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28 February 2018 01:05 pm

A vibrant taste of Thailand at the Grand Hyatt Doha's Isaan

Sonkie
Sonkie
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Southeast Asians make up a large chunk of Qatar's expat population, with Filipinos, Indonesians, and Malaysians topping the list. Coming close in fourth place are the vibrant inhabitants of the 'Land of Smiles' -- the Thais! And even though they amount to just 5,000 out of the nation's population of 2.57 million population (as of 2017), there's still no question over the Thai's remarkable influence to Qatar's food scene!

One veteran place that offers authentic Thai cuisine is Isaan located in the posh Grand Hyatt Doha (GHD). The restaurant has been satisfying customers' taste-buds for Thai since the hotel's opening in March 2009 and continues to be its signature restaurant. 

The posh interior of Isaan at night. (Source: Isaan)

Known for its elegantly Asian-inspired interior, Isaan serves Thai food prepared in the vibrant setting of their open-plan kitchens -- where you can watch the chefs cooking on the sidelines. Contemporary in style, it's ideal for a fun, exotic dinner in a casual atmosphere. 

The restaurant's concept is to bring Isaan (a vast region in Thailand composed of 20 provinces) to the rest of the world. 

"When people hear of Isaan, they honestly have no idea that it's actually a place in Thailand. Unlike Bangkok (the capital), Isaan is not too touristy -- that's why it's been our legacy to make our region known not only to tourists, but also to food enthusiasts," said Assistant Outlet Manager Supansa Chatanan, who also shared that majority of their all-Thai staff are from the Isaan region itself.

Walking in on a Sunday evening, the ILQ team was greeted by welcoming staff who were all smiles while helping us get the best seat in the finely-lit restaurant. We were given two different menus -- one for the a la carte dinner and one for their unique beverage menu. Supansa was so accommodating that she stood beside us the entire time we perused the menu to convert the names of the dishes and  specialties (which are written in Thai) into English. While the names of each dish are accompanied by an English translation beside them, Supansa kept on providing us with fun facts about Isaan's bountiful culinary traditions! 

The Isaan region in the map of Thailand. (Source: Isaan)

We started our night out with some drinks from the restaurant's storybook-style beverage menu -- which will surely take you on a journey to the deepest least-known provinces of Isaan. I ordered the 'Garuda’s Flight' mocktail; which came beautifully-presented. The staff are proud of their culinary heritage and remain true to their intentions of showcasing a taste of Isaan to diners so that they might experience an authentic taste of Thailand. This was also noticeable from the menu -- where each beverage description was accompanied with a poetic little story about the person, place, sight, and smell that it represents. Truly, waiting for your order has never been this entertaining!

While serving our starters, Supansa shared another interesting insight about Isaan: "many of the ingredients in the beverage menu are homemade in the kitchen bridging the gap between the two restaurant elements."

From their dinner a la carte menu, a range of selections include salads, soups, a steamed, fried, and grilled section, wok, rice and noodle dishes, clay pot dishes, curries, and desserts are available for reasonable prices. Our suggestion would be to go for at least one of their signature soups, then follow it up with a tempting bowl of fried rice or noodles together with one or two main courses if you're really hungry. For dessert, there's really no competition between Isaan's coconut ice cream and sticky mango rice with coconut cream -- so just sinfully order both!

The second page of the dinner booklet brought the ILQ team to Isaan's inspired set-menus! With prices for each complete set as affordable as QR 170 per person, you even have the option to order a dish separately and then add them to the set menu of your preference. Meaning you can customize and mix-and-match each set -- if you don't mind paying some extra riyals!

We settled for one of Isaan's set-menu favourites -- the 'Taste of Phanom Rung.' The names of their set menus pertain to the six most popular places to visit in Isaan and, also, the food items, ingredients, and home recipes related to those specific areas. If you love spicy food, then you'll not regret going for this set menu option, as it's one of their most popular! And if you pass by on a Monday, book in advance, as Monday nights in Isaan are usually packed because of their 'Curry Nights' offer. 

We're told that most of the menu entries are on the spicy side -- same as the food culture in Isaan, which tends to be a bit hotter. When the Tom Yum soup arrives, I can already feel sweat dripping from my forehead all the way to my nose -- it's that hot! Upon submerging my spoon into the soup, I was surprised because I didn't expect the mysterious bowl to be that deep. It was exploding with all types of mouth-watering seafood -- the flavors on my palate I had while sipping the massive serving of the spicy soup were sensational! We knew that there were still more dishes to come, but my belly was already brimming from the Tom Yum alone! Make sure to sip all the way through for the chili seeds!

Arriving next were the stars of the night -- the main courses! Proteins ranging from chicken, beef, and prawns were just some of the delicious items which made their way to our table. Sampling nine dishes in total we literally couldn't breathe afterwards! So unctuous and indulgent were the dried beef in chilli sauce, satay chicken in peanut sauce, spicy minced duck salad, coconut chicken in lemongrass, steamed prawns in spicy coconut milk, roasted duck in tomato, cherry and pineapple, crab meat fried rice, stir-fried minced chicken in hot basil, stir-fried beef in sweet basil and garlic chili!

Yes, it's a mouthful, and each one of the dishes has their own distinct taste, but let me present you with my personal top three:

1. Steamed prawns in spicy coconut milk 

So gorgeous is this dish it's almost unacceptable not to take an aerial shot of it before tucking in! The minimalist approach to the way the entire plate was presented is a visual feast, making it a top contender for Isaan's best seafood dish. The giant prawns are adorned with a coleslaw-style salad dressing and, right after that sweet bit of prawn, the shredded papaya and cabbage will be waiting for you to sink your teeth into. YUM.

2. Crab meat fried rice

Who doesn't love rice? Isaan's crab meat-filled carb is so Asian that once you start in with the first mouthful, the aroma stays with you. I also loved how the scrambled egg complemented its constituents by providing a fluffy feel to the entire bowl. And as the scooping is almost endless, you won't be needing a separate main to make your visit to Isaan any more satisfying!

3. Dried beef in chili sauce 

This is the runaway winner not just for me, but for my colleagues as well -- both who wished it was served in a bigger portion! Teamed up with a piquant, extra-syrupy vinegar that will leave you asking for more, Isaan's dried beef is extremely tasty with an almost sweetly caramelized outer layer that's perfectly paired with a kick of spice from the dipping sauce.

Aside from the above-mentioned Phanon Rung, two of Isaan's additional bestsellers from their set menu selections are the Ban Chiang and Phu Kradueng. When it comes to their mocktails, The Isaan Express, Buriram Bazaar, Muddle Me Silk, and A Sight For Sore Eyes are among their most popular.

About Isaan:

Timings: Monday-Sunday: 6:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.              
              Friday brunch: 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.              
              Friday dinner 7:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Address: Grand Hyatt Hotel Doha
Website: http://isaandoha.com/
Phone number: (+974) 4448-1250
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Isaan...

Have you tried Isaan in the Grand Hyatt Doha yet? Did you find our review helpful? Let us know in the comments below what some of your favourite dishes are! Also, don’t forget to give us a like and a share — it keeps us going!

(Photography by Abshar Kader)