there anything more distinctly Lebanese than a greasy late-night kebab? Perhaps
not. But while Beirut may have built its culinary reputation on a lamb grill or
falafel wrap, the city’s restaurant critics are nowadays more likely to extol
the virtues of Chinese dim sum or Californian sushi. The cafe owners and
restaurateurs that fled for Europe and the Gulf states during the decade-long, 1980s
civil war have returned in droves, bringing tastes and flavours from around the
world. Nowadays, the city’s motto is make lunch, not war.
in any direction, from an early breakfast to a late Lebanese dinner, and it is
hard not to be wowed by the city’s epicurean charms. Take the temperature of
the city’s eat-fast, party-hard attitude at Momo at
the Souks, the latest venture from celebrated Algerian restaurateur Mourad
Mazouz, who already made his mark in London, Paris and Dubai with his hip mix
of North African cuisine and New York-style cocktails. Part of the gargantuan Beirut
Souks, a multi-brand shopping complex in downtown Beirut, Momo has to be
seen to be believed -- its exotic Yves Saint Laurent-inspired fine-dining room
is a mash up of surreal mirrors, antique furniture and one-off Cubist couches. Do
not miss the Moroccan pastille (meat
pie) with wood pigeon, washed down with a house-signature vodka mojito. In the
same complex, check out La
Cave de Joël Robuchon a wine cellar from the world-renowned French chef and
Michelin star restaurateur.
Gray Hotel, owned by Scottish hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray. More famous
for hosting five-star soirees at his luxury escape Carlisle Bay in
Antigua, he surprised everyone by opening his second hotel in downtown Beirut. The
art gallery-styled lobby is the entry point for a number of restaurants and
bars, including Indigo on the Roof, a 360-degree panorama restaurant that has
some of the best-trained bartenders in Lebanon. What is really getting Beirutis
excited though is the arrival of high-end Japanese eaterie Zuma.
With outlets already in Miami, Hong Kong and Istanbul, it is expected to open in
Beirut at the end of the year.
is not all fine dining though. The city’s food and drink scene can be low-key,
and in certain parts of the Gemmayze and Hamra neighbourhoods, it literally
spills onto the streets. In Hamra, the Alleyway is the latest in-the-know backstreet,
with a number of new bars are popping up. Check out Big Shot (The Alleyway; 961-01-34-2140),
the country’s first dedicated R&B and hip-hop bar, and February 30 (The
Alleyway; 961-01-73-6683), a topsy-turvy bar with tables and chairs on the
ceiling, upside down street lamps and bar stools made from mannequin legs. Its
off-kilter decor would be the perfect backdrop for Lewis Carroll and Salvador
Dalí to share a beer against, most likely one chosen from Beirut’s in vogue
the only one thus far in the Middle East.
at the nearby American University of Beirut are also embracing the latest craze
for New York-style hot dogs, with dozens of all-night mobile stands are dotted
across the city. The best of these is Charlie’s
in Gemmayze, serving up various toppings like sweetcorn, fried eggs, crunchy
onions and pickles. If you are tempted to stay out later, the big open-air
will make you feel like you are in Ibiza, Spain.
course, this all sits alongside what made Beirut great in the first place – classic
mezze restaurants, like La
Tabkha and Mayrig,
and the Lebanese's love of having a good time, made famous in the 1950s and
1960s by regular visits from Brigitte Bardot and Marlon Brando. This is evident
in the Achrafieh district in east Beirut, where Al Falamanki’s (Damascus Street;
961-132-3456) leafy sheesha garden has drawn in a mixed Lebanese and ex-pat
crowd for its mezze for decades. From here, it is only a five-minute taxi ride
to the achingly hip suburb of Gemmazyeh, once a focal point for the civil war troubles.
The area is now jammed with cafes and bars. Alcazar (Saint Nicholas Stairs; 961-144-8141),
a three floor meat and seafood mezze specialist, is still scarred with bullet
Beirut’s culinary scene has great diversity, there is something equally
satisfying about not having to choose. So for something with a local yet modern
twist, visit Beirut’s take on the seasonal food movement, Tawlet
Souk el Tayeb. Set up by Kamal Mouzawak, the man behind the city’s first
farmer’s market, Tawlet is an open kitchen, where every day a different
Lebanese cook prepares a seasonal dish from their hometown. Its menu changes
daily, but popular choices include kibbeh
nayeh, the Lebanese speciality of spiced, finely ground meat, and there are
salads aplenty. It is bringing local Lebanese cuisine back to the table, without
a greasy kebab in sight.
The article 'Eat your way around the world in Beirut' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.