Qatar Restaurant Expresses Its Inner Fish-Monger
The Persian Gulf teems with a wealth of seafood, much appreciated on the region's tables. The star fish in these parts is hammour (grouper), but there is also excellent red snapper, douri (grey mullet), zobaidi (pomfret, a small flatfish), rabeeb (the underappreciated Malabar travelly), faskar (a kind of bream), barracuda, coffer fish (a kind of puffer fish), and more, and the scalloped spiny lobster caught off Oman is famous in the region.
Fish Market, at the Intercontinental Hotel in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar, takes advantage of this piscatorial bounty with a fishy gimmick that actually works extremely well. There is no menu here; diners approach a long bank of ice into which are set a good variety of fish and shellfish, both local and imported from various places, each priced per 100 grams. The imports might include live lobster (the Atlantic kind) from Canada, tiger prawns from India, turbot and oysters from the coast of Normandy, and more. The really interesting stuff, though, is the Gulf catch.
All the fish, even those that have traveled some distance, look very fresh — clear-eyed and glistening. Depending on the species and the diner's taste, they may be grilled, fried, steamed, or roasted whole. We chose a locally caught barracuda, long and thin and gray — almost eel-like in appearance — to be grilled and some Gulf pomfret, which looked like miniature light-skinned turbot, to be fried. Another display is filled with vegetables: several kinds of mushrooms, three or four varieties of summer squash, broccoli, snow peas, white and green asparagus, bell peppers, chiles, and more. Again, the diner chooses, typically an assortment, which may be wok-fried with oyster sauce or, if the form of the vegetable is suitable, grilled. We had one assortment of mushrooms and one combination of shiitakes, snow peas, and red chiles, both cooked in the wok.
Several salads are available as first courses, but we opted to split an Omani lobster, simply grilled, with lemon butter as an appetizer. It was tender and sweet. Our fish was in both cases perfectly prepared, moist and flavorful, with (thankfully) no extraneous chef's touches, and the vegetables were nicely cooked and seasoned. A complimentary scoop of tart lemon sorbet was the perfect finish. In all, it was a simple meal simply cooked, but a very good one — not an easy thing to find in this wealthy capital — and a dining concept I would be overjoyed to find on my home territory.