Al Sultan Brahim Anchors in Downtown Beirut

Who knew that Al Sultan Brahim had such a prime perch in Beirut Central District? Spread across an expansive 1,800 square meters in a corner building facing the Biel waterfront, this Lebanese seafood institution is split across three floors: the first, a sleek and modern indoor dining space with sky-high ceilings; the second, restroom central; and the third, a canopied terrace for those breezy summer nights when a sunset drink is imperative.

Rooftop terrace at the new Sultan Brahim in downtown Beirut

Al Sultan Brahim, winner of the Arab Tourism Quality Award 2016, has graced the Lebanese dining landscape since 1961, when it first opened along the Jnah seaside. Hard work and commitment to excellence on the part of the Ramy brothers – Elias, Ibrahim, and Shaker – soon propagated to a network of branches, and today the Al Sultan Brahim – Diwan enterprise finds its foothold in Jounieh, Antelias, Achrafieh, and downtown Beirut. The Ramy’s second generation is at the helm, employing more than 600 people in its holding group.

As with all Lebanese seafood restaurants, the customer has free reign over
which fish he wants and their method of cooking

Last week, we paid a visit to the new outlet in Beirut. A glass of chilled Ixsir white paired with raw almonds on ice made for a grand beginning. Lebanese mezza mainstays descended on our tables in prompt fashion:

Roasted eggplant “moutabbal” fibrous and pleasantly aromatic with that charred aroma.

Roasted eggplant with tahini dip

A perfect fattouch with sweet beefsteak tomatoes and tangy pomegranate molasses.

Finely-minced parsley leaves tossed with diced onions and tomatoes to form tabbouleh.

Creamy hummus that could borrow more of the chickpea purée and less of the sesame paste tahini.

The hummus is heavy on tahini, whereas I'd prefer an emphasis on pureed chickpeas and lemon

Fresh crab meat resting on a bed of purslane with a squeeze of lemon.

Fresh crab salad

We were off to an auspicious start.

The stars of the hot mezza were manifold. Boiled chickpeas awash with olive oil, cumin and salt comprise a nutty “balila.” Potato cubes sautéed in butter and dusted with sumac pair nicely with fish “makanek,” spicy sausages usually reserved for beef fillings. You could hardly make out the difference.

Potato cubes sauteed in butter and dusted with sumac

The “samak ras asfour” features chunks of fresh fish lightly breaded, fried then doused in a lemony soy sauce -- sweet and sour fish, perhaps? Seafood fingers draw on filo pastry dough bundling seafood and shredded vegetables in what is highly reminiscent of a spring roll. White fish finished with bold teriyaki sauce rounded out the course.

Samak ras asfour, or what I like to think of as "sweet and sour fish"

White fish filet finished in bold teriyaki sauce

Rarely does one make it to the main course, but Al Sultan Brahim’s food is inexplicably light on the stomach. We dove into the grilled prawns, which, untethered from that trite cocktail sauce, still pack a punch of flavor. Baked grouper (“lokkos”) in salt yield a perfectly white, supple filet that yearns for nothing but a pinch of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon to amplify its taste profile.

The savory portion dazzled, but the sweets left a bit to be desired. “Nammoura,” or semolina cake, comes sweetened with honey rather than the conventional orange blossom syrup. Sure, it’s more gourmet, but it doesn't quite take off. 

Nammoura drenched in honey

What seemingly appeared to be “maamoul mud” didn’t correspond in taste, though these squares contain the usual trio of date paste, crushed walnuts, and pistachios.

Semolina cake with crushed pistachios

I’d have preferred the Lazy Cake, or biscuits au chocolat, rich with bittersweet chocolate. The milk variety is rather subtle when paired with tea biscuits and doesn’t deliver those strong solid notes I look forward to in this assembly.

Lazy Cake

The highlight of the evening was witnessing co-owner Khalil Ramy earnestly conversing with guests, even seated at the table soliciting their feedback. For a restaurant that’s been around for decades and has clearly been doing things right, it’s admirable to see they take interest in what their customers have to say and continue to allocate resources for improvement.

An institution like that is in it for the long haul. 

Al Sultan Brahim
Downtown Beirut
+961 1 989 989


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