Beirut under healthy siege
Beirut: G/F and 1/F 27-39 D'Aguilar Street, Hongkong. Phone: 804-6611. Hours: 12.30-2 pm; 6.30-11.30 pm. Decor: Brass lamps, real carpets, beautiful fabrics; not an interior put together by a committee. Bar on the ground floor, restaurant upstairs. Cuisine: Lebanese. Liquor licence: Not yet. BYO and pay $50 corkage. Service: Personable. Reservations: Necessary, especially for dinner. Smoking policy: None. Overall value for money (out of five): four plates here YOU know the area; restaurant hell or restaurant heaven, depending on how you look at it. And there, was the extremely attractive facade of Beirut, a place where you need to make your reservation at the beginning of the week if you want to eat dinner on Friday.
Why is it so full? Are the owners well-connected and have lots of foodie friends, particularly from the Middle East? Or is it because the chefs, from Beirut, have a talent for serving wholesome food; the interior designer worked for personal satisfaction rather than the lowest common denominator; and the staff know what they are doing.
We felt welcome as soon as we crossed the threshold. People at the bar didn't stare, not even the manager; and we were greeted with a smile.
Long and thin, with barely room for two rows of tables, and with sand-coloured walls and lengths of heavy fabrics, it felt like the inside of a tent.
And the carpets were not the type that could be ordered by the half-dozen, but real, ''living'' carpets.
Many diners accepted the waiter's recommendation and ordered the dish-of-the-day shawarma - a lamb-eater's dish with a pervasive aroma and not for those who like their lamb minced up with parsley and onions in the shape of something like kafta halabiyeh and then grilled for a drier effect.
Deciding what to choose turned into a psychological exercise - if you didn't know what you wanted, then work out what you didn't want. What arrived was a stack of starters from a divine moutabal - grilled aubergine dip with sesame and lemon, and so good you could develop a craving - to sambousek, little pastry packets stuffed with minced lamb and pine kernels, and then the best tabbouleh in Hongkong.
All this was preceded by loads of bread,olives and salad-type dishes that didn't mysteriously reappear later on the bill.
Plenty of things did, like a decadent serving of halva, Turkish coffees and about six dishes, ending up at about $250 a head.