After much chatting and asking him if he wanted something completely different to the usual hearty grub fare, Kris has decided to (bravely) hand over the reins to me for this guest post. So, allow me to introduce myself, I’m Michael, and I live roughly 4000 miles away from Lancashire, in a rather small country called Qatar. In case you haven’t heard of us, it’s a tiny place in the heart of the Middle East, full of people from every nation (only 1 in 4 people is from Qatar) and we are responsible for the Al Jazeera news channels, and (if it doesn’t get moved to somewhere else) the World Cup in 2022. We are also a very rich nation, and expanding all the time (400,000 more people in just over 5 years).
Being a country mainly comprised of immigrants (myself included), there are many food chains to cater to the different cultures and tastes. As you can guess, many of these tend to be the big American names – KFC, Hardees, Applebees, Dunkin Doughnuts, etc – and whilst it allows you to try lots of different places, it’s left the country (which mainly consists of the capital city, Doha – I kid you not, there is nowhere else to go) feeling rather fake in terms of its culinary delights. Unfortunately this won’t be a post about delicious independent pub/café food, simply because those places do not exist here. However, there are a few interesting places that people recommend, so here we go.
One of these places is quite near my hotel, and during my stay in Doha (5 months to date) it is a name that keeps cropping up: California Fresh. It also happens to be one of the very few places you can order online, and wherever you are in Doha, they will try to deliver. It was also part of a chain, but from my research, all the stores in the US have now closed, leaving only the ones in the Gulf region, and of them, only Doha seems to be operational.
Having found out where the place was, I walked over in the searing heat (41°C today, it’s like being in an actual oven sometimes, I swear) and managed to find the place on the first floor of Aamal Tower, a skyscraper that only seems to be 50% occupied, but is the pride of Aamal Construction, who at one point seemed to be building half of Doha – malls, hospitals, and the aforementioned tower, which only has a few health-related companies in their offices. California Fresh, it seems, is the building’s equivalent of a staff canteen.
First appearances were a little disappointing – it was brightly coloured, but apart from a paintjob and a few stickers, it didn’t seem like it had much of an atmosphere; this was only made worse by the fact I was the only one there, and the stunning view of construction from the windows. Given that it was 2pm, maybe I missed the lunch rush, but the building didn’t seem terribly busy anyway, so I think this was far from a rare quiet day for the staff; and as for the construction, well, it can’t be helped – this is a city continuously creating gigantic architectural shapes rising from the sand, and it looks fairly ugly when the proposed shapes are only little slabs of concrete and boarding. Wait till 2022 – you’ll see!
And so, I walked up to the counter, the overly-keen waitress asking me what I wanted whilst I was still browsing the menu (I hate when people do that – it forces me to rush and then I end up with something that I shouldn’t have bought). However, I quickly made up my mind, and ordered a San Diego Chicken sandwich, with a packet of Dorito (which were in the “basket of crisps”, really not organized, more like a lucky dip) and a can of the Arabic version of Fanta, known as Mirinda (tastes a bit like Orangina, but without the strange orange pieces. So nice.). I then sat down at one of the multitude of empty tables and waited for my meal to be brought over.
The wait was about 5 minutes, not too short as to suspect they just microwaved it, but not too long. The cost wasn’t too bad either; the sandwich was a little more than I’d like, but the crisps and drink were incredibly cheap – I later bought a few cans of Pepsi to take back to my hotel, as they were only 3 QAR (about 55p) each. I took some time to have a look through their oddly shaped menu, which included pastries (much to my annoyance, they didn’t have any), a Cracker and Cheese tray which didn’t seem to consist of more than Cheddar and Edam – hardly the pinnacle of cheese selection, and not worth the 99 QAR (£17) they charge, even if it does allegedly feed 15 people – and their smoothies, which had mysterious names like ‘Orange Obsession’ and ‘Mango West’. I think I’m glad I gave those a miss, as being ambiguous with naming, especially with fruit smoothies, usually means its rubbish.
When the sandwich came over, I was fairly impressed – they certainly hadn’t skimped on the contents, and the assorted salad came with a helping of croutons and jizz salad cream. It certainly looked promising, and quite nice on the eye. When I tasted the sandwich, it was lovely – the bread was a little sweet, but it complemented the chicken and it was really nice – the only thing that pulled it down was that it wasn’t terribly warm, and I think it would’ve been better if they had left it for a few more minutes on the grill. The croutons were also lovely, I got a nice herby taste, and oddly the taste of coconut, which was a surprise, but it actually complimented the other tastes. The salad was a little tasteless, but I’m the first to admit I’m not the biggest fan of salad, and overall it was good value for what I got.
In summary – I don’t think this place is too bad; the food is okay, and the atmosphere is average, but with so much competition, I cannot see a place like this lasting long, save for hungry office workers. The service was very friendly, but one additional note; when I went back to ask them for 3 cans of Pepsi and a carrier bag to carry it in, they turned into blind-panic mode, and looked at each other, wondering what to do. This happens a lot more than you think in Doha – if you deviate from the script, many workers have no clue what to do. Luckily they picked up what I was saying, and even gave me a complimentary menu for delivery. On the whole – nice enough place, cool idea, maybe not done very well, but you can’t argue when it is this cheap!
San Diego Chicken Sandwich (with salad): 29 QAR/£5.10
Can of Mirinda: 3 QAR/55p
Pack of BBQ Dorito crisps: 5 QAR/85p
Total: 37 QAR/£6.50