The Best of Beirut
on Apr 4, 2014 By Danielle Issa
In Lebanon we are blessed to be bordering the Mediterranean along the entire length of our country, and as such, seafood is an integral part of our cuisine.
Apart from the endless health benefits of consuming fruits de mer, thanks to all those omega-3 oils, these treasures from the sea blend incredibly well with Lebanese mezza, from fish kebbeh croquettes to shrimp tabbouleh. If you’re baiting your reel in search of a lavish fish-filled affair, you’ve found it here, in our carefully selected restaurants of choice.
These are the places you’ll want to get comfy, loosen that belt, and adopt the notorious seafood diet: see food and eat it!
Photo via Trip Advisor
Sultan Brahim set up shop in 1968 along the Jnah coastline before relocating to its Antelias stronghold in 1978, where it quickly created a name for itself in seafood mezza.
Since then, the restaurant has opened several branches both in Lebanon and the Gulf, and it’s no wonder: their culinary creations are scrumptious. The hummus is a must, and while Sultan Brahim has a whole page in its menu dedicated to various renditions of this famous dish, go for the classic tahini-lemon-garlic-olive oil edition: light, silky, and ethereally creamy.
We also recommend the spicy crab salad coupled with the calamari à la Provençale, which comes basking in a piquant sauce with coriander and garlic. You could easily get your fill on the mezza, but you would be dishonoring the restaurant (and its name) if you didn’t order the eponymous fried fish. Dessert is on the house, including seasonal fresh fruit and the restaurant’s specialty, luscious biscuit au chocolat (lazy cake).
Minet El Hosn Street
Near Casino, Sea Side Rd.
Photo via No Garlic No Onions
Le Phenicien is a topnotch seafood institution originally hailing from Tyre but bringing its maritime treasure to greater Beirut in Horsh Tabet. The restaurant itself is fashioned after a deck on a ship, where you’ll want to secure your spot at Sunday’s sumptuous buffet (80,000 LL).
Nothing is spared: squid in its black ink; garlicky calamari garnished with cilantro; dainty crepes stuffed with a crab salad; raw fish kibbeh; salmon tartare; giant mussels; you name it!
There’re at least two dozen delectable seafood-intensive dishes you have to eat your way through before reaching the mains, the highlight of which is the seafood paella. A fragrant saffron Spanish rice enrobed in a rich curry of shrimp, scallops, mussels, and white fish, you’d vow to have a second helping, but the self-service dessert display is insuppressibly tempting. Be sure to try the ground pistachio mafroukeh as well as the decadent millefeuille.
Dimitri el Hayek
Photo via rpnlebanon.com
An upscale reference in seafood dining, Mandaloun Sur Mer offers compelling views of the Mediterranean from its seaside venue in Biel. The restaurant merits its pricey fare, as it is a veritable oasis of calm, spectacular cuisine, doting service, and freshness and quality of food you’d be hard-pressed to find more superior anywhere else.
Everything is a feast for the senses, from the exquisite fattouch in pomegranate molasses; the citrusy and slightly crunchy tabbouleh; the buttery-soft shrimps tossed in garlic and coriander; to the warmer dishes like the seafood-stuffed rkekat; tender octopus à la Provençale; and, not for the faint of heart, the samak bizri (fried whitebait), head and tail included. Perhaps the only thing more renowned than Mandaloun Sur Mer’s seafood gastronomy are its mouthwatering bite-size desserts, which range from small ramequins of meghleh, mhallabieh, Jell-O, and silky custard to scoops of rose-flavored ice cream and the compulsory Lebanese loukom with Ghandour biscuits.
Babel Bay and more recently, Babel Bahr, are the seafood arms of the highly celebrated Babel restaurant, which was perhaps the first to introduce Lebanese cuisine in a new light, resurrecting traditional dishes with inimitable flair. Where to start? The tabboulet el Bahar is a must, replacing the bulgur in the classic salad with Christmas wheat, coriander, and—get this—shrimp! The tajen samak, featuring a whitefish baked in tahini and flavored with lemon, is executed impeccably and contrasted texturally with shreds of fried bread and pine nuts. The hindbeh with calamari will really knock your socks off, but the genuine masterpiece on the table is the seafood baklawa, a savory delicacy of phyllo dough pastry stuffed with tender fruits de mer.
Babel Bay - Zaitunay Bay
Babel Bahr - Amchit
Seaside Road, Near Amchit Camping Grounds
Photo via nogarlicnoonions.com
Chez Sami and first-rate seafood are practically synonymous, as the seaside Jounieh venue was a pioneer in the fish restaurant business in Lebanon. But Chez Sami is unlike its peers, in that dishes are prepared in the simple, classic manner, stripped of all sophistication. The admittedly expensive fare instead opts for an emphasis on freshness, quality, and flavors.
Start with the fattouch, which is a refreshing bouquet of colors, textures, and tastes served inside a deep wooden bowl. You can’t go wrong with any of the mezza appetizers, but we recommend diving directly into the fish—you can hand select your picks in the ice room as you enter the restaurant. The salt-baked sea bass (lokkos) is superb, from the waiter’s tableside performance of skinning and deboning the fish to actually sinking your teeth into the melt-in-your-mouth whitefish. Drizzle some olive oil onto it for an extra (heavenly) lift.
Maameltein Sea Road
Photo via chezsamirestaurant.com
Danielle Issa is a food blogger in Lebanon. You can find her on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog, Beirutista .
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