Ailsa Whyatt finds that Al Dana Club is the ideal spot for a perfect day out for the whole family.
I am indulging in some pre-summer R&R today at Doha’s Al Dana Club, a private members club with a family focus and traditional values. There is plenty to occupy all the family here, from exercise, relaxation and dining to playtime events and even business meetings, all in an intimate yet homely setting.
We are greeted at reception by Executive Secretary Victoria, and immediately feel we are in a grand and traditional residence – high ceilings, Arabic architecture, paintings depicting Qatari history and heritage and decorative coloured glass windows. Set against the skyscrapers of West Bay, Al Dana Club is a small oasis of calm, and a cooling shelter from the elements.
Despite its 26-year history, Al Dana Club continues to refresh its offerings, moving with the needs of members and their families. An American Chiropractor Centre and a flower shop, Blossom and Bloom, will open later this year. Later we visit the newly restyled Bayt Al Dana restaurant, now serving Middle Eastern cuisine, which opens its doors to all. Additionally, Al Dana Club welcomes non-member ladies through its doors every Sunday, who can access all areas, alongside their children (males under eight years also permitted).
We are given a tour of the many private member facilities, which include Adults Lounge – which displays a wonderful selection of loose-leaf teas to smell and sample and offers a place for members to conduct meetings in quietude; Dorra Lounge Café, conveniently placed next to the Adults Lounge; Al Wajih Barber Shop; and Al Wajih Ladies Beauty Centre.
There are also family and children’s lounges – Nimro Family Lounge, incidentally gloriously decorated with ornate ‘door artwork’, serves Amorino Gelato Al Nashrale overlooking the outdoor pool and, during the cooler months, replaces the ice cream with barbecue. Attached to this is the Nimro Kids’ Lounge; a haven for children to play – füßball, air hockey, gaming stations, computer stations – and relax with comfy sofas, tables and a projector wall for the Movie Nights that they put on every Thursday. There is even a play area for smaller children, with soft mats and a playhouse. All the changing rooms we see have baby changing facilities; always extremely welcome for those of us with nappy experience!
Talking of entertaining children, there is a Kids’ Gym dedicated to fitness and exercise for eight to 12-year-old members, supervised at all times so that children can safely exercise without the need for their guardian to be present. The gym is cheerfully decorated, with child-sized crosstrainers and exercise bikes, mini weights, a climbing wall, floor ladders and running machines (on top of which are individual television screens). Such is the family focus at Al Dana Club, they will also host a summer camp for children aged eight to 12 years (open also to non-members), run by Ultra Sports from mid-July to mid-August.
We are shown into the Jewan Hall; an expansive, plush, carpeted space with capacity for 1,000 guests. High ceilings, archway cornices and historically used for wedding celebrations for both male and female functions, the space is also available for bookings to non-members.
Next, we see (and later enjoy) the Bahar, indoor pool area, for which there are female only and mixed timings throughout the week. The changing rooms contain steam and sauna rooms, and a massage room, for which there are dedicated therapists. Super Bowl food and beverage bar is situated next to the pool for healthy drinks and snacks before, during or after exercise or play. The pool has a bold ceiling of pale blue and white cornices, with a domed Arabic star at its centre. Its gently toasty pool is divided into a children’s area, lane swimming and free swimming (which plays host to aqua aerobics classes at various times during the week), and then has a hot Jacuzzi, and, for the brave, a cold Jacuzzi in its wings. We loved the hot Jacuzzi but were not brave enough to attempt the cold one – maybe we had done an insufficient amount of exercise to warrant it!
If you are looking for adult exercise, do not fear, there is plenty to keep you occupied! Overlooking the pool is the main gym, in which there are dedicated PTs, and a range of supplementary activities for members. Just outside the gym we find the multi-purpose courts (tennis, basketball, and football), a children’s adventure play area, trampoline and ping pong table, along with an indoor waiting area for guardians preferring some shelter. There are also male and female praying rooms and washrooms located outside, just next to the main entrance.
We nip back inside to see the two indoor tennis courts, before touring the Tawash (ladies only gym and studio). Trainer Emily tells us that classes here include Zumba, Pilates, Core, Yoga, Circuit Training, Spinning, Step, Boxing, and ‘Bums, Legs and Tums’. After a gentle morning enjoying the hospitality and relaxing environs of the Bahar, we walk to the newly reopened Bayt Al Dana restaurant (open to non-members), via the outdoor pool, which is stunningly set against the backdrop of the West Bay skyline, with sun loungers to enjoy pre or post relaxing dip.
We are treated to so much wonderful food this lunchtime, but before I talk about the food, I must mention the considered and beautiful décor that has been used. ‘Dallah’ (traditional coffee and tea pot vessels), pots and pans line walls, with small and intimate lamps, traditional artwork, Arabic tiles and an open kitchen, into which we can see while our food is being prepared. Jordanian Head Chef, Mohammed Kamleh, has taken traditional recipes, passed on through generations, and made them accessible and interesting to a modern crowd. Solid earthenware is used for all the dishes, and the food is well-balanced, flavoursome and moreish.
Our server Yassine brings out a selection of mezze and salads (Chef Mohammed tells us that, where possible, the mezze are prepared a day in advance, to enhance flavours and deliciousness). We try Horaa Osbao (traditional slowcooked lentils, fragrant with spices, and then run through with pomegranate molasses), Chicken Liver (wonderfully caramelised, and served with pomegranate sauce containing hints of lemon – delicious), Fattoush (fresh and crunchy, balancing citrusy lemon with pomegranate sweetness), and Beetroot & Feta Cheese (a colourful salad, where the deep red of the beetroot contrasts with the dusting of feta, glazed in a super dressing that contains just a hint of honey).
Our mains are Lamb Tagine (a light take on a traditional Moroccan tajine, in which dates have been switched for dry plums, which bring out the cumin flavours, balancing the sweet and savoury perfectly) and Samak Bil Sanayah (seasoned hammour, marinated in tahini and served on basmati rice with caramelised onion shavings, spices and nuts), and we barely have space to fit in (don’t worry, we managed!) the Kunafa Bil Ashta and Ghazal Al Banat Arabic Ice Cream desserts. The Kunafa is light, and served with a lemon rose jam, and the Ghazal Al Banat is a pistachioencrusted ice cream, on top of which rests traditional Arabic cotton candy. A little touch of sweetness to round off our eatathon!
A quiet and homely haven, where traditional Qatari culture runs through the very fabric of the building, Al Dana Club is welcoming, with a family feel. Here, members are received as extended family rather than guests and encouraged to exercise, unwind and dine; we definitely did all three! ✤