Homara Choudhary took a foodie trip across the Levant with an evening at Levantine.

Perched along the southern coast of Qatar, the Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas is one of the largest of its kind in the Middle East. Sprawling across 3.5 kilometres of pristine coastline, it’s the first leisure and holiday destination in the Gulf state and it takes just over an hour from Doha to reach this magical palace by the sea.

Upon arriving at the resort, I was struck by its unique structure and size. The bright white and blue exterior combined with traditional Arabian heritage was palatial. As I walked towards reception, the airy interior made me feel like I had been taken back in time, transporting me to a Mughal palace.

Beautiful Middle Eastern inspired chandeliers hung from the high ceilings and complemented the stunning arches and cream marble floors. The blue Mediterranean mosaic tiles matched the sophisticated eastern design giving it a tranquil ambience.

After a visit to the spa and a swim at the beach, I had worked up an appetite for dinner and was excited to try Levantine. As the name suggests, the restaurant offers unique foods from all over the Levant, including Palestine, Jordan, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon as well as local favourites from Qatar.

As we entered we dipped and washed our hands in specially prepared rose water, petals floating in the copper basin. Ali, the Lebanese restaurant supervisor, said this was a special welcoming custom, particularly in his home country.

The restaurant has a live kitchen and is divided in two parts. There’s an area for formal dining, where you can be mesmerised watching chefs preparing your evening meal. There’s also a private dining area here for families. The other portion of the restaurant is slightly more casual and vibrant, and included a well-ventilated lounge for hubbly bubbly fans at the far end.

Ali talked us through the menu after sending over some complimentary Saaj bread stuffed with cheese and zaatar. The texture of the bread was light and fluffy and extremely filling.

Our attendant Nur took our order and we decided on a selection of hot and cold mezze to begin our culinary journey through the Levant. The Muhammara, made with peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs and pomegranate molasses, was packed with flavour and delicious. The Hummus Kaleidoscope came next. It contained Hummus from six countries in the region, including Palestine, Turkey and Syria. Each had its own twist on this Middle Eastern staple. My favourite was the Hummus Bil Lahmeh with braised lamb and pine seeds. The lamb was deliciously soft and the hummus was smooth. We devoured each one with a basket of hot bread.

There aren’t many restaurants that serve local cuisine so I was keen to try a dish from the Qatari section of the menu. I opted for the Djaj Bil Roub, a grilled boneless baby chicken, marinated in yoghurt, saffron and onions and served with potatoes and broccoli. The chicken was soft and tender, falling off the fork. The yoghurt complemented the spices and the steamed broccoli gave it a divine western twist.

Chef Annas Shaheen, originally from Palestine, brought out my personal favourite dish, the traditional Kibbeh. Made from bulgur wheat, onions and pine seeds, these popular starters were stuffed with minced lamb not beef. Chef Annas revealed he made each one with special care. “I make them at home, they are literally home-made. I love making them and you can see they’re not all the same size.” I was surprised to learn they also take around two days to make. Chef Annas said they were popular because the food at Levantine is literally; “from the heart to home.” No wonder they were delicious.

The Levantine Mixed Grill was brought out next. A gently steaming platter of tender lamb chops, chicken shish taouk, beef kebabs and more, all heaped on a bed of ouzi rice. Succulent and juicy, the mixed grill is a classic dish superbly done.

A pause was needed before dessert and, oh, was it worth the wait. Two of Levantine’s signature dishes were placed before us and they were something to behold. Creamy Knafeh Nabulsiyeh was the first, accompanied with a serving of pistachio ice cream. This is a popular dish and Levantine rightly takes pride in its rich texture The Chocolate Date Pudding, however, was insane. A dark chocolate pudding was served, a side of vanilla ice cream and a Medjoul date delicately perched on top. It arrived amidst a cloud of dry ice. A fun piece of theatre for a truly stunning dessert. The pudding itself split apart on the first touch, as the warm liquid centre ran out, mingling with the ice cream. I was told my pupils actually dilated when I took my first bite. Heaven.

This was a truly memorable meal. The staff were extremely kind and attentive, with suggestions and recommendations on hand when we asked for them. This is not a meal to be rushed but one to truly savour. The superb quality of the various dishes would delight anyone from the Levant and thrill anyone who was experiencing the cuisine for the first time.✤