I can’t remember when my mother moved to Balluneh. I wasn’t happy because I loved our huge appartment in Beirut in a 1920’s building but it had been squatted during the civil war and even though my mother had gotten rid of the squatters (who were neighbours), she no longer felt safe there. So, she bought in Balluneh, away from the chaos of Beirut and close to her brother. I didn’t like the place at first but I do now, for all kinds of reasons including Qal’at el-Rumiyeh in neighbouring Qley’at where they rear their own lambs to serve the best nayeh ever — the only better nayeh is up north in places like Ehden where they make it with goat meat. They also have the most amazing view as you can see from the picture above. And whenever I visit, my mother knows that lunch at Rumiyeh is the first thing I want to do. It was no different this time except that we were joined by my sister and her husband, a rare couple who are still mad about each other nearly 40 years, 3 children and 2 grandchildren later!
Every now and then I have a perfect lunch and this is what happened today thanks to my friend Jerome and my brand new meat grinder. Jerome (who is head chef at Mosimann’s) gave me some fabulous lamb (from the top of the leg, which he calls single muscle) for me to make kibbeh nayeh. As for the meat grinder, I wouldn’t have bought one if I hadn’t lost Ramiz, my brilliant Lebanese butcher at Zeina who decided to return to the home country. This said, I am pleased to have it because I now have total control over my kibbeh which is not to say that I would not have left this control with Ramiz if he had not abandoned me and many other faithful clients! Anyhow, I thought I would share with you the way to the ultimate kibbeh nayeh.
Most people don’t like dining in an empty restaurant. I love it. I love the desolate atmosphere of an empty dining room and I love the undivided attention I get from both waiters and chefs, at least in places like Qal’at al-Rumiyeh, my favourite restaurant in the Lebanese mountains, near where my mother lives. Fortunately, the restaurant is not always empty. Only when I tend to go for midweek lunch when there isn’t a single soul there apart from the family that owns the restaurant, seated at their regular table by the door and my mother and I (I always insist we go there as soon as I arrive in Lebanon), not counting the waiters milling about with nothing to do. I don’t particularly like the place which is huge and pretty charmless, but I love the dramatic views over a deep valley and the Mediterranean in the distance and of course the excellent food.