Punjabi Indian Cuisine in the Heart of Beirut
I first visited Al Hindi in the summer of 2011. It was still the wee days of our courtship, and I wanted to reciprocate his invites. Nothing tickles a man like his woman splurging on him, so ladies, be sure to wear the pants from time to time!
In Boston and Paris, I'd become acquainted with Punjabi cuisine. And while it usually ended in intense heartburn and acid reflux, I was smitten and wanted to expose him to that world. Pyramid-like samosas with potatoes, peas, and cumin. Elastic naan that beautifully laps up curry. Marinated tandoori cubes of meat. And refreshing raita, similar to the Lebanese version muddling plain yogurt with mint and cucumbers.
A proper restaurant scour of the Beirut scene revealed that an Indian establishment existed in the form of Al Hindi (“the Indian” in Arabic – not very creative, but I'll grant it does the job). So go we went, and I remember it being superb (that, or the flirtatious talk was so captivating, food took a backseat!).
Fast forward five years plus to last week, when I renewed my appreciation of Al Hindi at Warwick Palm Beach Hotel in Ain Mreisseh. The restaurant proffers a dish for every heat index, as I finally learned. Yes, you can have Indian food and not incur indigestion.
But I decided to stray from my comfort zone (sorry, samosas!) and start with the hara kabab (8,500 LL), which are similar to falafel patties and formed from potatoes, peas, spinach, chili, coriander, and ginger. Tempered with mint yogurt sauce, they are crisp and superb.
|Clockwise from top left: dal makhni, plain naan, and hara kabab|
|A close-up of the hara kabab, which I liken to Lebanese falafel|
The dal makhni (14,000 LL), a permanent guest on every Indian dining out affair, did not disappoint. A creamy dish of whole black lentils, kidney beans, tomatoes, cream and butter, this goodness sops up best with plain naan (5,000 LL).
In the mains, I caved and went for the butter chicken (33,000 LL). Commonplace though it be, it is chock full of chicken tikka cubes in a slightly sweet tomato sauce. Order a bowl of saffron basmati (12,000 LL) to accompany it.
|Clockwise from top: dal makhni, shrimp Malabar, saffron basmati, and butter chicken|
Another low-piquancy dish is the shrimp Malabar (43,000 LL), or prawns cooked in a coconut sauce. The marriage between sweet and savory makes a dazzling performance, and it’s all you can do not to hog it to yourself. Again, the importance of basmati as an absorbing agent cannot be emphasized enough.
This is one of the few times I've actually enjoyed dessert at an Indian eatery. The gulab jamun (6,000 LL for 3) is fragrant, cakey, and saturated with syrup. But the gajar halwa (7,000 LL), a carrot pudding with flecks of cardamom, blew me away. I’d like to pretend this is as guilt-free as a salad (you know, carrots and all), but there’s no doubt rich condensed milk in that concoction.
|In the foreground, gulab jamun; in the background, gajar halwa|
Waiters are congenial (though attention should be paid to replenish guests' cups consistently). Ambiance is pleasant and colorful, with typical Indian streamers suspended from the ceilings in addition to the restaurant’s red upholstery – conveniently Christmassy! And location is first-rate, nestled in the heart of the capital.
|Access Al Hindi through the hotel lobby|
Warwick Palm Beach Hotel