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Review: DoubleTree Hilton Brunch

During my days as a poor student in New York half a lifetime ago, brunch felt like such a sophisticated affair.  My friends and I would meet on Sundays — usually at a spot we’d seen on Sex and the City the week prior — and indulge on poached eggs with extra lashings of Hollandaise sauce; Belgian waffles with extra slaps of crème Chantilly; orange juice with extra champagne for them, none for me.  Brunch really was about the extra.

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Then I moved to the Gulf and learnt what taking “extra” the extra mile means.  Brunch here totters between extravagant and OTT, as the youngens would say. How over the top, one wonders? Well, the majority of restaurants offering this late breakfast meal don’t even include eggs, but jump straight to foie gras, crab legs, and sushi.

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What irks me more is that many diners heading to the five-star hotels for Friday brunch (itself an uncanny concept to me after all this time as I prefer brunching on Sundays) don’t bother to dress for the occasion. They rock up in polyester tracksuits and creased fuchsia leopard-print jumpsuits knowing they probably won’t remember much of the occasion… food comes secondary; inebriation is the primary goal.

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The price tags on these all-you-can-eat/drink buffets are hefty, to account for the nationwide alcohol mark-up. Yet the people can’t get enough. Brunch is such big business that everyone — and their granny — wants a piece of this intoxicating pie.  This week, I’m invited to sample the latest player in town, the DoubleTree by Hilton – Old Town.

Because the restaurant Open is a smaller venue, it has chosen a different track, focusing on fewer selections but made well.  That’s not to say the options are limited.  Good gracious, if one sampled a morsel of everything on the spread, one would have to be rolled home… and there goes that rayon jumpsuit.

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Several items deserve plaudit.  The live pasta cooking station whips up a spaghetti for the ages; the fresh noodles are pillowy with a slight bounce, and an unadorned arrabiata sauce showcases the sweet tomatoes and fresh basil.  I try a lamb rogan josh that packs in sacks of flavour without ravaging my sinuses.  The dish has a reputation of a ridiculous heat index, but not here.  Lastly, I am swept away by the antipasti counter with such treats as smoked duck and Wagyu beef carpaccio.  Again, not excessive, but more than ample to keep things colourful.

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Just as the Italian and Indian sections swim, the Arabic corner sinks.  I am not impressed by the dried out lamb chops with rice, dull tabbouleh, soggy fattoush or excessively salty lamb tajine.  They seem to be done out of necessity than of desire and really require more attention. The Chinese dumplings also stumble because of the thick, doughy wrappers, which turn mushy sitting in the steamer for too long.

That said, I’m nitpicking.  I am relishing course after course of wonderful bites, from fresh oysters and lobsters to tuna carpaccio and grilled fish.  And I manage three rounds of dessert, savouring the key lime pie and passion fruit mousse the most.

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But what stands out is the relaxed atmosphere at Open.  Most folks are enjoying their libations without going overboard.  And it reminds me of the brunches of my 20s: classy, not crass.   Then I find out the price tag, and I am incredulous.  The full alcoholic package is QR275 — a good QR100 below the norm.  Now that’s value for Doha!

 

 

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