REACH FOR THE SKY
Kay Woodward heads to Raffles Doha for a weekend of high-rise heaven.
Raffles Doha isn’t hard to find. Simply head for the most iconic building in Qatar… and you’ll strike hotel gold. Katara Towers – a 37-storey masterpiece inspired by the crossed swords of the country’s seal – stands on Lusail’s waterfront, looking fabulous. As we head up the wide sweeping drive to the hotel’s entrance, I’m fizzing with anticipation. If the exterior is this breathtaking, can the interior compete? (Spoiler alert: it can.)
We’re greeted by a charming doorman in a top hat, our car is whisked away and welcoming staff usher us into a super Instagrammable lobby. Clouds dance and swirl in an azure sky. I’ve no idea how they’ve done it, but it’s a work of kaleidoscopic genius.
If you’re hoping for a simple room at Raffles, think again. The hotel only does stunning, stylish suites – 132 of them in increasing levels of grandeur right up to the eye-popping Royal Suite. Ours is on the 23rd floor and reached via a plush crimson lift complete with velvet bench seat. And it’s huge. The bathroom alone is bigger than some flats in the City of London. But the pièce de resistance is the secret room at the heart of the suite. It opens to reveal a dressing room and an in-suite boutique. The balcony has a view and a half: by day, the sea sparkles; by night, Lusail glitters. There’s oodles of smart technology to create the perfect lighting, bath or shower experience and even bespoke aromas. If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, do not fear. Your personal butler – on call round the clock – can be summoned at the press of another button. They’ll sort any request in a trice. (A note to travellers like me who always leave something at home: Raffles has thought of absolutely everything. I’m especially thrilled to discover a Dyson Supersonic in the secret dressing room and wash my hair three times in two days, just for the thrill of it.)
L’Artisan is the hotel’s main restaurant. Specialising in Modern European cuisine with an Arabic touch, it’s bright, high-ceilinged and airy. Enormous chandeliers drip with geometric icicles. Huge arched windows are gently frosted to encourage guests to focus on the food. Squishy leather chairs make it easy to linger over brunch. The Organic Egg Shakshuka is piquant, while the Caveman Breakfast – potato rösti, steak and egg – is smoky and smashing.
Lunch is something else. The Wild Mushroom Tartlet with caramelised onion is an explosion of texture, its gluten-free pastry unbelievably crisp. The Lentil Cappuccino reimagines the Italian coffee – lentils lie beneath a topping of cheese foam and a sprinkling of cacao powder. The pan-fried Dover sole is nothing short of awesome. So is the organic chicken, which is cooked for 10 hours and wears a delicate Oriental crust. Under the Leaves stars ‘olive soil’ – it’s earthy, olive-y and unbelievably good. Assistant Restaurant Manager Nadia expertly advises and serves us. Like all the staff here, she knows what she’s talking about. Chef Thierry Motsch describes L’Artisan as a great canvas on which to paint a brilliant culinary storyline. “It’s the art of dining,” he says. “It’s art on a plate.” He’s so keen to share his love of food that he runs a weekly cookery class. (I enjoy every minute and what I create!)
Experience ALBA by Enrico Crippa and it’s easy to see how the Italian chef earned three Michelin stars for Piazza Duomo – one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. ALBA is his first international opening. Technically, the restaurant might be in Raffles Doha, but in all other senses, it’s out of this world. Plush, dark green velvet sofas and deep red drapes are offset by crisp white tablecloths. The Romeo-and-Juliet Balcony is a wonderful touch and the backlit bar a thing of beauty. The ceilings are high, yet the alcoves are cosy and intimate. As for the cuisine… It’s plain to see that every single dish has been given such a lot of love and attention. We do likewise.
The Risotto Allo Zafferano e Ossobuco is deep yellow and unctuous. We eat it very, very slowly in an attempt to make it last forever. In Spalla di Agnello Arrosto Alle Erbe Mediterranée, Carciofo All Brace, melting lamb meets smoky artichoke and has to be tasted to be believed. As the menu says, there is always space for dessert!
And Sorrento – lemon cake with almond ice cream and basil – is that dessert. If there is one aspect of ALBA that deserves as much attention as the cuisine, it’s the staff. They know the menu inside-out. They know just when to appear. They’re funny and charming and the essence of Italian hospitality. We’re lucky enough to meet Chef Antonino D’Alessio too and his passion shines through. (There’s a chef’s table if you’d like to experience the theatre of his cuisine up close.)
Max, the charismatic sommelier, pops up throughout our stay, surprising us with creations from Raffles’ inhouse laboratory. Here, mixologists invent brand-new ingredients for the drinks’ list. They are especially proud of their hydrosols – flavours made by distilling imaginative ingredients such as the indigo-hued butterfly pea. They’ve created an amazing non-alcoholic gin using 26 botanicals. Raffles’ beverages taste unique because they are. You simply won’t find them anywhere else.
When it’s time to chill, head to the Spa. There’s a gym, plunge pools – hot and cold – a sauna and each treatment room has its own Jacuzzi. I’m restored and rejuvenated with a relaxing foot massage, a facial and a massage. There’s even time to float in the outdoor infinity pool. Splendid.
At Malaki Lounge, reflections of swagged curtains disappear to a vanishing point in huge mirrors. This is where you’ll find the perfect cup of tea, whether it’s English Breakfast or Lapsang Souchong. There’s also a divine date coffee. And it would be rude not to try the Raffles’ Afternoon Tea, arranged artfully on a stand that’s in the shape of the hotel. Savoury choices include a Curried Egg Wrap with truffle oil and wholegrain mustard, an Alaskan King Crab Tartlet and a Wagyu Beef Harrisa Sando. There’s a whole suite of sweets. If I had to choose, it would be the Cornetto Dates. These are filled with peanut butter whipped ganache and salted date caramel. Yum.
If you’re a connoisseur, Blue Cigar is tailor-made for you. If you’re a keen reader too, it’ll blow your mind. There are 7,500 books in here, including 200 first editions among which is a first edition of Herman. Melville’s sea-faring epic, Moby Dick and a 700-year-old copy of Homer’s The Odyssey. In the lounge itself, dark hues are offset by a spectacular bar – wafer-thin marble is backlit to create an amber glow. Once the heavy velvet curtains are drawn, tall alcoves can be turned into private spaces to enjoy first-class offerings from Cuba, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Peckish, too? Try the Yellow Fin Tuna Tostònes. We whizz skywards on our final evening to visit Acoustic Music Penthouse – a rooftop lounge with live music that’s modelled on an upturned glass. The view is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
The five-piece jazz band is funky and cool. The beverages feature fabulous flavours from Raffles’ lab. And if you have room, the Tapioca Crisp with Chilli Prawn, Pomelo Salad and the Arancini are the perfect accompaniments. Acoustic is busy and buzzing, with guests from all over the city. It’s the place to be.
Our stay at Raffles Doha ticked every single box. The staff were incredible and the hotel defied all expectations with myriad personal touches. So, if you’ve ever wondered what’s inside Lusail’s most iconic landmark, step inside. Because Raffles Doha is ready to wow you. ✤