Doha’s culinarians were first introduced to Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay back in March 2010, when the renowned cook and TV personality launched Maze by Gordon Ramsay Doha at popular destination The Pearl Qatar.
It was a culinary coup for the city: achieving a string of Michelin stars at his restaurants in the UK after going it alone in 1998, Ramsay became an international celebrity, famed for both extending his fine dining repertoire around the world and, of course, his inimitable choice of language on his numerous TV appearances. At the same time, he maintained his culinary prowess at home — in the 2012 Michelin Guide, Ramsay was one of just four chefs in the UK to be awarded three Michelin-stars, at Gordon Ramsay London, which now holds the record for maintaining its three-star status longer than any other British restaurant.
Sadly, just two years later at the end of March 2012, Gordon Ramsay Holdings made the decision to close Maze Doha, following the highly-publicised alcohol-ban on The Pearl that was enforced at the end of last year. Restaurants at the time reported profits slumping by 50% or more, and while Ramsay’s team wouldn’t comment specifically on the reasons, it’s reasonable to assume that with punters staying away, and alcohol revenues off the table, Maze was just not a sustainable business for the celebrity chef.
But, in a twist of fate, the closure perhaps couldn’t have come at a better time. As Maze’s regulars mourned the loss of the European and Asian influenced cuisine, Ramsay opened not just one but two new outlets in the city.
In partnership with Maze Doha owner Alfardan Group, Ramsay has launched fine dining restaurant Gordon Ramsay Doha and casual eatery Opal by Gordon Ramsay — inspired by London’s acclaimed Bread Street Kitchen — at the luxurious St. Regis Doha, a new hotel from Alfardan making waves in Doha’s crowded hotel market.
To do so, he brought with him chef de cuisine Gilles Bosquet, a former chef at Ramsay’s one-star London outlet The Connaught, who went on to earn his own Michelin star at a restaurant in the French countryside within only two years. Bosquet also has previous Middle East experience working at One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai under chef Lew Kathreptis — responsible for encouraging Bosquet to shun a promotion and move to London to learn direct from Ramsay — and at the opening of The Address hotels.
It may be Ramsay’s name above the door, and the chef’s cuisine obviously guides the menu, but it was Bosquet charged with the pre-opening, the sourcing of only the finest ingredients and the recruitment of his small brigade of chefs. Now both restaurants are open, it’s Bosquet in the kitchen and his food that diners will be enjoying. So what made him return to Ramsay’s roost and specifically, the mammoth St. Regis project?
Bosquet’s recollection of his time in London under Ramsay is much as you would expect considering the fiery British chef’s formidable reputation.
“It’s an army — really strict. Three minutes is three minutes, two and a half minutes is two and a half minutes. You don’t move from that. And when you go to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant anywhere in the world, it’s like this. It’s a real army, and it’s good, as you find you need to be strict in the kitchen and you need to be very pointed in certain things that you don’t find in any other kitchen. And it was good [experience] — very organised, very professional,” reminisces Bosquet.
“But now it has changed. I went to London [recently]. I was very pleased – [it’s a] more family-friendly environment. Always, there is the strict discipline, but you can’t work like that anymore. People change.”
Yet he admits: “For me personally, I prefer 12 years back. You knew the pressure, you knew what you needed to deliver to the guests, there’s no messing about, no joking.”
So when he got the call from Ramsay’s team last November regarding the plans for Doha, Bosquet says that after some initial reservations he was raring to rejoin, especially on introduction to Opal.
His concern at the outset was Ramsay’s desire for food at the fine-dining restaurant to be three-Michelin star level.
“I said, to be honest with you, I’m not the guy to do three-star Michelin food. I have to be very sincere, I can’t do that. I need more staff, more environment, it’s really difficult.
“Also I want to see my family; I have kids and I want to see them. With three-Michelin star you have a life, but it’s a lot of pressure – you have to be there all the time and I’m not ready for that,” says Bosquet.
“I suggested one or two star, yes, but no more than that. They said ‘fine, you can cook this stuff perfectly. You have worked with Gordon Ramsay, you know what he is expecting’. I said ‘why not? Let’s do that’.”
Then the first ever Opal by Gordon Ramsay was added to the equation and Bosquet sampled Bread Street Kitchen to understand the concept.
“Oh my god, wow,” he says. “I’ve been to Maze, all the restaurants, but [this is] the one that really pleases me, you are free to work. It’s a real relaxed ambience and it’s an open kitchen where you see the real temper of the chef – ‘get me this, get me that!’,” he exclaims passionately.
“The waiter goes to talk to the chef and back to the table, such an open thing. You have pizza, simple, simple food. You have pasta, fish. Simple food, but the quality is fantastic. And they do 250 covers there. It goes very fast,” says Bosquet.
The rationale behind offering the two restaurants side by side — they even share the same bar area — is obvious; Gordon Ramsay Doha offers the prestige but it is Opal that will drive the business. Fine dining brings the name, “it’s the rest that brings in the money,” says Bosquet.
“It will make money of course from Opal. Gordon Ramsay Doha will not make money. That’s how I get paid at the end of the month,” he laughs.
The challenge is the cost of ingredients and securing the best possible product.
“If you have a new fine dining restaurant, the chef is driving a Renault Clio at the end of the month. He does not have money. To open a restaurant, you have passion, but everyone works for money. However, things are too expensive now, we can’t survive in this world on fine dining restaurants. Food prices are having an impact everywhere, because you have to import things from Europe. You have to be very careful of what you do.”
He says fresh produce arrives about four times a week, mainly from France, England, Norway and Spain.
“My aim is to be one of the best restaurants in Doha. Not being pretentious, but that’s my aim. And that would be good, so we’re pushing for that. So that’s why we always have to chase suppliers about food products, to always have the same good product. Sometimes it’s good, and then sometimes it drops, but we don’t want this, you always want the best products,” explains Bosquet.
A balancing act
So how does Bosquet manage the two very different outlets, especially when one brings with it the demand of producing Michelin level dishes?
He says the London head office team has had more involvement with Opal, inspired as it is by Bread Street Kitchen, with the fine dining left more to his discretion. Both Ramsay and Bosquet have two or three of their own signature dishes on the menu; Ramsay’s highlight is his famed ravioli of lobster, shellfish and salmon, while Bosquet’s is a cannelloni of wild mushrooms with black truffle emulsion. A seven-course tasting menu is also on offer, priced at QR 750 (US $206).
At Opal, meanwhile, dishes include “chicken wings marinated in tamarind sauce, pitta bread with a little salad, a nice tomato mozzarella, ceviche of fish,” says Bosquet.
He has a sous chef for each restaurant and most of his time will be spent in Gordon Ramsay Doha, although he tastes everything between service in both.
To manage the pressure, Bosquet says the goals are to grow slowly, not doing too many covers initially.
“We’re reducing the à la carte a little bit in the beginning. We start normally, so people start getting my style, they can understand what I want, and then throughout the year we will be changing things, complicating things.
“To begin with, we will [ramp up] slowly — 25 covers in Gordon Ramsay and then we will get through to 48 covers. For Opal, the capacity is 200 covers, but we will not do this in the beginning. We will stop at 80, 100 in the beginning.”
For Bosquet, managing his team will be critical. Caterer wonders: has he taken the army approach that he respects from his time with Ramsay, or has he gone for the more free focus of his mentor’s restaurants 12 years on?
“I know when to push and when to pull,” he asserts. “It’s a good judgment based on what I’ve done in Gordon Ramsay [in the past] and what I’m doing now.”
It’s a judgement Caterer is happy to trust. With Ramsay’s guiding influence and Bosquet’s deft touch, St. Regis’ dual offer of high-end fine dining and casual cuisine, coupled with the celebrity tag and luxury hotel surroundings, promises to be a welcome addition to Doha’s dining sector.
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