Feel-Good Vibes at Lancaster Plaza's Prime18

One of the most charming corners of our country has to be the Raouche area. The iconic rock formations emerging off the shore; picturesque seaside surrounds; a massive sidewalk that stretches for kilometers. It’s the perfect spot to watch planes make their descent into Beirut International Airport. Seven years ago, when I moved to Lebanon, I frequented these parts thrice weekly to soak up the Mediterranean sun.

Lately, however, Raouche has fallen off my radar, and I wanted to revisit it. So on an uneventful Friday night during this inclement Beirut winter, we made our way to the newly unveiled Prime18 perched on the 18th floor of the Lancaster Plaza.

I’d never stepped foot inside the hotel before. In fact, it’s almost easy to overlook despite its prominent position on the seaboard, just opposite to the Movenpick. A doorman ushers you in to a swift security check before you’re invited to alight the elevator. Step off on the 18th, and a dim lounge engulfs you with its warmth.

To the right, a cigar aficionado’s den, lined with walls of stogies on offer. To the left, a hedonist’s haven, the dining floor, with sweeping views of the sea for as far as the eye can wander.

First impression? Comfortable seating. Attractive tableware. Soothing vibes. And smart service, extremely attentive and exacting by what are no doubt aspiring hoteliers.

The menu does not overwhelm. A few items each flesh out the soups, starters, salads, mains, and desserts. Typically French fashion. But not typically French cuisine. Which is fine by me, because I love a creamy, al dente risotto aux cèpes decorated with a Parmesan lattice crisp. And Plaza’s executive chef hits it out of the ballpark, far enough that we at home base had ample time to indulge in two.


An impeccable mushroom risotto


For starters, we partook in a fresh, crisp endive-Roquefort salad studded with pomegranate seeds and walnuts for a welcome contrast of textures. Have you ever sampled grilled endive? That charred taste complements lettuce profusely well.


Endive and Roquefort salad


Fancy fresh calamari with fava beans and heart of artichoke? Nothing about this plate is canned or pickled, which in itself is enough to up the pleasure factor while ensuring you get a healthy dose of fiber and protein.


Pescetarian's delight: calamari and artichoke salad


There’s a dish on the menu dubbed “chicken for two,” and true to its name it features a whole grilled chicken flattened from being sandwiched between metal wire racks. Fragrantly rubbed and marinated, it is accompanied by what is easily Prime18’s specialty – mushroom risotto – along with a medley of half-crisp vegetables.


Grilled chicken for two


The entrecote is a generous slab of meat with the characteristic skirt of fat, but it is rather tough and chewy to bite through.


Entrecote


Unilateral salmon – wherein the fish is fried on one side until it is heated all the way through -- didn’t dazzle in the way I yearned for. Somehow little moisture locked in during cooking, leaving the filet to dry out. The berry compote carefully spooned over it delivers a very bitter profile. I’d have preferred a more traditional lemon-cream sauce animated with aniseed or fennel.


Salmon with berry compote


In the dessert department, the fondant gushes premium dark chocolate tempered with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a biscuit twirl. 


Fondant au chocolat with the essential vanilla ice cream


Prime18’s pain perdu is unusual, captured by a collection of soft cubed bread drizzled with caramel and swimming in a pool of milk inside a cast-iron skillet. It falls somewhere between Um Ali and a bowl of warm cereal in terms of taste, but the assembly doesn’t come together the way you hope it would. I like my pain perdu to be one of two archetypical extremes, either in the spirit of French toast and properly toasted, or more of a bread pudding baked to a supple consistency and wafting with vanilla. This was neither.


A spin on the traditional pain perdu



A pleasant surprise came in the form of the evening’s entertainment, provided by a male-female duo softly cooing Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tunes. With tables adequately spaced out and service keen on pleasing but careful not to smother, we felt at ease enveloped in a feel-good ambiance. 

A revisit is in the cards, because when you stumble across a perfect risotto, you want to hang on tight and pray that, like the immutable Pigeon Rocks of Raouche, nothing changes.


General de Gaulle Avenue
Raouche - Beirut
01-791000

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