There’s a new restaurant in town, but before you roll your eyes in disdain, hear me out. No tiresome 10-page menu, no clichéd Lebanese mezze or gourmet burgers, and perhaps best of all, no prices. Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t.

Mótto in Mar Mikhael is the brainchild of Mohammad Fayad and Tony Sfeir (a bit of trivia for you: the restaurant’s name is derived from the union of its co-owner’s first names). The two men were bent on serving home-style cuisine in a casual environment at affordable prices, so they decided to banish them altogether and instead invite their customers to make a contribution. It’s an honor system, and it’s perhaps the first of its kind in Lebanon. Customer-imposed pricing, as it is known in the business realm, relies on the judgment of buyers to price their own customer experience and pay accordingly. Often, it can be a recipe for success.

Now there is a small caveat. To help relieve customers of the burden of being their own price arbiters - no one likes a Scrooge, after all - Mótto suggests a minimum donation of 9,000 LL on its weekday meals, served 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and 11,000 LL on weekend brunch, offered from Noon to 5:00 p.m. Beer is 5,000 LL; a glass of wine, a mere 6,000 LL; and fresh spring mineral water served in tinted glass jugs, totally gratis.

It gets even better: the head chef, Nimal, is skilled in the cuisines of Lebanon and Sri Lanka, from where he hails. Having arrived in Lebanon in 1995 at the tender age of 21, Nimal worked as a domestic aid inside an Achrafieh household.

“When I worked in the home, I saw how to [cook] and I learned the Lebanese dishes one by one.” Exploring the cuisine through repeated attempts, Nimal quickly became well-versed in his adopted nation’s foodstuffs, and in 2012 he started working at Beyt bed-and-breakfast, owned and operated by Sfeir. In little time, the staff discovered his exceptional talent in the kitchen.

For one of Mótto’s Saturday brunches, Nimal whipped up homemade shawarma, oven-roasted potatoes, tabbouleh, fattouch, and baba ghannouj. “Actually, I prefer Lebanese to Sri Lankan food. I like kibbeh and tabbouleh.” He also seems to prefer Beirut to his home village of Kurunegala, having lived two decades each in both the former and latter. The weather and the beauty of the Lebanese mountainside have enticed Nimal to stay.

Mótto’s owners aim to bring in a host of chefs from other migrant communities dwelling in Lebanon. Filipino, Ethiopian, Thai, Indonesian - these are some of the ethnic cuisines that will soon find their way into Lebanese palates and hearts, Mótto hopes. Beyond the well-known spicy curries and rice of the Far East, the kitchen is also crafting less familiar dishes using Southeast Asian vegetables like kangkong, or water spinach. Now that’s a lesson in culture.

So far, the feedback has been glowing. Mótto has been praised for its deliciously prepared food, friendly atmosphere, and innovative concept by dozens of diners. And with a pay-as-you-wish scheme like theirs, it seems they’ll have to be extra careful in keeping customers happy and open-handed.

Mótto Restaurant
Rabat St.
Mar Mikhael
Mob.: +9613235717

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