Ever since I dined at Hilton Habtoor’s Le Ciel for Christmas
Eve, and then again on New Year’s Eve—yes, we were quite smitten with the
cuisine—I’ve been singing the culinary praises of the hotel establishment.
Three months ago, my sentiments were confirmed yet again at a Mother’s Day
brunch hosted by Italian restaurant Venezia at Hilton Beirut Metropolitan
Hotel, just across the pedestrian walkway. Nothing
was overlooked, from the lavish charcuterie spread to the fresh,
But how would the Lebanese cuisine stack up next
to its European counterparts? After all, Executive Chef Paolo Rocco, boasting
an impressive 30-year hospitality history, does hail from the heart of Europe,
in fair Italy. A few nights ago, I had the opportunity to put that uncertainty
to rest at a very traditional Iftar housed inside Al Diyafa restaurant on the first
floor of the Habtoor.
|Shawarma on the spit, cooked by a gas-flame grill|
We arrived to a regal dining room—apparently, it doubles as
the breakfast area for hotel guests—outfitted in iconic red tarboosh, beautiful
brass lanterns, and tabletops adorned with dates and sesame brittle. The buffet was already set out, and guests were free to make the
rounds as frequently and swiftly as they wished.
Upon being seated, we were approached by a waiter offering
us either of the customary Ramadan drinks, jellab
or amareddine. To prepare the paunch for the parade
of food coming its way, you could start with mushroom or lentil soup.
At the buffet table, there was plenty of variety to satiate hunger. Cold
mezza comprised the Levantine mainstays of hummus, moutabbal, labneh,
tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves, and muhammara. There were delicacies like
basterma draped alluringly over martini glasses, as well as halved kibbeh balls
and their vegetarian counterparts fashioned from wheat and lentil and cradling diced
tomatoes, onions, and herbs.
|A creamy bed of hummus|
|Air-dried beef, or basterma|
|The cold mezza station (pardon the dim lighting)|
Hot dishes included lamb kabseh; fish
siyaddieh; artichoke stew; and baked salmon with string beans and a butter-lemon
dressing. There were nibbles like soujouk; steamed vegetables; chicken wings;
and the Lebanese savory pastry trio of sambousik, ftayer, and rkekat. You could
also gorge on skewers of grilled taouk, beef brochettes, or homemade kafta
kabobs as plump as zucchini.
|Baked salmon with green string beans and multicolored bell peppers|
|Traditional Lebanese grills: the kafta was exquisite|
Lucky were those who took notice of the live shawarma station a few
meters removed from the buffet stands.
|The shawarma expert|
Dessert paid homage to Lebanese ashta classics served in
dainty individual serving cups, as well as knefeh in ramekins, katayef,
kellage, and halewet el jeben. A number of these sweets were catered by Abdul
Rahman al Hallab, or Kasr el Helou, from nearby Sin el Fil.
There was a selection of fresh fruit including cherries,
plums, grapes, and pineapple, accompanied by dried fruit, nuts, a Swiss and
cheddar tasting board, and even halloumi and string cheese to pair with cubes
|The quintessential kellage|
|Mafroukeh bil festo2, or pistachio semolina cake with clotted cream|
|Fresh fruit, dried fruit, and cubes of cheese|
|A little bit of heaven|
Entertainment unfolded in the form of a hakawati, or storyteller, dressed in long Arab garb who recited a
ten-minute tale at the height of dinner. There was also a psychic reading fortunes from upside-down Turkish coffee cups.
|The hakawati entertained guests with his intriguing tale|
The beauty in Habtoor’s Iftar/Suhoor program is that it aims
to revive the conventional Ramadan meal and all the rituals associated with it.
Several long tables graced the seating area, encouraging guests to break bread
with one another, even if they weren’t of the same dining party. The décor was
festive, and the background music, lulling.
Make sure you experience Habtoor’s iftar for a delicious
revisit of Ramadan’s time-honored traditions.
Hilton Beirut Habtoor
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