One of probably a couple of restaurants in town claiming to serve authentic Lebanese cuisine is Café Beirut.
Initially opening up on MM Alam Road two years ago, this subsidiary of L’auberge at Faletti’s Hotel finally decided to come out of hiding. From the basement of a shopping plaza they just recently moved to a new location in a congested service road on Gulberg’s Main Boulevard adding to the cluster of quite a few swanky eateries and cafés in the vicinity.
On most days, the hassle to find a parking spot in that tiny space with a couple of other restaurants right next door could be a major put-off, so one should be prepared. The two-storey restaurant follows a black and white theme on the spacious ground floor with Arabic lamps hanging from the ceiling adding some pop of colour, and a rooftop to relish this fantastic weather. Arabic instrumental music plays in the background creating an authentic ambience.
The menu is purely Lebanese instead of a hotchpotch with a smattering of Middle Eastern food. I was told that except for the meat that is procured locally, all major ingredients are imported from Lebanon and the UAE.
For starters, I ordered hummus with meat, a bowl of Fatoush salad and Cheese Fatayers. Though not a huge fan of hummus, this one was smooth and delicious, topped with little juicy chunks of lamb meat and pine nuts, garnished generously with parsley and accompanied with freshly prepared pitta bread. The plate was soon wiped clean.
The Fatoush was equally scrumptious with fresh veggie mixed with around eight kinds of Lebanese herbs and sumac powder for some tartness. This didn’t last too long either. The fatayers are a Middle Eastern savoury stuffed pastry. They were soft, boat-shaped flat bread pastries stuffed with three kinds of cheeses and topped with black cumin seeds, baked in a Lebanese oven especially brought in for the purpose. A satisfying start to a meal.
On to the main course, there was a mixed BBQ platter, lamb rice and grilled fish. The Beirut Mix Grill platter consisted of melt-in-the-mouth lamb skewers, mouth-watering lamb kabab, tender chicken Shish Taouk and chicken kabab served with three sauces and two pitta breads smeared with Lebanese chilli base. Priced around Rs1,500, it’s good enough for two diners, but nothing out of the ordinary.
The brown Lamb Ouzi Rice served with chunks of baked lamb meat and topped with pine nuts and peanuts is supposed to be served with a special ouzi sauce prepared in-house, but I didn’t get one for some reason, while the manager completely denied not serving it on being asked. The rice had a very homely feel to them, but a bit bland for my liking.
I did like the Grilled Hammour though. This was two pieces of grilled hammour fish topped with a beautiful, sour butter cream and served with sautéed vegetables with a generous portion of saffron rice on the side.
For dessert, I had the traditional kunafa. A thick base of slightly sweetened akkawi cheese topped with a wafer-thin layer of fried semolina and pistachio sprinkled over it. The best part about it was that it was light and not overtly sweet as most desserts tend to be. I wish I had appetite left for the baklava and date cake.
One must try the traditional, refreshing rose water drink, and top off the meal with a special tea made with Lebanese tea leaves, honey, cardamom, saffron and rose water. Might sound rich but is a beautiful culmination of a healthy, clean, mostly non-spicy meal.
While the appetisers were promising, the main course was generally above average – good food, but nothing exceptional with little or no attention paid to presentation, which is fair, I guess.
But even if the food is outstanding, unsatisfactory service spoils the whole experience. At most times one could sense a lack of management with orders getting delayed or some customers receiving incorrect orders or some of the dishes not even being available, and one would have to call out the waiters and remind them multiple times of what you’d asked for. If parking isn’t a serious issue, slow service with uninterested servers definitely is.
Originally published in Dawn, December 4th, 2017