiers below what Restaurant 29 aspires to be. It’s especially bothersome when the prices aren’t too far below the upper reaches. Still, Doha needs more places like Restaurant 29 that can make good cooking accessible to many. If you steer clear from the odd pothole, you’ll likely come away quite impressed.
The bill (for two)
1x Mussels marinara QR39
1x Mushroom soup QR29
1x Grilled filet mignon QR109
1x Apple cider salmon QR 99
1x Raspberry dessert QR49
1x Vanilla bread pudding QR49
1x Bottle of water QR25
1x Iced tea QR20
By Time Out Doha staff | 29 Oct 2009
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