Traditional Lebanese Fare Reigns On High At Liza Beirut

Possibly the most clichéd thing on the Lebanese restaurant scene—right up there with the rising tides of Italian pizzeria, French bistros, Japanese sushi bars, and American burger joints—are old Lebanese houses revamped into restaurants. Haven't we all tired of this craze, from Frida in Furn el Hayek, to Enab in Mar Mikhael, the Hangout in Gemmayze, Julia’s along Abdel Wahab, Casablanca in Ain Mreisseh, Bagatelle in Hamra—and I’m sure I’ve overlooked no less than a dozen others.

Those were the thoughts pacing my mind last week as we made our way over to Liza in Achrafieh. Oh boy, I mumbled, another trite house-turned-eatery, no doubt serving up the trite Lebanese grub with a twist. I’d just about had my fair share.

Until I stumbled upon Liza. I stared up at the grandly-lit façade that housed the restaurant. Majesty incarnate. You ascend the yellow stone stairs to reach a landing, from where you enter a small lobby to take an elevator that climbs only one level, to the first. It’s a good 10 meters up before the glass doors separate, ushering you into a dim corridor lined with little nibbles for the Ramadan season: plump dried figs, apricots, dates, almonds, and sultanas.

A smiling waitress led us to the main room of the restaurant, from which three adjoining rooms and a bar area sprout out. The central room is lined wall to wall with mirrors, and the table tops are fashioned from marble with brass trim. Follow the beautiful white-and-gold wall décor to behold the archetype Arabian arches and a sky-high ceiling. 

A musician sits in the corner of the room, hunched over a 3oud as he belts out beautiful Lebanese tunes. In the other rooms, there are different motifs: one is plastered with blown-up images of an outdated Lebanese lira. Another room has those antiquated yet ever-ubiquitous straw chairs that define Lebanese quintessence.

The restaurant interior

Upon making ourselves comfortable, we were presented with Turkish coffee. Weird. Who serves coffee before the meal? We soon learned there was a resident fortune-teller who offers to read your fate from the emptied, overturned teacups. Shortly thereafter, lemonade and jellab made the rounds for the occasion of the iftar.

And finally, the first trickle of foodstuff. A thick hummus with strong tones of freshly-roasted chickpeas. Pulpous eggplant with tahini scooped haphazardly yet invitingly into a white bowl and scattered with pomegranate seeds. A pleasant fattouch with halved cherry tomatoes. A correct tabbouleh. 

A trio of miniature savory pastries: sfee7a b3albakiyeh, ftayer bi sele2, mne2ish bi za3tar barreh. Kibbet la2tine with a tangy filling of herbs and pulses, accompanied by a potato-inspired dip. Tender and perfectly marinated meats, including chick taouk, kafta, and lamb. Dinner is indeed traditional Lebanese fare without any airs of pretension, fusion, or unwelcome innovation.

Hummus and fattouch (forgive the poor images due to dim lighting)

Baba ghannouj with pomegranate seeds

Typical savory Lebanese pastries

Mixed grill of meat

Dessert is a feast for the eyes. A long brass tray comes lined with small cups, some with fresh fruit in orange blossom and rose water, others of mhallabieh and jam, still others of pistachio and mastic ice cream. All were light, refreshing the palate rather than packing the paunch. A perfect close to dinner.

The dessert line-up

Liza reminded me vaguely of Em Sherif, but the difference is that the food is a conventional Lebanese spread as opposed to Em Sherif’s Levantine influences, and the menu is a la carte. The ambiance, too, is more casual, and the seating arrangement is considerably more spacious. Liza leaves little to be desired, and it gets my stamp of approval. I only wish I’d known about its sister restaurant in Paris back when I resided there.

Yours truly


Popular posts from this blog

A Crowning Iftar Experience at the Crowne Plaza Beirut

What’s New In & Around Beirut

Tantalizing Treats from the Coast to the Mountains