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!
I hadn’t been to Beirut for nearly two years and in that time many new places have opened, including my new favourite, Villa Clara in Mar M’khayel where owners Olivier (ex pastry chef at le Grand Véfour) and Marie-Helene have created the most delightful restaurant, inside and outside where friends and family mingle over simple but exquisite dishes, made with locally sourced ingredients. Olivier cooks these expertly and with great precision but without any fuss. Just how I like to eat, at least most days! Anyhow, what made our lunch even more memorable was the wedding that was happening across the road which took me all the way back to when I lived in Beirut even if I never saw a similar wedding. Here are some fun pictures of our gorgeous day, both at Villa Clara and from across the road! And for those of you interested in my culinary tours, I will be doing one in Lebanon next fall with Villa Clara as our base! Details to be announced soon on my travel page.
I had wanted to go to Jammal, a fish restaurant near Batroun north of Beirut, for a very long time but had never gotten round to it. So, when my friend Jacquot (who is a fine bouche and always takes me to great places) suggested we have lunch at Chez Maggie, not far from Jammal, I asked if we could go to Jammal instead. I had been to Maggie’s. It’s fun but I knew from Mr Dabboussi, the handsome owner of the great Silver Shore in Tripoli, that Jammal was the place there. And so it was: a fabulous location, pieds dans l’eau as the French would say with the freshest fish (all caught locally) prepared to perfection, not to mention the super charming owner. You can see him in the clip below explaining about local fish, sadly for some in Arabic, and I cut just as he was about to tell me the name of the fish that many serve as red mullet but isn’t. Oh and the lady is not Jacquot who was sitting next to me.
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.