In Doha, the Qatari city whose cultural ambitions have been zealously covered in the 24-hour news cycle and where seemingly every international brand from Gucci to Guy Savoy has a hub, a new Alain Ducasse restaurant would appear to be just another example of a celebrity chef licensing his name abroad. But within the last year, Ducasse’s Idam has become the wealthy Gulf state’s one to beat.
That may have something to do with Idam’s location: in the I. M. Pei–designed Museum of Islamic Art, Doha’s five-year-old crown jewel. Philippe Starck, who had been working on personal commissions for the Qatari royal family, was brought in to refit the museum’s top floor for a restaurant. It was Starck who asked Ducasse to work with him on the project.
Head chef Romain Meder, a 34-year-old veteran of the Ducasse empire, spent 18 months traveling throughout the Gulf discovering the flavors of the region, studying the differences between, say, date varieties in Saudi Arabia and pistachios in Iran and learning how to cook with Indian spices that are staples of Arabic cuisine but usually not found in European kitchens. “Idam started as one of my most demanding challenges,” Ducasse says. The result is a Mediterranean menu with dishes rooted in classical French technique that use local Qatari ingredients (see slideshow). The pièce de résistance? Buttery-soft baby camel that could only be described as the filet mignon of the Arab world.
Because Idam is inside a government building in a Muslim country, no alcohol can be served. While a French spot sans vin may seem unthinkable, Ducasse played with the idea, concocting mocktails that mimic the mouthfeel of wine and complement the rich fare. In other words, it’s a dazzling mix of East and ouest, a little like the burgeoning state itself.
Idam is at Doha Port; 974/4422-4488; alain-ducasse.com. Ask for a table near the window for the best view of the Corniche waterfront promenade and skyline.