Lina’s Lebanon: New Menu, Slashed Prices & An Evolving Identity

The first time I stepped foot inside a Lina’s outlet was in the summer of 2010. I had just graduated with an MBA from Paris and was meeting the founder of then newly launched startup GoNabit. We sat outside on the deck of the downtown Beirut café, and I sipped lemonade as we exchanged thoughts on the potential of a group-buying site in Lebanon.

Roughly six months later, I was back at Lina’s to meet with a fellow MIT alumnus a generation my senior who was trying to help me prospect for career opportunities in Lebanon. In those chilly months of winter, I opted for a pot of green tea and an apple tart from the dessert tray.

The impressions I formed of Lina’s from those encounters and subsequent visits were two-fold: (1) Lina’s patrons are for the most part business professionals and executives who enjoy comfy armchairs; and (2) the small-font, graphics-free menu as well as its no-frills sandwich and salad items reflect the undeniably Parisian roots of the café.

To a fresh graduate in her mid-20s like me, Lina’s food offerings then struck me as uninventive and overpriced. But I’d learned a thing or two from my marketing course in grad school: first, determine your target market and its financial blueprint; second, craft the quality and price of your product accordingly.

For me, Lina’s represented the occasional visit, whether for a reliably hefty tuna quinoa salad at the end of a workday; or an ice-cold Almaza accompanied by carrots and peanuts after a taxing stroll in the mall. The sandwiches were far too “French” for my taste: we Americans love our deli piled sky-high.

Last year, while in Badaro, my husband and I stopped by Lina’s to sample the newly launched hot menu, available in select branches accommodating a full kitchen. Featuring steak-frites and filet mignon, the platters were very reasonably priced and a welcome departure from trite café fare. Desserts, too, received an elaborate facelift, adding the likes of a piping hot pain perdu drizzled with caramel, a suitable contender for Beirut's best.



Pain perdu with stewed apples and cinnamon



More recently – just a couple weeks ago, in fact – Lina’s polished its menu even further, introducing entrées such as oven-baked feta with toasted baguette chips; deep-fried chicken tenders; truffle-Parmesan fries; and Angus burgers. You can now have croissants at breakfast and a decadent ice cream cookie for dessert, though admittedly the French spirit is preserved in sablé cookie fashion.



Truffle-Parmesan fries



What really struck my fancy, more than the expanded nature of the menu, is how relatively affordable everything’s become! Starters range from LBP 9,500 to 15,500 (USD 6.33 – 10.33); the average salad weighs in at LBP 18,000 (USD 12); the average sandwich, at LBP 19,500 (USD 13); and mains straddle LBP 16,000 (USD 10.67) for a penne arrabbiata and LBP 37,000 (USD 24.67) for a grilled beef tenderloin with veggies and baked potato fingerlings.

If you compare the prices at Lina’s to those of its direct competitors, the differences are prominent. To illustrate, at a popular restaurant which shall remain unnamed, starters range from LBP 9,500 to 32,750 (USD 6.33 – 21.83); salads average LBP 26,500 (USD 17.67); sandwiches average LBP 25,250 (USD 16.83); and mains span LBP 22,500 (USD 15) for a penne arrabbiata to 42,750 (USD 28.50) for steak & fries.



Lina’s
Director Competitor
Starters
LBP 9,500 to 15,500
LBP 9,500 to 32,750
Salads
LBP 18,000 (avg.)
LBP 26,500 (avg.)
Sandwiches
LBP 19,500 (avg.)
LBP 25,250 (avg.)
Mains
LBP 16,000 to 37,000
LBP 22,500 to 42,750


Rewind a couple years, and that price discrepancy would have likely been skewed the other way.

Which demonstrates just how committed Lina’s management company Catertainment seems to be to broadening the restaurant-café’s customer base. In a noticeable effort to attract the young adult crowd, Lina’s is adopting culinary trends and a more accessible slate of prices. They’re also striving to make the restaurant experience an enjoyable one, as I discovered first-hand.

I stole away to the Beirut stronghold last Monday on my lunch break, partaking in a trio of starters and a duo of desserts with a friend. Chunky guacamole dip laced with cilantro (LBP 11,500); supple shrimp dumplings animated with soy and sesame seeds (LBP 12,500); and crisp fries flecked with Parmesan shavings and truffle oil (LBP 8,500) formed our debut taste of the revamped menu.



Homemade guacamole with toasted baguette chips

Shrimp dumplings doused in soy


For dessert, we were torn between Pain Perdu (LBP 14,000) and Lina’s Delight, an imposing assembly of chocolate sablé cookies, vanilla ice cream, chocolate fudge, caramel, and chocolate flakes (LBP 11,500 LL). It was no use deliberating between the two; we threw in the towel (er, tablecloth napkin) and brandished our knives and forks.



Lina's Delight is a tower of sinful pleasure



To say that Lina’s Delight delighted is an understatement. It was an absolute marvel suited for four, luxuriant with premium chocolate and crisp, buttery shortbread. The pain perdu pleased as before, with beautifully inflected cinnamon and baked apple.

I’m rather giddy about the evolving flavors of Lina’s. More approachable and inclusive of a wider array of tastes, the new identity and menu bestow promise, so much so that I’m actually looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with those sandwiches à la Parisiennes. Who knows? Maybe they’ve fleshed out in the era of “supersize me”!


Downtown Beirut: 01-970 153/4
Badaro: 01-383 338; 01-970 153
Jal el Dib: 04-724 324
Village Dbayeh: 04-546 585
Backyard Hazmieh: 05-952 723
Mtayleb: 04-402 387
Kaslik: 09-642 690
Le Mall Sin el Fil: 01-488 004
ABC Dbayeh: 04-404 402
ABC Achrafieh: 01-336 330
City Mall Dora: 01-888 609
City Centre Beirut (Hazmieh): 01-284 063

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