Thursday, November 25, 2010

My two favourite restaurants in Beirut

On the basis of a brief 24 hours acquaintanceship with Beirut I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Tawlet and Seza must be two of the most exciting restaurants in the city. They also happen to be a stone’s throw from each other in the upcoming neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael and each has a kitchen run by women.

Tawlet Souk el Tayeb which opened last year (2009), is the brainchild of food writer Kamal Mouzawak (above) who founded the farmers’ market seven years ago. it was created to showcase the produce from the market and Lebanon’s different regional cooking traditions but also to show how food can unite this war-ravaged country. "It’s about bringing people together who have killed each other for so many years around a common culture and cuisine." as Mouzawak, who heads up Slow Food in the Lebanon, puts it.

Each day a different group of women comes in and cooks the food from their region. On Saturdays there’s a lunchtime buffet which features some 12-15 dishes from all over the country.

The day we were there that included a coarse babaganoush salad with tomatoes, onion and pepper, bastouma (preserved beef rolls stuffed with cheese), aubergines stuffed with garlic, pepper and walnuts, roast cauliflower salad, spicy little sausages and cubes of raw lamb and liver. Like all Lebanese food, colourful, inventive and delicious.

They also stock a wide range of Lebanese wines.

Seza (above) was opened a couple of months ago by Seza Haleblian who describes herself modestly as a ‘good home cook'.

She was looking for something to do because her husband has to spend a lot of time away travelling. “My friends used to always say when they came round to dinner ‘When can we come back?’ I wanted to create a real home-style restaurant but to make dishes that are difficult to make at home.“

Having just had lunch at Tawlet we couldn’t do more than taste a couple of dishes which included some open stuffed dumplings called manti that were served with tomato sauce, yoghurt and sumac, lentil patties and kibbeh with sweet potatoes followed by the most stunning-looking plate of desserts which included a rice pudding with vanilla and cinnamon, a semolina dessert topped with pistachios and grated coconut (meghli) and some Syrian, or I guess Armenian-style - pastries.

Other dishes Seza recommended were the imam bayeldi, itch (a kind of tabbouleh), frogs legs with garlic, coriander and lemon and cabbage leaves and vegetables stuffed with meat and rice (sarma). Oh, and possibly less appealing, patcha a soup made with sheeps feet and veal. Armenian food she says is generally a touch spicier than Lebanese - with more use of pepper.

Such inspiring food makes you want to get straight into the kitchen yourself. I can’t wait to go back.

Tawlet (00 96 (0)1 448129
) Beirut, sector 79
naher street, n˚ 12 (Jisr el hadid)
Chalhoub building, n˚ 22 - Ground floor
Seza (00 96 (0)1 570711) Patriarch Arida Street, Mar Mikhael.

Have you been to Beirut and if so do you have any favourite restaurants to share?


  1. Oooh thanks, shall refer back to this when we visit in April. We'll be touring Lebanon with Beth from Dirty Kitchen Secrets but have added a couple of days in Beirut at the end.

    Any recommendations on which area of Beirut we should base ourselves in, or even a hotel to suggest?

    Thanks Fiona!

  2. Well I wouldn't go to ours (the Gabriel - a Sofitel) which was reasonably central but dull. There are a couple of suggestions in Rebecca Seal's piece for the Observer earlier this year. And Time Out, as you probably know, does a guide to Beirut.

  3. love this post, F, it is bookmarked for my trip to Beirut- hopefully next Xmas. x shayma

  4. Had always wanted to go - great to realise that ambition and not be disappointed. The food is truly wonderful and the wine surprisingly good