Sanaa Choudry discovered an outstanding marriage of flavours on a visit to La Mar Doha.
With the gradual ascent of temperatures and a soft balmy air enveloping the Doha skyline, taste buds prepare to be tantalised with refreshing yet flavoursome delights – none of which are more delectable than the offerings found at La Mar Doha by Gastón Acurio.
Hidden behind intricately crafted doors within the InterContinental Doha Beach & Spa, this gem is renowned for its opulent flavours and eclectic influences. The dining room itself boasts a seamless blend of modern and traditional elements including strikingly high white ceilings adorned with neutral bamboo chandeliers that radiate a subtle golden lustre.
Swiftly seated by the window on this warm evening, we are raptured by enchanting vistas of the golden landscape and rhythmic waves caressing the beach: undoubtedly the perfect atmosphere to savour the essence of contemporary Peruvian cuisine. Rooted in indigenous traditions, Peruvian fare is truly a fusion that is reflective of the nation’s multicultural history. Often known as Criolla food, it boasts a mouth-watering and authentic blend of Spanish, Asian, Incan and wider European influences. Despite this, the true essence of Peruvian cookery lies in the celebration of one thing above all else: the pure and uncomplicated beauty of simple ingredients. Each dish highlights the culinary prowess that lies in the art of restraint, and this is what makes a dining experience at La Mar so transformative to the palate.
Operating under the helm of Executive Chef Frank Ponce Yalico, Italian and Japanese influences form the backbone of the new menu. Drawing inspiration from Peru’s rich culinary heritage, the dishes on offer pay homage to beloved traditional favourites that have been passed through generations. Chef Frank’s profound connection to his homeland shines: “I spent my childhood at the market with my grandmother, watching her pick the finest ingredients,” he tells us. It is these same ingredients of fresh lime, yellow chilli and garlic that form the cornerstone of this menu and there is something truly heart-warming in knowing that a sprinkle of nostalgia has been added to every plate.
Our first dish is the Tiraditos Chucuito – Peruvian-style Japanese sashimi laced with ‘leche de tigre’. Literally translating to ‘tiger’s milk’, this bright and spicy citrus-based marinade is used to cure the fresh catch of the day in a concoction of fish and vegetable stock, garlic, ginger, aji chillies (serving a hot yet fruity punch) and finely chopped coriander. This delicious, traditional-contemporary mixture perfectly showcases the melding of international influences, with creamy Japanese king scallops added in and artfully paired with zesty lime. The delicate seafood exudes a tenderness that harmonises with the creamy avocado, while the semolina squid ink cracker adds an umami element. With every bite, a medley of textures unfolds and is enhanced by the sharpness of basil oil. This dish is a testament to the culinary artistry that emerges when different cultures come together – a happy marriage of flavours.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Peruvian meal without the quintessential cebiche. And the adaptations to the classic are not to be missed when dining here. We dive into the Cebiche Criollo – a true celebration of the sea’s bounty luxuriant in fish and aji amarillo leche de tigre, with deep-fried squid, cancha and choclo, the entire dish balanced with soft sweet potatoes.
Our palates tantalised, these tasty courses are just the prelude. Soon after arrives the main event, the first of which is the Pulpo a la Brasa – an octopus tentacle resting upon a bed of Peruvian pesto. Peruvian pesto? Whilst the base of basil and spinach remains traditional, a blend of milk, cheese (in this case, halloumi) and a subtle helping of potato puree crafts a thicker texture. This earthy elixir offers the necessary contrast to the ‘hit you in the back of the throat’ panka coating of the octopus, subtly speckled with crispy garlic. Melting into our mouths, a caramel gooiness that cannot quite be placed adds a sweetness. (As it turns out, the sweet acidity of Coca Cola is the culprit). This dish is paired with another La Mar favourite: Jalea Mixta. Deep-fried seafood mix, accompanied by perfectly fried yucca, crispy plantain chips, tangy tartar sauce and a dash of sarza criolla. It is an explosion of flavour that leaves us demolishing every last morsel.
The crowning glory of the evening is the grilled hammour, the fish is butterflied and cooked with norteña sauce – made with aji amarillo, crab stock, coriander, onion and garlic – served atop a bed of butternut squash and piquant coriander and finished in the Josper to ensure none of the flavour escapes.
La Mar diners are invited to indulge even further as a fresh fish of choice is now available to enhance the fine-dining experience. With options like hammour and seabream at hand, scorpion fish and sole from Greece will also make an appearance.
Stomachs gurgling in pure pleasure, we question whether we can handle another bite when between us arrives a plate of cornbased cakes (Chef Frank quickly reminds us that ‘food is for the stomach, whilst dessert is for the heart’). Delicate sponge cubes laced with nuts are perched beneath a dollop of sweetened cream and caramelised American popcorn, all served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Insanely satisfied, it is time to take our leave, but we will surely return. ✤
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