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Breakfast, Brunch and Baklava in Beirut

Breakfast, Brunch and Baklava in Beirut
Although Beirutis seem to be able to communicate simply through their car horns and incoherent concoctions of Frenglishabic phrases, the diverse communities are most strongly united by their country’s cuisine. With a long history and diversity of cooking methods, Lebanese cooking has long been influencing recipes around the world. Tiffany Kaba goes out to eat
 
Eating out in Beirut is a journey of discovery, best experienced in a variety of languages, settings and company. The words yiii shou tayyeb! (Oh, how delicious!) are regularly exclaimed to express gratitude and excitement at the parade of colourful plates put in front of you. Each dish is born out of passion and love, reflecting the country’s longstanding customs of welcoming hospitality and warm hearted generosity. When with locals, be prepared to order recklessly and fight over the bill.
 
The Phoenicia Hotel at the heart of Beirut is a legendary landmark and should be the first port of call for luxury Lebanese delicacies and people-spotting. Its opulent breakfast buffet at Mosaic restaurant is one of the finest and most comprehensive that can be experienced anywhere. Their exquisite mankoushe bi za’atar and lahm bi ajin - Lebanese pizza with thyme and lamb - are prepared by a grinning lady tossing paper thin saaj bread onto a convex griddle and piling it high on the undiscerning guest’s plate. Sticky sweet baklava - diamond shaped creations of philo pastry, nuts and honey - is accompanied by a tiny cup of black coffee to prepare for the day ahead.
 
For an ‘early’ lunch around 3pm, La Plage is a favourite with the locals, serving up classic Lebanese mezze - hummus, stuffed vine leaves, fattoush and tabbouleh - and grilled seafood. Their sayadieh - fish and rice with caramelized onions and spices - is particularly tasty and the atmosphere is relaxed and primarily
Breakfast, Brunch and Baklava in Beirut
outdoors even in winter. In summer, it becomes an outpost of the Cote D’Azur, as glamorous Lebanese women with oversized Céline totes gather on the pier-front tanning ledge to soak up the rays and be seen.
 
A stop at Sydney’s, Le Vendome’s much-loved romantic rooftop retreat at sunset is a must for panoramic views of the city and impeccable food. It is the only hotel restaurant in Beirut which is open 24 hours a day but don’t go casual as it’s the trendiest place in town. Highlights from its modern menu include pan-friend red mullet and zucchini with garlic and lobster bisque. Its more traditional breakfast serves deliciously creamy labne - deliciously thick strained yoghurt drizzled with olive oil and a garnish of mint - and foul mudammas - broad beans with olive oil, lemon and cumin. I asked Chef Georges Mansour which specialty I should try to master at home and his response was “A simple tabbouleh of course. The essential dish on every Lebanese table”. It sounded easier said than done as he reeled off the salad’s 13 ingredients and method in a flurry.
 
It is well-known that Beirutis party night and day and eating is the focus of every social engagement. An evening visit to the newly re-built Beirut Souks at the commercial heart of the city offers a drove of fast-food hotspots and café culture.  A quick peek into the nightclub at Momo’s at the Souks and its hardcore partygoers revelling to Rihanna turned into a fully-fledged meal of crunchy vegetable couscous, scallops on a bed of spicy mouttabal - aubergine and tahini dip - and their speciality, wood pigeon pastilla. The latter resembles the traditional Arabic kibbeh bi laban in taste and texture - beef with bulgur wheat and onions accompanied by a refreshing yoghurt and cucumber dip.
 
For the perfect breezy cocktail or to knock back a shot or three of traditional Arak, Le Gray’s chic Cigar Lounge overlooking the famous Al Amine mosque is a tranquil getaway from bustling street life. Although the menu claims only to serve straight drinks, which is a challenge for the less hardened like myself, my request for a passion fruit martini was instantly delivered and by far the best I’ve had. The hotel’s Indigo on the Roof restaurant boasts a mouth-watering Chocolate Assiette for Two which should only be enjoyed on an empty stomach. Although Executive Chef, Abdallah Khodor’s signature dish is a delicious Thai baked sea bass in banana leaf, at home he prefers the simple, fatayer and sambousek - spinach and cheese pie - and highlights the importance of local spices, olive oil and garlic in all traditional Lebanese dishes.
 
Despite its history of ravaging civil war and on-going reconstruction, the former Paris of the Middle East remains a true culinary and cultural crossroads. Beirutis may not share the same religious or political beliefs, but sharing food and tables is something in which they remain strongly unanimous. Oh and how to ask for the bill? Fatura please.
 
For more information on The Phoenicia call +961 1 369 100 or visit http://phoeniciabeirut.com/. For more information on Le Gray call + 961 1 971 111 or visit www.campbellgrayhotels.com/le-gray/home
 
Tabboule (Parsley Salad)
400g freshly ground burghul (cracked wheat)
2 large bunches of flat-leafed parsley
1 kg vine tomatoes
2 red and 2 green sweet peppers
1 cucumber
4 carrots
1 bunch spring onions
1 bunch radishes
2 cloves of garlic
4 large lemons
1 tbsp dried mint
Salt and pepper
250ml olive oil
 
Wash the burghul, cover with cold water and let it soak for 15 minutes. Remove the stalks and stems from the parsley and finely chop with a knife. Wash, prepare and finely slice the vegetables and put them in a salad bowl with the parsley. Peel and crush the garlic cloves and add to the bowl. Add the lemon juice and burghul. Add the mint, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Then pour the olive oil over it and stir it in. Allow the salad to stand for 10 minutes then thoroughly mix once more.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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28 June 2013
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