A Crowning Iftar Experience at the Crowne Plaza Beirut

It had been decidedly too long since my first visit to the Crowne Plaza Beirut, tucked in the heart of Hamra along the main drag. Standing tall – a formidable 21 floors to be exact – with sweeping panoramic views of the Lebanese capital city, the Crowne Plaza, an IHG (Intercontinental Hotels Group) property, has so much going for it.

To begin, the underground self-parking facility cannot be overlooked, as parking is typically nightmare-inducing elsewhere in Beirut. At just 200,000 LBP (USD 2.20) for up to four hours, this is a bargain. Alight the elevator at the ground floor, where a few steps westward will land you at the threshold of the Crowne Plaza. The hotel boasts 190 rooms, and I’m told that you can nab a room with complimentary breakfast buffet including VAT for about $100. You really can’t beat that in or outside of the city!

Last Friday, we forayed into Hamra with the aim of trying the Iftar, a traditional Ramadan feast enjoyed at sunset, at Crowne Plaza’s Vivaldi restaurant. I’d learned that Chef Ihab Sharaf, previously serving the Radisson Blu Martinez for two decades, had been lured to the Crowne during the height of the Covid era, in 2021. To be a guest once more of his reliably classical Lebanese cuisine would certainly be a treat, so we arrived eager with anticipation around 6:30 PM, just as the finishing touches were being laid on the buffet.

We were greeted with effusive warmth by the staff, who led us to our table overlooking Michel Chiha street. I ventured over to the buffet to sneak a peek at the grand meal that awaited us. And this is how it went.

Two soups herald the beginning of the parade of dishes: split red lentil and vegetable. House-croutons and wedges of lemon accompany both. Next up, a tower of savory pastries, featuring melt-in-your-mouth dough giving way to various fillings, like cheese, ground meat with onions, and spinach. Spring rolls make an unexpected albeit welcome presence!

On to the salads, where a wreath-like fresh zaatar salad dotted with pomegranate seeds will rev your appetite as it leaves a tingling sensation on your tongue. Unearth a dazzling rocket salad with red onion tossed in sumac, crowned with Parmesan shavings. But what really elicited my delight were the dainty ramequins of creamy hummus and finely diced beetroot in olive oil. Such an outstanding presentation matched only by an equally outstanding taste!

Tabbouleh, hummus, mtabbal, and more...notice the food art!

Behold the individual portions of diced beetroot -- so elegant!

An enticing tower of savory pastries (spinach is far and away my favorite!)

I assembled a plate of the aforementioned with gentle care, heading back to my table with giddy earnest. The waiter offered us the conventional Ramadan juice of “jellab,” chockfull of sultana raisins and blanched almonds and cashews. I’ve attended a few iftars this season, but the jellab I sipped on were either too watery or overly sugary. This version was absolutely perfect.

My entrees

A superior jellab drink chockfull of sultanas and nuts

After I’d tucked in to the cold mezze, I approached the hot dishes with calculated restraint – I wanted to sample a bit of everything and still have ample room for dessert. The batata harra is exactly as your mother would prepare it – large, imperfect cubes of fried potatoes adorned with just the right dose of piquancy and cilantro. There’s a casserole of penne pasta, followed by oriental rice with lamb and sautéed nuts, chicken moghrabieh, samke harra, and a rice pilaf. I homed in what I haven’t had in ages: samke harra, or fried white fish filets doused in a fragrant tomato relish. And lucky was I, because it hit all the right notes in terms of tenderness, spiciness, and overall flavor profile.

The hot dishes, beginning with batata harra

I meant to help myself to a second serving, but alas my impatience for sweets overcame my better judgment. I found myself piling up a plate of classic Lebanese goodies, like atayef, mafroukeh, and mhallabieh. There was also decadently chocolaty sponge cake to sate even the most fastidious of dessert aficionados. And if you could tear yourself away from all the sugar, there was a pyramid of fresh fruit including bananas, kiwi, strawberries, apples, and oranges to remind you that you are in the land of milk and honey. I say that with the utmost sincerity, because the fruit is so profoundly and naturally sweet, that my father declared with confidence he hadn’t enjoyed a Golden Delicious apple this good in 40 years.

The dessert display

We ended our feast with café blanc, or hot water tinged with orange blossom water, the ideal digestif after a filling Lebanese banquet. By this point, we’d relocated to the downstairs lobby area, where a lovely fountain behind a glass panel gushed cathartically.

I reveled at my rediscovery of the Crowne Plaza Beirut and vowed not to let another six years come between me and my next dining experience at this fine establishment. Given the fact that Executive Chef Ihab is manning the kitchen, I’m fairly certain I’ll be back in no time.

Executive Chef Ihab Sharaf

Crowne Plaza Beirut

Hamra Main Street, Beirut

+961 1 734100

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