Beirut (Gourmet Chick in Lebanon)

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Beirut, what a city. In the day time you wander around, staring at the pock marked shell of what was once the Holiday Inn, a reminder of the time it served as a sniper base during the civil war, then by night time Beirut throws on its party clothes and the streets of Gemmayzeh are filled with honking taxis and locals spilling out of the myriad of bars. We didn’t really eat anywhere fancy in Beirut but we did eat well, lots of street food and lots of mezze. I got some wonderful tips from Anissa Helou a chef and blogger originally from Lebanon who lives in London now. Here’s my wrap up.
 
View over Beirut from our hotel
 
Le Chef
Le Chef is probably the most famous restaurant in Lebanon. No, it’s not a Michelin star eatery but instead it is where Anthony Bourdain filmed No Reservations when he was in Beirut. Not much has changed at the restaurant since Bourdain’s visit except for the amount of food tourists has swelled disproportionately. The aggressively friendly front of house staff bellow “Welcome” to customers from across the street and inside a sign proudly proclaims that Le Chef offers the most welcomes in Beirut.
 

Hommous
 
The menu features all the Lebanese classics at wallet friendly prices and there are some specials that change each day including the famous moolookhiye which is supposed to be a slimy tasting aphrodisiac made from chicken, lamb and mallow. As this was a non moolookhiye day we started with fat, hard olives and chopped radishes. Then onto feather light khoubiz, the Lebanese flat bread and a bowl of smooth hommous (4000) topped with a slick of oil and some whole chickpeas. Even heartier fare was Le Chef’s kebab (7000) which was filled with rolled ground meat with a slight kick of spice to it.
 
Djaj Mah Ruz
 
One of my favourite Lebanese dishes of all time is Djaj Mah Ruz. When cooked properly it is a heavenly concoction of fragrant rice infused with spices and topped with tender chicken and slivered almonds. Unfortunately Le Chef’s version was overly greasy with claggy rice that really dragged the dish down. This was the only let down at Le Chef as otherwise the prices were right and the famous welcome was warm.
 
Essentials
Details: Rue Gouraud, Gemmayzeh, Beirut, Lebanon (Ph +961 1446 769)
Damage: Reasonable
7/10
 
Hannas

From Annissa’s recommendations I tracked down Hanna’s ice-cream. The store is hard to find as there is no sign and it is literally the size of a cupboard. The tiny operation churns out home made biscuits and about five fabulous ice-cream flavours which are totally dependent on the seasons.

Making biscuits at Hanna’s
 
All the ice-cream is prepared by hand, including hulling the pistachio’s for the pistachio ice-cream. The ice-cream was creamy but almost gelati like in texture. My pistachio flavoured cone had big chunks of pistachio scattered throughout it. I felt like we had discovered a genuine treat.
Pistachio ice-cream cone
 
Essentials
Details: Corner of Rue Debbas and Mar Metr, Lebanon.
Damage: Such a bargain even my mother would approve
8/10
 
Schwarma Al Fahim
After taste testing several kebabs in Beirut at various stages of sobriety and after seeking the advice of a few locals we managed to track down the best kebab shop in Beirut. The char grilled chicken for the kebab was carved freshly (5000) and expertly off the spit and encased in khoubiz alongside lettuce, a drizzle of yoghurt sauce and lurid pink chips of pickled turnip
 
Carving the kebab
 
Best of all right next door, is what may be Beirut’s best felafel shop where felafels are sold for a measly 2000 (our walking tour guide claimed they were the best, but what can I say, I haven’t tried them all). As for kebabs, I think I put in a decent attempt at trying as many as physically possible in five days.
 
A kebab in hand
Essentials
Details: 163 Avenue Bechara El Khoury, Bachouka, Beirut, Lebanon
Damage: Such a bargain even my mother would approve
9/10
 
Gourmet Traveller Tips
We stayed at The Private Hotel in Beirut for £40 a night. Do not stay there. It is dirty and the bathrooms are so cramped that you have to have your feet in the shower when you go to the toilet. There must be better options around.
 
We hung out at the beach club at St Georges, checked out the mosques, fell out of the bars (a favourite was the nightclub BO18) and did a brilliant walking tour of the city run by Walk Beirut.
 
Links
You can read more about travelling and food in Lebanon and the nearby town of Byblos here.

12 comments

  1. Wow Lebanon, I read recently that it’s becoming a tourist destination again after the war. Really impressed that you’ve been there already….trailblazer! I love most Lebanese food, the exotic spices etc etc – but, the Essex in me is instantly drawn to the Schwarma hahaha Great post!

  2. wow! I did not expect to see my city on your blog! So happy about it! I am going to be there in a little while so I will post from there as well! Glad you got to experience Hanna-we have been regulars there for years!-my dad is an ice-cream nut. and he buys it there once a week, in kilo containers; my fav is the apricot one.

  3. I had the best time in Beirut, the flavours in the food are amazing and the produce is so fresh!

    The pistachio ice cream looks divine. They put something like mastika in their ice creams that gives it a different taste and texture to gelato. You’ve given me a sudden craving for it! 🙂

  4. I’d love to visit Lebanon one day. I already love the food! I saw that chicken dish being made on a tv show here and it looked fantastic! 🙂

  5. For what it’s worth, if you enjoyed the food in Lebanon, you’d also really like Israel. The hummous in Israel, for example, is like no other. That said, I’d love to visit Lebanon. : )

  6. That ice cream looks wonderful and worth a trip alone!

  7. good lord i’d go there just for this hummous and the pistachio icecream… amazing!

  8. Dan – the schwarma was very good indeed – Essex would be proud

    Taste of Beirut – thanks for all your tips – we loved it

    Gourmantic – I wondered what it was. It is quite a distinctive taste.

    Lorraine – Ablas in Melbourne does a great version of it (probably the best I have tasted)

    American in London – Israel is on the list – very keen to go there!

    Tiki Chris – It was

    The Passionate Cook – I became a big fan of the hommus.

  9. Sounds amazing! Still am so bummed I couldn’t wrap Beirut into my trip. Am somewhat hopeful the ash will return, I will get stuck in Syria, and will have no choice but to go to Beirut!

  10. These sound delicious! Great photos!

  11. I remember reading this post two years ago and now I am going to Beirut myself I shall try your recommendations! Happy Easter.

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