three great places - Beirut
Written by Daisy Carrington Illustration by Philip Bannister
In Beirut, restaurants aren’t just for eating. They’re a place to gather, seek entertainment, or engage in lively debate of matters philosophical or political. The one thing they never are, however, is boring – and they’re always delicious.
This relative newcomer to the ever-popular Achrafieh dining scene is already pulling in the crowds. Cashing in on the city’s trend for all things Americana, State 11 has been designed to resemble a New York City loft, albeit via 1990. The décor is minimalist, with homely touches. Stark white walls and a decidedly brown and off-white colour scheme hark back to that era of grunge, when unnecessary flourishes were frowned upon. The food, however, is anything but plain. Though the menu is international, there is a strong focus on American fare, with some south of the border flavours thrown in for good measure. Chicken chimichanga is a house favourite, as are the unique pizzas (the pesto salmon version is especially delectable). Though perhaps the most popular feature is the martini station, where the James Bond classic gets a truly innovative twist. Patrons ditch stale varieties, and go in for cucumber or ‘lemon pie’ martinis.
It’s no surprise that Tawlet’s motto is “shou tabkha el mama el yom?”, or “what’s cooking, Mum?” Everything about the place exudes family cooking, from the airy, unpretentious dining room – decked out in unrefined wood tables and charmingly beat-up coffee table chairs – to the menu, which changes daily depending on what’s in season. Tawlet is the brainchild of Kamal Mouzawak, founder of Beirut's first farmer’s market, Souk el Tayeb. He’s also the country’s leading proponent of the slow-food movement. The fare is not only seasonal, and sourced completely from locally grown ingredients, but also prepared by a different cook or producer from a different Lebanese village every day. Try Northern Lebanese mjadrat el loubieh – a stew of red lentils, bulgur, and fried onions – or makloubet djeij – a biryani-like dish of rice, eggplant, and cauliflower. One thing’s for certain: it’s the best place in the city to sample Lebanese home cooking.
The atmosphere is nothing if not convivial at this family-owned Beirut institution, which serves up some of the best Armenian fare in town. Diners looking for a quieter experience can head to the dining room upstairs, but most in the know prefer to imbibe on the bottom floor, where a wandering guitarist serenades the tables while singing anything from pop songs to folk music (he takes requests). The restaurant is always packed, and patrons know to make a reservation if they want to guarantee a table. Though the vibe is definitely a large part of the appeal, the food is just as responsible for bringing in the crowds. The menu is a mix of Armenian and Lebanese meze, though it’s the Aleppo-inspired specialities that sing. Patrons swoon over manti – dumplings stuffed with lamb in a yoghurt sauce – or the juicy kefta in cherry sauce. Al Mayass is a must-do on any foodie’s itinerary.
Charles Malek Ave.
Chalhoub Building, Naher Street Mar Mikhael