A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE
Ice-cool precision meets fiery innovation at Provok restaurant and lounge. Ailsa Whyatt visited the new hot-spot at Fairmont Doha.
Entering Provok is like walking into an ice palace. The mirrored walls, picked out with blue and green glassware, seem built from great blocks of crystal or diamonds. A flock of glass swallows flies overhead between crystal chandeliers. Outside, the building is wrapped around by a spectacular sky balcony with views right across the city and out to sea. At night you will feel like you are being suspended in the starry sky.
Our attention is caught by movement to our right. Inside a temperature-sealed chamber, an artist is creating original ice sculptures before our very eyes. We dare to step inside for just a moment, breath misting, to watch him chip, cut and shape the ice into an undersea landscape.
As the DJ turns up the beat, we climb a glowing glass staircase from the aquamarine tones of the 33rd floor to the 34th, where instead of ice it’s all about fire. Pale blue, green and silver are replaced by glowing copper and orange. But the two contrasting spaces are bound together, manager Emilio Moscati explains, by both style and substance, elevating the culinary arts to a precise science. Alongside Fairmont Executive Chef Andre Kaiser, Provok’s Head Chef Taimoo Sun has curated a gastronomic experience like no other, remixing flavours from his native Korea and across Asia drawing on deep technical knowledge and an irresistible sense of fun.
The bar is set impressively high with our entree: Qatarifornia. This reimagination of the California roll sushi with fresh Alaskan crab is topped with a delicate petal of gold leaf and, inside, gilded again with an original aioli that uses golden Arabic coffee to create an umami explosion with every mouthful. Even the soy sauce is their own blend, fermenting the better-known Japanese and Korean soys together with a sweeter Indonesian for unique balance.
Chef Taimoo is the only chef in Qatar to have secured a contract to import Miyazakigyu. This most sought-after of Japanese Kobe Wagyu beef comes from 100% Tajima black cattle of the Miyazaki province and is known for its snowflake marbling. He serves it precision-cooked and sliced, basted with a yuzu beurre blanc with shavings of black truffle. The texture is extraordinary, like butter, and its richness is lifted by the accompaniment of purple carrots and broccolini fermented using the Korean kimchi method. We are tempted to devour every last bite.
Next comes a deep purple curl of octopus, braised low and slow for hours with niban dashi, a softer second fermentation of the traditional Japanese stock. It’s sweet and meaty, the flavour ignited by the heat of aji amarillo sauce, the spice precisely calibrated for a satisfyingly long, slow burn.
As the spice factor rises, the mixologists step in. Their creations are visually breathtaking. The Red Wave is topped with a rubyred print of Hokusai’s iconic painting, rendered on top of the foam, while Japanese Mist exudes bitter orange and chicory woodsmoke. The Fairmont’s mixology lab is unmatched, with a dedicated team devising ambitious flavour combinations including their own cutting-edge non-alcoholic spirits. Mixologist Matias Radici and his team suggest choosing something with a slight sweetness to balance the heat, so we pick Suppai, blending cooling aloe vera with pomegranate, yuzu and egg white for a virgin sour, and Shiokarai, which adds depth to the floral sharpness of pink grapefruit and orange blossom with their own artisanal zero-alcohol salted-caramel distillation.
These cooling concoctions complement the next volley from the kitchen. Seafood Tteok-Bboki is inspired by the cult Korean street food of chewy rice cakes spiced with gochujang chilli paste. This iteration is elevated by slicing the tteok-bboki delicately thin and turning fiery sambal into an elegant velouté, enrobing lobster, shrimp and scallops in a generous riot of complementary textures. Hot on its heels arrives another Korean classic, chimaek crispy-fried chicken. Served as bite-sized lollipops, these crunchy-sweet mouthfuls are served with sour daikon kimchi before being plunged into the cool fires of green-chilli aioli. To complete the trilogy comes Hongkong Night fried fish. Fine powdered potato starch gives the outside the lightest crunch while preserving all the flavour of the flaky, fragrant flesh within. Fermented black bean and garlic sauce over mushrooms provides a sweet maltiness while fermented lemon zest grated like golden snow over the top adds brightness through the deep umami finish.
The flavours are diverse and stimulating, but there are throughlines that lead us to the heart of Chef Taimoo’s culinary mission. For him, the secret to creating unforgettable dishes is all about umami. Identified a little over a century ago in Japan, umami is one of the five basic tastes alongside sweet, salt, sour and spice. It’s the one that makes your mouth water and crave one more bite. And at Provok, the pursuit of umami is a precise science. There are many ways to increase the umami impact of a dish: through the ingredients, like mushrooms, ripe tomatoes and meats; through heat by smoking or roasting; through curing with salt or sugar. But for Chef Taimoo, and increasing numbers of the most ambitious and creative chefs around the world, there’s one weapon that beats all and that’s fermentation, used for millennia to add uniquely satisfying depth and complexity of flavour right from the off. In the kitchen we have the rare privilege of seeing the ‘mother system’, the fermentation station where the magic happens. Its results are the star performers in all Provok’s most spectacular dishes.
The proof is quite literally in the pudding. The chocolate lid of what looks like a classic opera cake melts under hot caramel to reveal layers of miso cream, alternating striped white shiro, tan shinsu and dark aka miso, deeply satisfying savouriness tempered with coffee and chocolate. To wash this down, steaming tea poured from a beautiful bamboo-handled pot stirs up a spoonful of cultured kumkwat compote hiding in the bottom of our cups, turning our black tea into an aromatic citrus journey. Sated and inspired, we sip our tea as beneath our feet Doha glitters like a carpet of diamonds below the palace of fire and ice that is Provok. ✤
GO: CALL 4030 7200 OR EMAIL DINING.DOHA@FAIRMONT.COM FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO MAKE A RESERVATION.