Amethyste Phoenicia Has The Potential To Be So Much More
Last night, we were invited to the opening of Amethyste Lounge at Phoenicia Hotel. A little research on the venue revealed that it was launched in the summer of 2010 with a spectacular show of acrobats, dancers, and entertaining performances. Last night, as the lounge celebrated its fourth birthday to the theme of “Kitchen Party,” no such grandiosity erupted. In fact, calm defined the scene, which was rather pleasant and lounge-like.
We arrived at 8pm to a setting lush with white—white tents and teepees, white divans, white drapes, chefs in white toques and uniforms—which almost masked the center-stage pool. The lighting was a seductive violet—amethyst—and could be seen from as far as Zaitunay Bay. There were already people milling around sofas, sipping cocktails and poking their heads into the cooking stations. Everything looked dazzling, and we were tickled with curiosity as to what culinary wonders awaited us.
We saw guests heaping food into Styrofoam flap-top boxes—the ones used for take-away. Immediately we assumed these folks had had their evening plans cut short and before making off, were securing a bite for the road. But then our eyes descended on the offered cutlery: plastic forks and spoons. Eyeing no other dishware, we convinced ourselves this was all part of the "Kitchen Party" act, and thus we fell into step with the others.
There were eight savory stations. The first featured basic maki rolls filled with either crab or fruit—yes, fruit—as well as a tray of smoked and baked salmon. The second stand boasted a made-to-order salad bar, where there were bowls upon bowls of grains and seeds, sliced parmesan, cherry tomatoes, goat labneh balls, and a few other odds and ends. One dish that I thought cradled sautéed mushrooms was in fact escargots. Bizarre placement, no?
The third station showcased fried fish fingers. Some were being served in hot dog buns, which really stumped me, as I couldn’t draw the connection. There were some tortilla chips on offer as well.
The fourth station presented Indian rice, sautéed diced vegetables, chili beans, warmed tomato-mozzarella slices with pesto, baked potato wedges and chicken thighs. Again, no perceptible theme here to unite the foodstuffs.
Station five had “cold tong” (I had no interest in even pulling back the lid to see what lay inside), chicken liver in yogurt, and Oriental rice with lamb, cashews and pistachios.
I was truly exasperated by the pickings until I caught sight of the chicken shawarma spit. Finally something to suit my palate! The shawarma was served with pocket pita, garlic paste, lettuce, and pickled turnips. And it was delightful.
Station six was equally uplifting. Sea bass filets baked piping hot in tomatoes and parsley, as well as paccheri pasta in the shape of giant round tubes. The pasta had been tossed in a marinara and was dressed with slices of fresh mozzarella.
The final table had mini crab cakes resembling chicken nuggets, but they were too cold to be enjoyable.
Dessert, you ask? Well, if the savory selection had come up short of expectations, the sweeter stuff scraped rock-bottom. A clichéd chocolate fountain with marshmallows, strawberries, and melon cubes for the dipping; an ice cream stand; cotton candy (is this an amusement park or a lounge?); a three-meter-long Swiss roll; 3awaymet (Lebanese fritters drenched in syrup); and a tray of knefeh. I settled for the ice cream, which I learned was house-made, and was pleased with one scoop of chocolate and another of rum-raisin. There were frozen berries tendered as a topping, but it would have been thoughtful to thaw them before serving.
I have to admit, the food was a sore disappointment. With a hotel as luxurious as the Phoenicia housing an array of highly-praised restaurants like Wok Wok and Eau de Vie, I would have expected similar excellence at Amethyste. And while the event featured open drinks—there were two full-service bars and three smaller kiosks labeled Vodka, Tequila, and Martini—I just couldn’t be tempted. The entire seating and lounge area was claimed by ladies’ purses and cardigans, so after less than an hour at the venue, we showed ourselves out.
What an unpleasant shock. I can’t help wondering if the quality and variety of food would be markedly different on a normal evening when an a la carte menu prevails, or if this is the standard. I hope it’s the former, because Amethyste has such potential with its charming setup and beautiful décor.
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