Asian Cuisine Makes a Comeback in Beirut

For the longest time, the extent of Asian cuisine dominating the Lebanese dining scene was Chopsticks. I remember when it was first introduced in 1998 to Sin el Fil, where Margarita sits now, and how it quickly became all the rage. In no time, "Chicken Cashew" became a household name, and "spring rolls" found their way into the Lebanese lexicon. 

As restaurant standards climbed, Chopsticks slipped into casual Chinese dining at best, and a myriad of more authentic options cropped up. Chen Bao in Saifi Village, The Jasmine Room in Jal el Dib, and Le Hanoi in Sofil are just a few of the restaurants that tickled our taste buds but disappeared as swiftly as they'd appeared. For a while, we were back to square one, until PF Chang's crossed the Atlantic in 2012 to take root on our Mediterranean shores. 

Chang's is tasty and reliable in the way that all behemoth American chains are. It's already found a foothold in three mall complexes. But it lacks the charm of a homegrown eatery. And it's Americanized Chinese food at best.

Thankfully, two viable restaurants specializing in Pan-Asian cuisine have emerged in Beirut, and their prospects are exciting. Put them on your discovery list.

A hidden gem in the heights of downtown Beirut: Shogun

Ascend the elevator in Annahar building to the 8th floor, where Shogun is perched across from Iris rooftop. The Japanese restaurant has it all: stunning panoramic views of downtown Beirut, beautifully dressed Asian waitresses in traditional kimonos and geta footwear, genuine furniture imported from Japan, and a cozy ambiance. 

Mosey up to the long bar and plant yourself in a stool for a custom-crafted pick-me-up. Simply state your elected base and sweet/sour preference, and the bartender will whip up a concoction in no time. 

Prosecco with raspberry syrup

In the food department, Shogun offers a slate of sushi and Japanese grills. Don't miss the exceptional salmon and tuna sashimi salads tossed in crispy rice. The prawn toast is a Chinese dim sum dish made from small triangles of bread brushed with egg and coated with minced shrimp before being baked or deep fried. A sesame topping rounds it off.

Prawn toast

Chicken egg rolls

For mains, try the skewered beef, shrimp and chicken. Cleanse your palate afterward with orange and lemon givrés, perfectly marrying creamy and tart.

Robatayaki mixed grill

Orange givré

Lemon givré

The Shogun Beirut

Heartwarming Pan-Asian cuisine: Tsu

Jutting off the main Sofil slope and hidden behind towering shrubs, Tsu can easily be missed. The signage is small, and in the evening the place is dim, not drawing much notice.

Pan Asian cuisine is the name of the game. Highlights from the menu include the Thai beef salad, chicken sesame salad, shrimp tempura, and plump spring rolls chock full of shiitake mushrooms. 

Chicken sesame salad

Plump spring rolls stuffed with shiitake mushrooms

Shrimp tempura with shiitake

I'm also wild about the Mongolian beef dish, with its tender cubes of meat stir-fried with baby corn and sugar snap peas. 

Mongolian beef stir-fry

The green curry beef incorporates apple chunks with a side of mango puree, all tempered beautifully with lemongrass rice. 

Green curry beef with lemongrass rice

If you’re not spice-averse, the roasted chicken breast doused in hot chili pepper lying prostrate at a mountain of soba noodles is sublime. 

Roasted chicken breast topped with a spicy dressing,
soba noodles in the background

I'd love to see more in the way of dessert though, as the mochi, while supple, left much to be desired.

Service is very prompt and knowledgeable. The restaurant is beautiful to dine in during the day, as light pours in through the all-glass, covered terrace. I'd only warn against busy evenings, as the poor acoustics don't absorb the boisterous chatter of diners, and you have to scream over the din to make your voice heard. 

Tsu Cuisine


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