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
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.
We were off to an auspicious start.
|Fresh crab salad|
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.
What seemingly appeared to be “maamoul mud” didn’t correspond
in taste, though these squares contain the usual trio of date paste, crushed walnuts,
|Nammoura drenched in honey|
|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.
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
+961 1 989 989
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