Santa Monica Breakfast Club, Grand Hyatt

Santa Monica Breakfast Club opened a couple of months ago at the Grand Hyatt. I didn’t attend the opening and I’ve heard mixed reviews about the food and service so I thought I’d go and check it out myself now the initial buzz has died down.


We arrived just before noon mid-week and first impressions were not favourable. For a restaurant aiming to create a ‘friendly and sociable vibe’ it didn’t hit the right tone; this is how the conversation went

Greg: ‘Hi, do you have a table for 2 please’

Server: Shruged smiled and gestured to the empty restaurant

Greg: ‘Can we just sit anywhere, is here ok?’

Server: Smiled and pointed to the furthest corner.

We were then followed to the table we chose. If he hadn’t been wearing a lanyard I’d have thought I’d mistaken a customer for an employee! The space, previously the Grill restaurant, has been transformed with a ‘relaxed, Californian vibe’ with tubs of cutlery, condiments and glasses on the table (there is complimentary infused water available) plus bright, fold out menus for the drinks and food. To be fair I could have eaten pretty much anything on the menu, the majority of it appealed to me and I was spoilt for choice. Drawing on popular South California dishes the menu definitely has an emphasis on breakfast, but these dishes could be eaten all day.

Our server came back and I asked if we could use an Entertainer on any items or if there were restrictions. He replied it could be used on burgers. I then clarified it couldn’t be used on sandwiches only burgers – this caused huge confusion. I was then told it could be used on ‘any item’. I chose the pan con chicharon – beef brisket sandwich with ‘slaw and sweet potato fries – and a ginger hibiscus lemonade. Greg, who is a burger fanatic, chose the Prime Time burger with a strawberry iced tea.


Despite the restaurant being very quiet it still felt comfortable and laid back. I’m not 100% convinced that the decor completely matches the space. I like the light, bright design with lots of natural light, murals, art and recycled plant pots but the hard, dark, formal wooden tables and chairs just fit the style. It would be much better with bright cushions on the chairs like the sofas, and the addition of table clothes. However, I imagine this decor, plus the fussball table and darts create quite a fun vibe when its busy. I also noticed books, newspapers, magazines and board games at the entrance, it is a place to kick back and relax. The outside space is lovely but sadly, even with the large shaded area, it was still very hot. I imagine it will be extremely popular in the cooler months.


Our food arrived in about 15 minutes and our eyes lit up! Greg’s burger was huge and came with a bread knife which was an indicator that, despite trying, he wouldn’t be able to eat it whole. He said the burger was delicious and cooked medium as requested. We had to make a chip barrier to stop the runny egg yolk dropping off the wooden slab! My sandwich was also really tasty. The beef brisket was so soft and tender and the salsa was sweet, tangy with just a little bit of heat and the crunchy ‘slaw was a nice contrast of textures. Again, it was quite difficult to eat as a sandwich so I ended up using a knife and fork. We both enjoyed our drinks too, the lemonade was refreshing with a nice hit of ginger and the iced tea wasn’t overly sweet.


We caught the attention of a different member of staff who cleared away our plates. I asked about using our Entertainer voucher but she didn’t seem confident how to use it so I showed her. Again, maybe more staff training is needed. Would I go back? Yes, we really enjoyed the food and there is a lot more on the menu that I’d like to try. The bright, rustic, vintage environment would make it a great place to visit with friends and it seemed to me to be very family friendly. They offer a Friday brunch so if you want to try a selection of dishes maybe this would be a good option and it’s something we’d consider going to. For me, SMBC has the foundations of a fun, up beat Cafe / restaurant but for us the service just wasn’t quite there. As it becomes more established I hope these small issues can be ironed out. We did received a very jovial, friendly ‘goodbye’ from the kitchen staff as we left so it did end on a positive note!

We paid 130QR for our food and drinks. We used an Entertainer voucher so the cheapest meal was free.

UPDATE 5th May 2017

This weekend we are having a staycation at the Grand Hyatt and thought we’d go for breakfast at SMBC. I’m really pleased to say that the service was soooooo much better. Friendly, professional and knowledgeable. I thought it was only fair to update the post! 

Santa Monica Breakfast Club - Grand Hyatt Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

St Regis, Doha

We’ve been to the restaurants and bars in the St Regis so many times but we’ve never actually stayed there so when we were looking at a Doha staycation it was at the top of our list. Booking was easy, I emailed the hotel directly as we were using an Entertainer voucher and they responded within a couple of hours giving me the rate options and that evening we called into the hotel to book the room.


We arrived about 11.30am as we intended to use the beach and pool if our room wasn’t ready. Check in was fairly quick but I didn’t find it particularly warm or friendly, I thought we’d be offered a drink or a cold towel which is common in the region but this wasn’t the case. We were given the choice of a room on a lower or upper floor and we chose the latter. As expected, our room wasn’t ready because it was quite early but they said they’d call us when it was. In the meantime we made use of the beach and pool. We chose a fabulous double sunbed on the beach as the pool was very busy and we were provided with towels, water and an ice bucket. The beach was fairly clean and the sea was clear for the first meter or so after which it turned to clay which is common for some of the beaches in West Bay. We ordered lunch from Oyster Bay – this is the pool bar and, as food can’t be served on the beach, a table was set up for us by the pool. The chicken Caesar salad and lamb kofta were really tasty and reasonable priced, in fact we ordered lunch from here both days. I did feel that the level of service on the beach wasn’t as visible as by the pool so if you like staff on hand you may want to stay by the pool area.



Later in the afternoon we received a call to say our deluxe room with a lovely sea view was ready. It was quite spacious with a small sofa and desk area, lots of storage space – dressing gowns and slippers were provided. We received a note from the butler service and complimentary fruit and water. The bathroom was well-appointed with a rainfall shower, bathtub with TV and good quality Laboratoire Remede products. The bed is one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in! On arrival our lights weren’t working and an engineer quickly came to fix them. We also asked for fresh milk and English breakfast tea (a bit of an obsession of mine) which was brought promptly.

 

We decided to eat at the Astor Grill for dinner on the first night, a restaurant we’ve been to several times lately and which I feel has improved significantly over the last year or so. We opted for the 3 course supper menu priced at 225QR each which we felt was very good value for money. The food, service and atmosphere were spot on, we both highly recommend the seafood bisque with a south East Asian twist! We were able to use an Entertainer voucher with our meal.


The next morning we slept late and woke up to this fantastic view. Other reviews have mentioned noise from the nightclub, but we didn’t hear a thing. Maybe it was because it was a Sunday night?


We decided to spend the day by the pool as it was very quiet and the weather was perfect. We chose a cabana and another double sun bed, we enjoyed lourselves lounging around and swimming in the fantastic pool.

 

We ordered lunch from Oyster Bay again, the lamb kofta and Cajun prawns with nachos were delicious. We were kept hydrated by complimentary bottles of ice-cold water, which were brought to us by the staff.

Late in the afternoon we went back to our room to change for dinner. We noticed that our toiletries hadn’t been replenished so we rung housekeeping and supplies arrived, we were soon ready to head to Opal. This restaurant has a lovely view from the terrace and the weather was perfect to sit outside. There was a BBQ offering a burger / hotdog, fries and a drink meal deal priced at 100QR but we chose from the a la carte menu. The prices here are indicative of the fact your dining in a 5* hotel but we were able to use an Entertainer voucher on the main course. The food was good, especially the ribs and pizza. After a couple of drinks we were shattered; it’s hard work being on holiday!


The next morning we decided to have breakfast before we packed. It was our first visit to Vine, the all day dining outlet. We chose to sit inside although they have a very nice outside terrace. The service was good and there was a calm, relaxing atmosphere but we felt the buffet was nothing out of the ordinary. I think for a 5* hotel I expected some a la carte options in addition to the buffet. There was a selection of pastries, cereal, fruit, western hot dishes, Arabic hot dishes and an egg station. The fresh omelets were nice and, although slightly unusual for breakfast, I loved the sticky toffee pudding! Again, we were able to use an Entertainer voucher so breakfast was 241.


We went back to our room, packed and checked out at 11am, again the front desk staff were efficient. We were asked if we’d enjoyed our stay and they checked all our SPG points had been added to our account, which they had.


We paid 1170QR for a two night stay on a ‘room only’ basis as we used a 241 Entertainer voucher; all our food and drinks were extra. We were able to use our Entertainer voucher when dining at the Astor Grill, Opal and Vine which significantly reduced our bill. The St Regis is part of the SPG scheme so you can gain points on your stay and when you dine in the restaurants, although we couldn’t get the 10% discount as we were already using an Entertainer.

Would I go again? Yes, we enjoyed our stay at the St Regis. The room was very comfortable with a lovely view, the food was good and it was a relaxing stay. There were a couple of issues with our room namely toiletries not being replaced, no turn down service on the second night and the lights not working properly but they were addressed. I also felt that the staff could be warmer, they are polite and helpful but it felt a little forced (other than the manager in the Astor Grill who is personable). If you’re already in Doha and looking for a staycation it did feel like an escape from city life. If you’re visiting Doha it’s about a 35min ride from the airport and very close to Katara and West Bay. The Pearl, Souk Wakif and the malls are about a 15min drive in light traffic.

Regency Camp, Sealine

If you like the idea of camping but you enjoy life’s luxuries too much to rough it, Regency Camp at Sealine fits the bill. We’ve been ‘proper camping’ at the Inland Sea a few times and thoroughly enjoyed it but this time we wanted more home comforts!


I did my research on a variety of companies offering desert experiences and eventually opted for Regency, mainly because they were very efficient when answering my emails and they were reasonably priced. We told them we would be arriving about lunchtime so we were given a number to call when we reached Mesaieed so they could pick us up. Sure enough, as we arrived at the shops by Sealine, there was a 4WD waiting for us to take us to the camp. John, our driver, asked if we’d like a ride over the dunes but we opted for a smooth journey. The drive through the desert took about 15 minutes and we were welcomed into the reception tent and given fresh juice and cool towels. 


Once check in was completed we were given a quick tour of the facilities before being shown to our tent. I’d seen photographs online but I was taken back by how homely it was inside, with traditional arabic decor and twenty-first century technology. As you can see it was really spacious with a double bed and two large singles, chest of drawers, wardrobe, bedside tables, fridge, fan, large TV and powerful a/c units.

​We decided to leave the unpacking and go straight to the beach which was just a few meters away. Luckily it was very quiet and we had the pick of the cabanas and loungers. The beach was clean and the sea really clear and shallow; suitable for children.


We spent the next few hours swimming and reading until the sun started to go down. It was very peaceful and relaxing. We then returned to our tent and got ready for dinner. The shower had plenty of hot water and was powerful, the complimentary Elemis toiletries were a nice touch.

​We had been told dinner was served at 7.30pm but when we arrived it wasn’t ready so we went to the beach and, as it was such a clear night, we star gazed for a while.


Dinner, served in the restaurant tent, was a basic affair. It was buffet style with a range of Arabic Mezze such as hummus, baba ganoush, fattoush, salad and breads. The main course consisted of mixed grill, meat with rice, a couple of pasta dishes and steamed veg. Dessert was limited to a couple of different cakes and fresh fruit. The food was fresh and well cooked and even though it was nothing outstanding it was perfectly fine. Throughout the meal we were brought water and soda and the service was good with food replenished often. We did feel that the restaurant lacked atmosphere, especially as only 4 tables were occupied, it would have been nice to have some Arabic music playing.

After dinner we were going to go and sit around the camp fire but it became clear that the camp was being set up for a big event. Vans loaded with chairs and tables started to arrive and were then unloaded right by us. We decided instead to go to a cabana, but service was lacking. We had to find someone to order shisha from and couldn’t find anyone to take a drink order. It was also quite noisy with the vehicles and workmen.


We decided to return to our room but the noise continued – the tents aren’t very sound proof – as furniture was trundled past our door. Luckily, this didn’t last too long and we slept soundly to be woken up extremely early by workmen. We went for breakfast, again buffet style and again simple but adequate. A selection of pastries, yoghurt, breads, eggs and hot dog sausages, beans and hash browns. As we were up so early we had time for another dip in the sea before packing but unfortunately this was disturbed by workmen shouting and vehicles moving. We decided to check out about 9.30am and we were transported back to our car at Sealine. We did receive an apology about the noise and disruption – 500 people from QF were arriving for an event starting at 10am so we had been a bit unlucky with our timing! Would we go again? I’m not 100% sure. The tents are lovely and it’s so tranquil but I think it may be something to do just once. Maybe I would go back if family and friends were visiting as you can also go dune bashing and camel riding from here. I don’t feel we got the full service due to them setting up for the big event and I think if we’d been told about this we’d have booked a different night. It was certainly an experience and it’s something a bit different to staying in a regular hotel. There’s a variety of price packages available, we paid 850QR for the tent (which sleeps 4 comfortably) and this price included dinner, breakfast and soft drinks. Please keep in mind the resort is dry and QID or a marriage certificate is required.