For a celebration of ancient traditions, Kirsty Walker dines at Riyasat and embarks on a hearty Indian feast.
I learnt about both Vikings and Ancient Egyptians at school, but my history teacher unfortunately never indulged us with even a morsel of Indian history. Luckily for me, to dine at Riyasat, the beautiful eatery in Al Gassar Resort, The St. Regis Doha, is to slip back to the time of ‘The Raj’ and experience the culmination of centuries of cross-pollinated Indian culinary artistry.
From the Mughals to the British and the Portuguese traders who introduced chilli to India 600 years ago, Indian cuisine has been influenced by other cultures just as it has shaped food across the world today. Riyasat’s guests brush shoulders with culinary traditions practised by Indian royal families over the centuries-long history, with a phenomenal menu curated by Indian celebrity chef, Chef Jolly.
History lessons never tasted this good.
Entering the impressive restaurant involves a little time travel. Golden hues mix with a dark pink colour scheme. Crimson velvet sofas and a dark red floor sit alongside playful, coloured tiling under circular tables. Soft, upbeat electronic music adds a modern edge.
We’re greeted warmly by Shailender, the restaurant manager, and led to our table. Facing a vast glass partition illuminating the view onto the kitchen behind, I’m transfixed by the huge beehive tandoor ovens lined up by the window. I’m told they’re made from honey-infused clay, designed to add a subtle smoky layer to the food cooked within. I can’t wait to verify that morsel of information.
While I’m distracted, an amuse-bouche appears on our table. Crisp Rajasthan-style poppadoms are accompanied by a selection of dipping delights, including tamarind and date chutney with the extra sweetness of jaggery and creamy yoghurt with sesame.
Meanwhile, the bartender has prepared us some thirst-quenching passion fruit mocktails from the wonderful selection of ingredients he has on display on the drinks trolley.
Within seconds, Riyasat’s Executive Chef, Grenal Godinho, stops at our table to deliver a plate of Pani Poori to tantalise our taste buds and tell us about the Indian wizardry to come.
We’re treated to a feast of starters, commencing with a Goan street food classic: garlic and ginger marinated prawns with a light coat of crumbly semolina batter. Perfectly fried and not oily. Alongside the prawns comes homemade cottage cheese (paneer), mixed with the choice duo of coriander and chilli, and a generous dollop of fresh lime yoghurt. We dive into some Makhan Chooza chicken from Amritsar, bathed in yoghurt and green cardamom and carrying the delicate taste of royal cumin, the milder cousin to Cuminum Cyminum. Our attention turns to the beautifully presented broccoli florets cooked with fennel and mustard. These miniature blooms are soft, creamy and infused with myriad flavours. One melts in my mouth with a satisfying chargrilled aftertaste.
To wrap up the first course, the waiter delivers another prawn dish – ‘elevated’ king prawns marinated in Kashmiri chilli powder with a touch of creamed cheese, ginger and garlic.
After polishing off our delicious decapods, the ever-attentive Executive Chef swoops in to explain the main course, starting with the biryani. Originally brought to India from Persia, the biryani certainly found its home in South Asia. It’s not a dish, he explains; it’s an emotion. And our emotions have been individually slow-cooked on low heat with a dough seal, the stretchy pastry broken to reveal the steaming fresh rice underneath.
Accompanying the biryani is Riyasat’s very own take on butter chicken, banana-leaf wrapped sea bass, and Shabdegh Daal – lentils simmered overnight with an obscene amount of butter and cream. Naughty, rich, and absolutely glorious!
Quite taken by the Daal, I notice my guest battling the banana leaves cocooning her baked sea bass. Our waiter swiftly intercepts with an engaging smile and a polite help offer, avoiding any fishy embarrassment. The service is exceptional here, but at this, I doff my cap. Every staff member we meet with is attentive and knowledgeable, positive and efficient.
Fit to bursting with royal delicacies, we round off our evening with a pot of sweet milk tea infused with saffron and ginger, stunningly presented in a beautiful pot. Then a handmade Kulfi – the very best of Indian ice cream. Ancient traditions of Indian royalty come alive at Riyasat as a feast fit for kings and queens. So, try a spot of history, and dine here in majesty.