Sunday Funday at Gefinor Rotana
I have definitively found Lebanon’s tastiest, fluffiest “sfouf,” or turmeric sponge cake and, in so doing, stumbled upon one of the best-value Sunday lunch buffets Beirut has to offer.
Let me unpack that statement bit by bit. My favorite Lebanese dessert isn’t shockingly baklawa, or knefeh, or even 7alewet el jibn. Blasphemous, right? I actually worship the Lent-friendly, yellow-tinted treat called sfouf, not specifically because it’s so darn healthy, unfettered by butter and eggs. That’s just an added bonus. The real reason is in the crumb's consistency: if done right, it’s dense, but not chalky; fluffy, but not airy; sweet, but not decadent. It pairs perfectly with café blanc, tea, and coffee.
I wasn’t actively seeking out sfouf last Sunday at the Gefinor Rotana hotel. In fact, we were enjoying a sumptuous buffet, the kind that requires you fast for at least 16 hours leading up to it. And the first impression as we waltzed down the lobby corridor to Olive Garden, wherein it was housed, was persuasive.
You know you’re approaching the restaurant by an extensive table setup boasting no less than 50 unique desserts, both Occidental and Oriental. Everything you can conjure up, from cookie dough to nammoura, coconut cake to maakroun, red velvet to pineapple carpaccio, fondant au chocolat to apple pie à la mode. It’s all there, plus some. Did I mention the crêpe station? Or knefeh with kaak purses? A chocolate fondue fountain? Pomegranate and pine nut martini glasses? I’m telling you, the list is endless. And it was all I could do not to pounce on dessert before breaking bread and eating lunch in the conventional order.
|Knefeh with syrup and sesame buns|
|A chocolate fountain that's popular with both kids and adults|
Alas, when you’re dining with your in-laws, best to be prim and proper. The good news is that the savories were no less impressive. Shucked oysters, marinated salmon, smoked salmon, prawns, magret de canard, foie gras, fried chicken drumsticks, beef in mushroom gravy, seafood thermidor swimming in a creamy white sauce, a cheeseboard exhibiting the finest specimens from Europe…are you starting to build a mental picture of the sheer luxuriousness of this Sunday lunch?
|Seafood: boiled shrimp, smoked salmon, and raw marinated salmon|
|Various salads, including magret de canard (duck breast) in the center|
|Lebanese siyaddieh meets Spanish paella hybrid|
|Tender steak in mushroom gravy|
|Imported cheeses, raw nuts, and bread|
Lebanese cuisine figures heavily into the mix, too, with a plethora of mezza dishes like hummus, baba ghannouj, hindbeh, basterma, halloumi, nkhe3et (sheep brains), lsenet (beef tongue), harisseh, falafel, shawarma, sambousik, cheese rolls, kebbeh balls, grilled skewers of kafta, taouk, and lean beef. Anything you fancy from the Levantine kitchen, Gefinor Rotana’s got it.
|Lebanese mezza basics|
|From top: halloumi cheese drizzled with pesto, and basterma, or air-dried cured beef|
|Another shot of that piquant basterma!|
You’ll be glad to know that open wine, beer, juices and soft drinks are included in the meal deal, which weighs in at $45 per adult. Considering the breadth and premium quality of food being served, you’ll be hard-pressed to beat this beauty both in Beirut or beyond the capital’s borders.
There are a few other facets of lunch that markedly elevated the experience. First, service was faultless. We never once had to summon a waiter to clear the table, or replace a plate, or refill a cup. Even though it was a full house brimming jovially with families, we felt tended to and royally pampered every minute of our visit – shout-out to Allen and Hassan.
Second, the musician who strung chords on the oud and sung memorable Arabic melodies animated the dining environment considerably. Typically at other venues, your conversations are drowned out by cacophonous music blaring at high decibels. Not here. Soft, tasteful tunes made for the perfect ambiance.
And third, there’s a dedicated kids’ room replete with a movie corner, tables for coloring and drawing, rocking horses and plastic slides, and a ball pit. As children aren’t generally fond of beef tongue and oysters, there are five heated trays of mini burgers, fries, chicken tenders, pasta, and Lebanese m3ajanet to placate the little ones. Trust me, had I not gone to town on the mature buffet, I would have undoubtedly binged on fries and farfalle. Oh, what I’d do to be a kid again!
|My son Stephen enjoying the kids' playroom|
Now that I think of it, Gefinor Rotana’s Sunday buffet inspired that giddy feeling of excitement a child is overcome with when she beholds a jungle gym, or Totally Hair Barbie, or Jonathan Taylor Thomas (did anyone else have the hots for him back in the '90s? Don’t pretend you don’t know who I’m talking about!). This is a buffet you need to plan and pre-plan in order to thoroughly enjoy every square centimeter of its elaborate composition.
I guarantee you’re going to fall in love. And by God, be sure to sample the sfouf! I’ll be waiting for your testimonies and conversions.
Gefinor Rotana’s Sunday lunch is served from 12:30 PM to 3 PM. The price is $45 for adults, inclusive of open wine, beer, juices and soft drinks. Children ages 6-12 pay half price, while those under 6 are free of charge.
Clemenceau Street, Hamra
+961 1 371 888