An exceptional dining spread of Lebanese flavours was experienced by Luke Bennett at Babel.
Lebanese culture is synonymous with flavoursome food partnered with instrumental music to create a celebration of life. Step into Babel at the striking St. Regis Marsa Arabia Island, The Pearl-Qatar, and you’ll be immersed in an authentic Lebanese experience with added sophistication and elegance. Dazzling décor featuring large, mirrored walls with a scattering of marbled ornaments and potted greenery creates a chic and spacious setting perfect for the fine-dining experience that awaits.
On arrival, we were warmly greeted and escorted to our table in the stylish, outdoor seating area that offers breathtaking, panoramic views of the marina. Alain, the friendly and attentive manager, passionately explained that the concept of Babel is to take traditional Lebanese food and elevate it to a more contemporary, refined level utilising the finest ingredients. As soon as the cold mezze plates were placed in front of us, it was evident that we were about to experience Lebanese cuisine like never before.
The familiar sight of finely diced parsley signified the arrival of Babel’s take on the well-known Lebanese salad, Tabboulet El Bahar. However, as the name suggests, this signature dish wasn’t your ordinary tabbouleh; plump, flavourful shrimp and undertones of ginger proved to be outstanding additions. The Shrimp Salad highlighted how a skilful chef armed with carefully sourced produce can work wonders. An assortment of fresh tomatoes, Indian onions and hearty shrimp were enveloped by a delectable soy and coriander dressing with a depth of flavour beyond what I’ve previously tasted. Next up was a wonderfully balanced bowl of bulgur wheat named Majroucheh. The earthy grains were expertly prepared, retaining a fluffy yet chewy consistency; scatterings of pumpkin and pomegranate seeds gifted a satisfying crunch, and drizzles of syrupy molasses laced this dish with a pleasurable amount of sweetness.
Floating stylishly on a bed of ice was the vividly coloured Kibbeh Nayyeh – a dish adored by many across Lebanon and it’s easy to see why. The raw meat was expertly spiced and blended into an extremely smooth texture ideal for spreading across the warm, accompanying Arabic bread. Sided with grains of crushed wheat that provided a crunchy texture to cleverly balance out the softness of the paste-like meat. Despite regularly eating Lebanese food, this was my first time trying Kibbeh Nayyeh; I was pleasantly surprised, and the surprises didn’t stop there. Taking an item of food and turning it into a piece of art that tastes as good as it looks is a commendable skill, and the next dish, Eggplant Flower, was exactly that. A smoky, grilled eggplant was delicately dressed in creamy tahini, slices of peppers and stuffed with slightly tangy, pickled eggplants.
While we continued to appreciate the serene views, a collection of hot mezze was generously bestowed upon us. Starting with the surprise of the evening: Maajouka. With each slice of the knife, a gooey concoction of mozzarella, mushroom and pistachio tantalisingly oozed from the chargrilled kebab meat. For many, kebab meat can be overly greasy; however, the beef was expertly chargrilled. Enhancing the dish yet further was a marvellous coating of sharp cherry reduction that expertly balanced the rich nature of the cheesy filling. Lightly breaded fingers of fresh calamari sided with a creamy tartar sauce highlighted the importance of sourcing superior ingredients. The celebration of outstanding seafood continued with an array of voluminous, sauteed shrimp elegantly displayed on a bed of grilled eggplant and capsicum permeated with a pleasant hint of chilli. Finally, Octopus ProvenÇal proved to be a favourite dish for me. Beautifully braised in a heavenly mix of coriander, garlic and lemon, the luscious taste matched the exquisite texture of the firm, caramelised tentacles.
Still salivating from the exceptional mezze dishes, a suave waiter served the main courses. First, shredding tenderised fibres of lamb from the bone that sat on a bed of rice packed with flavour from Oriental spices and cardamon. Halved almonds added both an enjoyable crunch and a nutty taste to complement the delicious rice. Next, a grilled baby chicken was served alongside moreish cubes of spiced potatoes finished with a sprinkling of salt. Coated in wonderfully crispy skin, the chicken was flawlessly chargrilled, maintaining a juicy, succulent interior. Both main courses were ideal for sharing and would definitely please the ‘meat-loving’ diners.
As the evening progressed, the balcony became a hive of energy and the charming addition of a violinist and pianist gifted live, acoustic music to elevate the stylish ambience to extraordinary heights. Whilst savouring the melodic harmonies, the desserts arrived to provide a decadent end to an exceptional evening. Carving my fork into a sizeable profiterole exposed a generous filling of vanilla cream that complemented the perfectly baked pastry as a smothering of velvety chocolate sauce added a touch more richness. Alain introduced the final dish as ‘Knefeh the Babel way’, and it proved not to be the average knefeh. Layers of shredded phyllo pastry were satisfyingly crunchy and expertly harmonised with the iconic, stringy cheese and crumbly pistachio filling. Bringing a delightful freshness and the added ‘Babel touch’ were substantial spheres of delectable ice cream and drizzles of chocolate sauce.
With an obsession for exceptional ingredients, a passion for outstanding service and a constant desire to provide an unforgettable experience, Babel is creating waves of excitement throughout Doha’s dining scene and is certainly a welcomed addition.