Beyrouth Cafe Central

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2001, 12:00am

Finally, a Middle Eastern eatery with affordable prices. The type of Lebanese joints in the West that hordes of students depend on for survival, Beyrouth Cafe Central is also a godsend for herbivores looking for a tasty and healthy fix. But beware the odd surprise.

The veggie standards are all there: hummus ($37), babaganoush ($38), spanakopita ($38) and falafel ($38). We ordered one of each, starting with the warm spanakopita. Filled with spinach and feta cheese, and encased in flaky filo, this would have been the evening's highlight had we not found a strand of hair trapped inside. The hummus (chickpea puree with tahini, lemon juice and garlic) came with three triangles of pitta bread, as did the babaganoush, a hearty eggplant mush the colour of regulation-grey school socks. The protein-rich hummus was creamed off faster than it would take to summon a genie from the elaborate hookah on the top of the drinks fridge. So too was the babaganoush, whose smoky flavour complemented the sweet lemon tea that came out of a can.

Both dishes were wiped clean, despite the staleness of the bread. We vowed to bring our own next time. The falafel and salad ($45) was also a slight let-down. A roll containing golf ball-size orbs made from ground chickpeas, with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and sauce, this is the Middle Eastern equivalent of a burger, minus the meat and lard. Beyrouth's version, however, could not have been eaten on the run because the falafel balls were too crumbly and its outer sheath provided inadequate support. So we picked at the contents with our plastic forks.

We finished with a serving of home-made baklava ($30), the sweet, nutty dessert that has seduced palates for centuries. Made of almonds, pistachios and cashews and held together with syrup, this was delicious if a bit hard to eat.

Beyrouth is already planning to expand for guests who prefer a proper sit-down meal. Here's hoping it will retain its kind-on-the-pocket prices and start serving fresh bread. Dinner for two, with two lemon teas, was $208.

Shop A, G/F Lyndhurst Bld, 39 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central. Tel: 2854 1872. Open: Sunday-Thursday 10am-midnight, Friday and Saturday 10am-2am. $