Ever explore the posh area between Beirut Souks and Ain Al-Mreisseh? Referred to as Minet el Hosn, it’s a veritable construction site of residential and commercial high-rises developing at a dizzyingly rapid pace. The good news for foodies is that nestled in almost every one of those towers is a delicious fine dining outlet.
Indeed, there’s a corridor of high-end restaurants within a couple hundred meters of each other, and each has its own charm. Here’s a guide to get you acquainted with your gourmet options in Minet el Hosn for those special occasions when you’ve earned yourself a splurge.
A stone’s throw from the Elie Saab showroom, Sultan Brahim has been serving fine seafood to the Lebanese public for nearly a half-century. The hummus is perhaps the first harbinger of the scrumptious dishes on offer. While Sultan Brahim has a whole menu page devoted to various renditions of the chickpea puree, go for the classic: light, silky, and ethereally creamy. The spicy crab salad coupled with calamari à la Provençale 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 namesake fried fish. Dessert is on the house, including seasonal fresh fruit and the restaurant’s specialty, luscious biscuit au chocolat.
Al-Sultan Brahim Minet El Hosn Street Downtown Tel.: +9611989989 Mob.: +9613090809
Awarded best restaurant and bar design in the Middle East and Africa in 2012, Cocteau is an architectural masterpiece that will mesmerize you with its interior details perhaps as equally as its fine fare. Originally located in Sodeco, the upscale French bistro has become a destination for steak tartare aficionados and bouillabaisse lovers who relish the wintertime seafood soup. There’s also the Cigalle de Mer, a generous portion of cooked and shelled lobster accompanied by a light green salad. End on the dense chocolate tart tempered with mango sorbet.
Cocteau Palladium Building Downtown Tel.: +9611970707
Just above Cocteau perches Kampai, a Japanese sushi restaurant whose name means “cheers” in the mother tongue. Though most guests seek out Kampai for its deliriously delicious sushi, the traditional Japanese cooking (you know, the hot stuff!) is also noteworthy. Don’t miss the siu mai and gyoza dumplings—a few of these melt-in-your-mouth savory bundles, stuffed with your choice of shrimp, fresh crab, chicken, wagyu, or shiitake, will sufficiently whet your appetite for the subsequent course. Here, I recommend the Kampai Maksushi, an assembly of tender scallop wrapped in a lightly-fried panko crust and topped with grilled salmon. Perfection.
Kampai Rafil Salloum Street Downtown Beirut Tel.: +9611999092
Balthus exudes classiness and elegance as soon as you step inside its very modern interior and behold a tower of dismembered chairs. Ascend the winding staircase and expect to brush shoulders with fancy-suited business folk striking business deals over simple yet supremely-crafted nosh. The carpaccios are a trademark of the house, with options including daurade, saumon, and Coquilles Saint-Jacques. The filet de loup (seabass) will win you over with its soft white flesh and perfect seasoning, while the cote de boeuf is highly recommended for meat-eaters.
Balthus France Ave. Downtown Tel.: +9611371077 Mob.: +9613511611
A mere ten meters from Balthus is another French fine dining stronghold, l’Avenue du Parc, which hails from Paris. This is a place best situated for terrace dining, so saunter over here when the weather is nice and the sun is radiant. Start with a basket of calamari fritti, a generous dose of squid ringlets battered to a crisp, drizzled with a sweet-and-spicy Thai sauce and sprinkled with crushed peanuts. For mains, try the heartwarming beef stroganoff, piping hot with complex flavors and tender morsels of meat.
L’Avenue du Parc Ahmad Chawki Street Minet el-Hosn Tel.: +9611999557 Mob.: +96171712712
Who can forget the exceptionally modern setting of the original Yabani in Sodeco, built by none other than famous architect Bernard Khoury? You’d enter the lobby, only to descend in an elevator to a swanky spaceship-like dining venue. The only thing that could break your transfixed gaze was the other-worldly Japanese cuisine. Yabani has recently relocated to the ground floor of a residential complex just across from l’Avenue du Parc, where the interior details are even more stunning than their predecessor’s (check out the bathrooms!), and the food, equally exquisite. There are some 117 menu items, so I won’t dwell on each one, but you’d be amiss if you didn’t try the Panko Salmon, Yabani’s panached take on a crispy salmon salad.
Yabani Adnan Al Hakim Road, Facing Balthus Downtown Beirut Tel.+9611999137/8 Mob.: +9613503222
Cucina is the newest member of the Minet el Hosn restaurant corridor and the latest food outlet from Boubess group. Nestled behind Yabani, the corner venue is an appealing white-and-black space with lofty ceilings, smart acoustics conducive to conversations, and a spacious outdoor terrace that has quickly become the choice destination for Beirut’s posh gourmets. The artichoke and poached pear salad is a burst of freshness, and the pepperoni pizza will win over your taste buds. Also try this city’s newest candidate for the best pain perdu. This baby is huge!
Cucina Caragoula Street Minet el-Hosn Tel.: +9611984984
Boubess is rapidly growing its empire of restaurants, and Metropole sits meters away from its sibling restaurant Cucina across the street. A self-described brasserie, here expect to find oysters, moules et frites, steak-frites, and all the traditional goodies from France. If you’re lucky enough to score trottoir seating, congratulations: you’ve just secured a front-row seat in Beirut’s see-and-be-seen elite. The chevre chaud salad is “un must,” with dense domes of warm goat cheese on a trio of baguette slices. The filet de mérou comes with a ramequin of savory aniseed sauce—ask for two of those and enjoy sopping them up with the hearty pain de campagne. O lala!
Metropole Karagulla Bldg, 24 Park Avenue, Minet el-Hosn Tel.: 01999938
Who’d have imagined that a top Italian fashion designer could also become wildly successful at the food business? Cavalli Caffè by Roberto Cavalli serves classic and inventive Italian cuisine, with a broad menu ranging from crunchy bruschettone and thin-crust pizza to fresh pasta and al dente risotto. The prices here are perhaps the best in class, particularly for the value bestowed upon the diner. Opt for the city’s only duck lasagna, scrumptious and rich with a full-bodied tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella. End on another treat unique in Beirut: the Sicilian cannoli stuffed with ricotta, pistachio, and chocolate with mascarpone sauce.
Whenever I’m prompted for the best steaks in Lebanon, my mind immediately races to the Grill Room at the stately Four Seasons Hotel. From marbled wagyu to aged French Charolaise, the beef cuts here are second to none. Start with the tuna tartare on a bed of avocado basking in a pool of soy sauce and cradling salmon roe. A perfectly-done steak with potatoes boulangère is imperative. The dessert trolley wheeled to your tableside at the close of the meal makes for an opulent touch.
The Grill Room Four Seasons Hotel Beirut Minet el-Hosn Tel.: +9611761600