Outlet 360: El Faro, Doha
Caterer Middle East profiles El Faro restaurant in the Marsa Malaz Kempinski, on The Pearl in Doha
Rahul Odedra visits El Faro, at Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl - Doha, to find a bit of Spain in Qatar
Front of House
In one of the most eagerly-awaited hotels in Qatar, Marsa Malaz Kempinski, sits one of its most intriguing restaurants: El Faro.
One of 11 F&B outlets at the palatial hotel, El Faro aims to give both visitors a taste of Spain; something the management team believes is sorely lacking in the city.
Designed by Sketch Interior Design, the venue has a modern feel and the eye is immediately drawn to the graffiti artwork on the back wall.
Outlet manager Miriam Artes details the kind of vibe the team behind the venue is looking to bring, both to the new hotel and also to the city of Doha.
“We are trying to bring our Spanish culture to Qatar,” she says. “Because I think you need a sort of restaurant where it is a relaxed place with relaxed food, and something different to what is in Qatar.”
While she may be thousands of kilometres away from her home in Barcelona, Artes believe that even on this man-made island off the coast of the oil-rich desert nation, she has found a piece of Spain.
“I think we are so lucky to be here. It is a fantastic location near the sea with the beach,” Artes comments. “It’s the best place where we can be. It is also very Spanish: sunny!”
Close attention has been paid to ensuring that a true Spanish atmosphere is created with extensive use of wooden furniture and terracotta colours around the restaurant.
At the centre is a main bar with seating around it — in true tapas bar style — while a second bar is also hidden around a corner.
She says: “We want to create a relaxed restaurant at night with chill out music. And we will have a DJ on weekends, with Latin music [playing] in general.”
The dedication to a true Spanish experience is being extended to the staffing of the restaurant, as Artes details: “Almost half the team is Spanish, from Mallorca, Malaga, Alicante, Valencia. Now we are 50% Spanish and the management is Spanish. Our goal is to be all Spanish.”
With space for 196 patrons inside, and another 24 on the outdoor terrace, El Faro is open from 6pm to 2am every evening, with dinner giving way to drinks, music and, on weekends, flamenco dancing.
Artes, one of around 15 front-of-house staff at the restaurant, herself joined the hotel just before it opened at the beginning of January. She was particularly excited about working in a new culture and with an ambitious concept.
“To be honest it was the project; it is amazing and so new. It has been fantastic so far, busy all the time. It is different. It is a five-star hotel, but it is relaxed.”
Back of House
For head chef Raúl Cob, joining the El Faro project has meant leaving behind his family — and a successful restaurant — back in Valencia.
He has brought what he has learned in the last decade as a chef in Spain over to Qatar, where he is aiming to provide an authentic taste experience with the cuisine — similar to the philosophy that outlet manager Artes has for her team.
While his restaurant in Spain, El Cabanyal, focused on traditional Valencian cuisine, at El Faro he is taking diners on a culinary journey throughout the country.
This means that Canarian, Andalucian and Catalonian dishes, as well as selections from other regions, have made their way onto the menu.
“Spanish food is very fun,” he explains. “People who don’t know anything about Spanish food are going to be very surprised. Sometimes when people think of Spanish, they think of South America. It is not only big portions of beef and sausage, it is another thing.”
Artes says: “We are trying actually to cook nice food in a very nice restaurant. That’s our goal. With some cocktails, apart from food.”
Cob is also fully aware that Spanish expats in Qatar are expecting big things from the restaurants: hoping to sate their appetite for a taste of home.
“I was at a party at the Spanish consulate and they have a lot of expectations. When Spanish people come, they can enjoy it and say, ‘this is from my area’. All traditional,” he reveals.
Despite his dedication to Spanish cuisine, Cob is nevertheless pragmatic about having to adapt to some local demands, such as with his paella.
There is no space on the menu for the traditional Valencian variety, with rabbit, although even that can be made on demand.
“The authentic paella is different to the one here,” he adds.
Cob continues: “In Spain we serve it totally dry. Here it is a bit wet, because people in this country like it like that.”
While he is full of praise for the quality of fruit, vegetables and poultry in Qatar, one area where Cob is again having to adapt is with seafood, where he is finding that the flavours do not quite match the intensity he is used to back home.
He says: “In this country the water is hot and the seafood has less flavour. We have to spend more time on the stocks to get more flavour, and reduce the stock more.”
When it comes to staffing, as with front-of-house, his team in the kitchen is a combination of talent from Spain and the typical mix of nationalities one would find at restaurants across the region.
“I have to train them,” he says. “The training is to cook, cook, cook, and understand Spanish cuisine.”
He concludes: “Spanish cuisine is honest. We want the taste of the ingredients. I don’t want to say anything bad about other cuisines, but Spanish food is honest. Chicken is chicken. Seafood is seafood.”