MANDARIN ORIENTAL DOHA, QATAR – A Culturally Coherent Regnant Of Qatari Design & Heritage

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DOHA, QATAR: The main entrance of the Mandarin Oriental, Doha in Qatar.

The Mandarin Oriental, Doha opened in March 2019 in Msheireb Downtown Doha, a planned, smart-city district in Qatar, and the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project. The sand-hued hotel overlooks the enchanting Barahat Msheireb Town Square, the largest open-air covered town square in the Middle East, encompassing 7000 sqm with the biggest retractable, climate-controlled cooling roof in the region. The design concept of the golden square references the welcoming and luxurious sitting rooms of traditional Qatari homes, and the backlit onyx cladding at night in translucent honey tones, echoes the inherent spirit of the desert. Msheireb Downtown Doha, developed by Msheireb Properties, whose Chairwoman is HRH Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, adheres to the highest standards in green building in re-creating a way of indigenous Qatari living and culture, in the centre of the capital city. Qatar is not just kicking ball by hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it’s venerating its history and heritage through artistic avant-garde advancement in every sphere. This 11,000 km desert kingdom is on its way to becoming a nonpareil cultural capital of the world.

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DOHA, QATAR: The Mandarin Oriental, Doha overlooks the Barahat Msheireb Town Square in Msheireb Downtown Doha, Qatar.

The Mandarin Oriental, Doha is not a glass and glimmer skyscraper tearing into the blue skies, as one is wont to think of luxury hotels in the Middle East, blazoning the apodictic wealth of the country. It confutes the very notion the second your car rolls up the narrow, stone-cobbled alleyways, especially designed thus to give you a feel of old Qatari residential neighbourhoods, but not without a distinct, contemporary finesse befitting of a luxury hotel. Brick, mortar, wood, metal and a whole lot of soul make up the architectural and design language of the Mandarin Oriental, Doha that is culturally coherent with Qatari living and the heritage of the desert nation. The ferej, an intrinsic part of Qatari homes, built to provide shade from the desert sun and for air circulation (a natural air-conditioner so to speak) for respite from the heat, makes its modern-day presence felt in the hotel’s corridors and landings.

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DOHA, QATAR: A street view of the main entrance of the Mandarin Oriental, Doha, Qatar.

The shifting shapes of sand dunes inspired the key design element for the interiors of the property. Right from the imposing entrance pillars to the walls, marble floors and ceiling reliefs, an artistic representation of sand dunes runs through the hotel consummately. The design is as conspicuous and as unobtrusive as you want it to be. If you want to see it, you can see it everywhere and if you don’t, well, then you don’t. But the sand dunes of Qatar are there, hearkening the travelling bedouin origins of Qatar to the current day on your calendar.

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DOHA, QATAR: A general view from the Mandarin Oriental, Doha of the ferej or narrow alleyway sstreets in Doha, Qatar

The fretwork sand dune panels, with a painted eggshell finish on the ceiling, with a brass veil, influenced by the awnings and canopies of Arab dhows and ocean waves, designed by the David Collins Studio and Alexander Lamont’s straw marquetry adorn the lobby of the hotel. The brass veil, alongside the straw marquetry, is a breathtaking design genius.  Lamont used dried straw stems, spliced open and flattened, inlaying them individually on wood, creating a sustainable quintessence of his own. The straw fibres reflect light, changing with the time of day in the lobby and the Baraha Lounge, lending a natural sheen to each panel.

Apart from the fretwork sand dune panels that run through the entire hotel, the rooms and bathrooms resonate with elements from the rich seafaring, maritime history of Qatar, albeit subtly. The metal studs on the walls are a contemporary interpretation of the old wooden beams that extended horizontally from the walls of Qatari homes called danshal, procured with great difficulty by the bedouins due to the lack of natural vegetation in the region, to build sturdy roofs for their clay homes. The beautiful lamp shades are asymmetrically shaped, inspired by Arab dhows and the mirrors in the bathroom hang from ropes that were used at sea for fishing and pearl-diving. The black and white tile work wall behind the bathtub and jacuzzi honours the weaving traditions of Qatari women. I love the heady fragrance the Atelier Cologne Rose Anonyme bath line, a Rose Oud, that’s congruous to the landscape’s Desert Rose crystal formations, used by Qataris as talismans for protection and spirit guidance.

A serene sense of calm envelops you, once you’re inside the pristine and quiet (I loved that!) of your room, and the plush bed is meant for sleeping, especially after an exquisite Oriental Essence treatment at the Spa with its very own indoor swimming pool. Flight fatigue what? Though I worked through most nights on my bed, and that was snug and restful too. Imagine discovering a yoga mat, a jaanamaz and a hair straightener (not just a hairdryer) in your room, not to mention the mini-bar snacks packaged in exclusively designed tin boxes bearing palm trees – this is artistic design commingling with human desires and essentials in a manner most natural and decorous.

The location of the Mandarin Oriental, Doha is enviable, given it’s a short 20-minute drive from Hamad International Airport and is adjacent to the Amiri Diwan, Qatar’s seat of government and the Emir of Qatar, HRH Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s palace. It is a five-minute walk to the Msheireb Museum and the redeveloped and very lively (not noisy) and alive Souk Waqif, with its Falcon Souks, a Camel Pen and of course, the Gold Souk. The Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the late I.M. Pei and the National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel to look like the natural Desert Rose crystal formations that are found in Qatar, with inward-curving disks, intersections and cantilevered elements, with 1.5 kilometers of gallery space, giving voice to the unique story of Qatar and its people in an immersive and experiential manner in three chapters — Beginnings, Life in Qatar and The Modern History of Qatar are a short drive away and stand testament to the invested vision of the country’s love and liberal furtherance of the arts. The recherché National Museum of Qatar is a must visit. To give you perspective, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York’s annual budget for new acquisitions is USD 30 million and the Qatar Museums’ is USD 1 billion, chaired by HRH Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
gettyimages-1188450522-2048x2048The food is exemplary at all the four restaurants in the hotel, and at the Mandarin and Baraha Lounges. My first meal was an Angus Beef Burger at Aqua, the alfresco rooftop restaurant and bar that serves up easy-sharing dishes like Arabic mezze, sliders and pide.  Mosaic, the specialty nine-kitchen restaurant on the eighth floor is where the vibe is relaxed and the sun filters in through the metal grills inspired by traditional windows with intricate lattice panels called mashrabiya. Even the lifts bear a prominent pearl motif on the metal grills in honour of the pearling history of the country. Volcanic Torched Tuna Sushi, the Thai Beef Salad with a Lucha Libre cocktail here are to live for! I had a Turkish Pide (flat bread made of wheat flour) with Beef Pepperoni and Olive with Oregano and Parmesan for the fist time, and it was great. Mosaic is also where the elegant Qatari ladies breakfast and that says a lot about the food. I loved the Malika Honey, a delicious Qatari honey that’s harvested from the Busaif Apiary, of which 15 beehives are owned by the Mandarin Oriental, Doha as part of their sustainability program. It’s something that should really be sold to the guests at the hotel, it’s that good. The cream-filled Pistachio and Red Velvet Croissants, the Apple Detox Water, the Beef Cecina and all things beef honestly made me extremely happy to breakfast at Mosaic everyday.

Izu, the Mediterranean cuisine restaurant facing the Barahat Msheireb town square, with three seating areas – an indoor ground and mezzanine level and the popular outdoor terrace is where the culinary artistry is at, led by Nigerian chef, Izu Ani. Chef Izu is beyond gifted – Fried Organic Eggs with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce, the Wagyu burger, Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs with Padron Peppers, the Burrata with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, Watermelon and Feta Salad, the Mandarin Gelato, the Le Verger drink made with fresh basil leaves, lemon and apple juice – there’s a discernible Izu addition to the simple classics, that takes his creations to a whole new level of delectable, and memorable flavours. He’d Izu’d everything I ate and drank, and loved, from the very first bite and swill to the very last! You have to be Izu’d at Izu people.

The English afternoon tea service at the Baraha Lounge, overlooking the Barahat Msheireb town square, and at the Mandarin Lounge from 2-6PM everyday, is immensely popular with the Qataris and locals. Gilded cakes, pink rose madelines and savouries with bespoke blends anyone? Gelato, the frozen dessert and gelato restaurant, also overlooking the Barahat Msheireb town square hits everyone’s sweet spot with its vast array of flavours, from vegan chocolate to Arabic coffee to anything your heart desires. If The Secret Bar at Izu is rather rad whilst Ambar is its sophisticated equal to quaff in at the hotel.

Newer luxury hotels, unlike the Mandarin Oriental, Doha, aim to make you feel like you could be anywhere in the world once you’re inside, and that just does not cut it for me. I have my own bed at home where I can imagine such inanities in my pyjamas on my own time, thanks, but no thanks! I don’t need to take a flight to Doha to imagine that I am in the Seychelles! Every morning, when I woke up and had my morning Nespresso, I knew I was in Doha and not in a ‘home away from home’. I so despise that sell! Everything in the room, and outside my window overlooking the modern ferej, told me so and this is what I loved the most about staying at the Mandarin Oriental, Doha. I felt like I was invited into the luxe confines of a Qatari home that’s most certainly not mine, or like mine, and I am a treasured guest of theirs for the weekend. And that’s how you feel like you ‘belong’ innately to a new place. The Mandarin Doha team is ebullient and professional, led ably by their General Manager, Martin Schnider.

No evening at the Mandarin Oriental, Doha felt complete without looking out at the molten glow of the Barahat Msheireb town square or a ‘cool’ walk around it, literally. Doha will always be ManDOHArin for me!

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@Rubina A Khan 2019

 

 

To 2017 Everyone! And To The Seductive Mystique Of Its Adventures To Come!

The year 2016 made for a hedonistic love affair with Dubai for my heart and soul. 2017 feels like another country already, and I can’t hardly wait to see which part of the wondrous world I will be LIVING, LOVING & LUSTING in next! Err, and working too 🙂 but of course!

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This is my favorite picture of 2016 that I shot in Dubai. A view of Horse, a 1.5 tonne bronze sculpture by Colombian figurative artist, Fernando Botero against the sheer magnificence of contemporary design and vision, and the tallest structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai – a harmonious consummation of the cultural heritage of the Emirates and the “right now” of Dubai.

To 2017 everyone!

And to the seductive mystique of its adventures to come! 

©Rubina A Khan 2016|2017

My Top 5 Restaurants In Dubai, So Far!

Rubina A Khan reviews some of her favourite restaurants in Dubai, “tempted by the expansive culinary temptations in the city.”

I have been so busy eating my way through Dubai, and loving it, that I just didn’t get down to writing about all the amazing food here! I have been distracted, tormentously so sometimes, by the expansive culinary temptations in the country. So, here is my first feature on my top five favorite restaurants in Dubai, so far:

1. THE IVY | JUMEIRAH EMIRATES TOWERS | BRITISH

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Roast Duck Breast & Confit Leg | Rubina A Khan

The last time I enjoyed duck was at the exquisite Duck de Chine restaurant in Beijing, China and boy, was I blown away with its culinary excellence! The duck was so exceptional that a shrill “This Beijing Duck is to fly for, not die for!” escaped my lips, right there on the table, just as I had the first taste of it, cracking everyone up and nodding in unison. I have not been impressed by any restaurant after that (repeated) ceremonial duck experience, till I chanced upon The Ivy Dubai’s Roast Duck Breast and Confit Leg with Choux Farci, Boulangère Potato and Fois Gras on a busy working afternoon in March. I have only ever eaten this dish at the Dubai outpost of this British restaurant, nothing else, yet. That’s how good it is and so is the service! The Ivy’s vibe can be as languid as you want it to be or as boisterous as a British pub, depending on the time you go there. Needless to add, I don’t need to die or fly to Beijing for my Beijing Duck fix, even though Duck De Chine reigns supreme in my world favorite list forever more, now that I’ve got The Ivy in Dubai to rein in my duck cravings for a bit.

2. THE MEAT Co. | SOUK AL BAHAR, DUBAI MALL | AFRICAN

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Gourmet Wagyu Burger with Steak Cut Chips | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Leveraging off its African heritage, The Meat Co is a steakhouse with a selection of premium steaks like Japanese Miyazaki Wagyu to natural grass-fed Argentinian Pampa Humeda bred beef to Australian Angus. This restaurant has the best view in all of Dubai – the Burj Khalifa and the Dancing Fountains on the Burj Lake and is the coolest place to just hang out in, with the warmest and friendliest service staff. It is the best spot for selfies too but trying to get the Burj in the same frame as your face will be cumbersome. I managed to a couple, but only after a couple of trips to the restaurant. I love the Gourmet Burgers, Steak Cut Chips, Chocolate Bread, Jumbo Prawns and the Maracaibo cocktail here.

3. OLEA | KEMPINSKI MALL OF THE EMIRATES | ARABIAN

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Lamb Kebabs & Kebdet Dajaj (Chicken Liver in Pomegranate Molasses | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Olea is a contemporary Arabian restaurant, specializing in Levantine (Eastern Mediterranean) cuisine, within the majestic splendors of the decade old Kempinski Mall Of The Emirates Hotel, that was recently refurbished for over a $100 million. Olea has a vast Levantine menu with dishes like the El Homos Beiruti of Lebanon and Nayeh (raw meat) selection of Syria to the Sultan Ibrahim of Cyprus and Soft Kunafa of Palestine, as also dishes from Cyprus, Jordan and Turkey, each prepared in the traditional manner, staying true to their origins and intrinsic flavors. Sidebar: Did you know Baba Ghanoush is Arabic for Spoiled Papa? Neither did I!

4. PAUL CAFE | MALL OF THE EMIRATES, DUBAI MALL | FRENCH

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Coconut and Mango Mille Feuille | Photo: Rubina A Khan

I am in love with the Coconut and Mango Mille Feuille here and the perfect Iced Lattes, just the way I like it, no special customizations needed. I have always had to specify the amount of coffee versus the milk and ice in the blend, pretty much everywhere in the world, be it London, Maldives, New York, Hawaii, China, India, Berlin… you get the drift. The cheery vibe at this French cafe is as inviting as the sugar artistry on its bakery shelves. And the service in this bustling cafe is so quick that even before I have paid up for my “to go” order, it’s all packed and ready! I have so far indulged in a sugar dance here and just not had the time to sit down for a meal yet, but I will do so soon. Till then, keep the Palmiers and Pain Au Chocolats coming Paul!

5. ARMANI / HASHI | ARMANI DOWNTOWN | JAPANESE 

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Kumquat Caipirinha | Photo: Rubina A Khan

With the Burj Khalifa rising into the Dubai sky like a glimmering spire at sundown and the Dancing Fountains’ musical show on Burj Lake, sundowners at the Armani / Hashi lounge are a sublime seduction into the night ahead. To be right in the midst of the lofty Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world, gives your evening an exceptional high. Armani / Hashi has some of the most exciting cocktails like the Kanji Martini and the Blushing Geisha,  matched with exemplary service, not just at the bar and lounge, but at all points in the hotel, making it one of my favorite places to go to in Dubai. After the cocktail rounds, you can always have dinner at the Armani / Hashi restaurant that serves contemporary Japanese cuisine.

PS. I just realized that my favorite places in Dubai are so diverse from one another – ranging from Japanese, British, French, Arabic and African cuisines – a happy inadvertence. Well, I have always liked to think of myself as a world citizen, and this commingling falls right in to my citizen of the world vibe.

©Rubina A Khan 2016