Li Beirut - Jumeirah At Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi.
Li Beirut is sumptuous. The gorgeous floor to ceiling windows offer a clear view of the water outside. The parquet floors create warmth. The restaurant is all elegance. Crisp white table cloths are balanced with reds and maroons. Exquisite china and cutlery. Everything is very tastefully done. Nothing gaudy or kitschy here.
|Sleek and snazzy|
|Very chic china.|
|Felafel amuse bouche.|
I am served a tasting platter of cold mezze, as is tradition in a Lebanese restaurant. As it is placed before me, I stare in awe at it, while Sous Chef Mahmoud contextualises the dish for me. On my tasting plate I have hummus, balik salmon, muhammara and a fatoush basket.
The muhammara is a deliciously spicy hot pepper dip that has a lovely deep red hue making for a visually striking dish. The fatoush basket is to die for. Small and packed with zip. Levels of flavour, topped by the mint. I cannot believe how tasty it is. Next, the balik salmon lives up to its reputation as being probably the best smoked salmon in the world. Texturally so lovely. Finally, the hummus has just the right consistency to complete an exceptional cold mezze platter. Meanwhile, my wine pairing with a Ksara Blanc de Blancs 2012 hits the right note. This blended wine of sauvignon blanc, semillon and chardonnay which I started with as my aperitif was so nice that I just continued with it for my starters, provides the light body I was looking for not to overpower my mezze and what was wo follow.
|Yellowfin tuna carpaccio.|
|The ultimate fusion starter|
|Foie gras kebbeh|
As I sip on my wine, it occurs to me that Chef has created something truly magical, unique and a definite conversation piece. My thoughts are interrupted as i watch the assistant manager, Mohammed engage with his guests. he does it so sincerely and without effort in a way that belies his young age of 23. When he comes to my table I comment on the hospitality in the restaurant and he says something that will stay with me all night. He says, "Hospitality is not created in hotels. It is created in homes". I like it - the notion that the spirit of service is something that he learned at his home and is therefore heartfelt and not training manual driven. What an impression he makes.
|The wine did Lebanon proud.|
|Zaatar crusted rack of lamb.|
I have the Arabic mixed grill made up of classics: lahem meshwi, shish taouk and riyash which is served with a simple tomato and onion based sauce. This is made the traditional way and it dawns on me that the menu really has something for everyone with an interest in Lebanese food. If is very traditional interpretation that you want, the menu caters for you. If you are intrigued by a fusion approach, then the chef's selection on the menu is for you. I like this, but I save myself for the other main - the zaatar crusted rack of lamb. It does not disappoint. The parsnip purée, tomato jam and shaved black truffle make this a magnifcent dish. Theatricality is not far away, as the chef pours the lamb jus on the lamb. It is, simply, a perfect dish.
The service is really slick. I watch Marlon as he changes plates and cutlery, tops up water and engages in meaningful conversation, but at no point does he overstay. What a waiter! Soon dessert is served. I have the apricot rice pudding and also the honey fudge. I am usually disciplined and try small small portions of dessert, but tonight is all about indulgence. The raspberries serve to balance the sweetness from the apricot compote, and all of this is held together by the rose flavored rice pudding. Of course, the pistachios add that bit of bit crunch. Marvelous.
|Rice pudding with apricot compote.|
Finally, there was another creative twist on a cornerstone of Lebanese dessert, kunaffa. The kushta cream on the slightly crispy kunaffa and the honey caramel cigar already gives you a fascinating take on serving kunaffa, but then there is also lemon olive oil sorbet. Oh the volcanic taste eruption is immense. It runs deeper than the usual sweet and sour. There are variations in-between. Wow. I can think of no other word.
The low down
Li Beirut is an incredibly special restaurant where a respect for the past meets with a chef's vision of the future. I appreciated the respect with which the tradition f Lebanese cuisine was treated, and equally enamoured of creations which showcased lebanese food by creating some deliciously inspiring fusion cuisine.