Kalvin Ng found dining and dancing on a sultry journey of discovery at El Cedro.

Qatar has fallen in love with South American cuisine. Several restaurants have opened in the last couple of years to rave reviews and El Cedro Pan-Latin Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton Sharq Village, Doha, has been rebranded to provide some serious competition. It’s fitting and welcomed, with just a couple of months to go before Qatar plays host to the FIFA Football World Cup 2022, the ultimate prize for one of Latin America’s favourite pastimes.

There are a number of notable qualities that make El Cedro stand out above the rest of its competitors. Let’s start with the location. It’s a breath of fresh air to find a sophisticated Latin lounge away from popular hot spots like West Bay and The Pearl. El Cedro feels worlds away from Doha.

We visited on ‘Salsa Night’. The sultry music led us to a sophisticated and intimate space, with seductive lighting, comfortable lounge chairs and a cosy bar with fawn granite countertops and elegant high stools: the perfect spot for a welcome beverage to begin the evening. Beyond the extensive drinks menu, staff led by El Cedro’s Argentinian head bartender are on hand to mix whichever drink tickles your fancy. I gave them my preferences and received a deliciously refreshing mocktail with passionfruit. The outdoor terrace wouldn’t look out of place in, say, Havana, with its elegant white wicker lounges and wooden deck. You could even enjoy the surroundings with a smoke from the cigar room by the entrance.

With the venue’s décor ticking all the right boxes, we turned our attention to the food offering. Colombian-Venezuelan bar supervisor Gabriella Pereira explained that the menu has been designed to take a culinary tour of Latin America, with stops in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Mexico to name a few. Our cheerful and attentive Ecuadorian waitress, Janyne, began by mixing a guacamole in front of us with a traditional Mexican ‘molcajete’, or mortar and pestle. It was fresh, smooth and tangy, with a wonderful balance of lime juice and chilli.

Janyne’s smile lit up when she introduced us to a dish from her homeland: the Ceviche de Camaròn, or shrimp ceviche. A popular choice in Ecuador, it has the added advantage of being made with poached shrimp. This makes it ideal for diners who are perhaps sceptical of raw seafood. The shrimp were marinated in lime juice with corn, sweet potatoes, onions and chilli. The balance of sour and salty was spot on. It was beautifully presented in half a coconut on a bed of corn with a few slices of tortilla chips to scoop up the ceviche.

Next, we hopped over to Bolivia with Salteña de Carne, or Bolivian-style beef empanadas. The beef ragout filling was delicious, warm and comforting. I can understand why it’s a popular street snack in Bolivia. This was followed by shredded beef Barbacoa tacos. The meat was juicy and full of flavour, with a hint of smoke from the barbecue. Shredded beef also featured prominently in Patacones con Carne: twice-fried crispy plantain slices served with avocado, beef and a little slice of jalapeño. All the wonderful flavours of South America in one bite.

Our Pan-Latin journey had only just begun, bar supervisor Gabriella and our waitress Janyne told us there were two more dishes to try. First was the potato and cassava croquettes with beef ham and cheese. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, the croquettes were the perfect finger food. These were followed by char-grilled green Padrón peppers filled with homemade soft cheese and a slice of mandarin. The cheese and citrus cut through the spiciness of the peppers beautifully.

By now, many of the diners were ready to work off the delicious food and drinks with some dancing. A small dancefloor opened up in front of the live DJ, who had been spinning the latest Latin salsa hits throughout the evening. Experienced dancers coupled up and glided elegantly through the room. Even a novice with two left feet like me couldn’t resist joining in. It was definitely a unique experience in Doha. El Cedro lounge is planning more themed nights and other exciting events in preparation for the FIFA World Cup in November.

With incredible food, drinks and attentive service in a wonderfully atmospheric venue, El Cedro is full of LatinAmerican flair and elegance. Whether you’re in the mood for dancing or a sophisticated meal, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.✤