When my friend Jacqueline mentioned L’Atelier as being the best place to eat in Beirut, I thought to myself “Yeah, whatever...” I had secretly sworn off most eateries as being either too expensive or too disappointing.
Well, serendipitously, I was invited there a couple of days later by a childhood friend I had not seen in a few (hmm..) decades.
L’Atelier is no ordinary restaurant. It is staffed by students of the hotel management school of the Université Saint-Joseph. The kitchen is under the creative direction of the hottest chef in Lebanon, Chef Maroun Chédid (more on him in another post!) and the most brilliant Pastry Chef Charles Azar.
To sum it up, I had the most exquisite meal and the best service! Furthermore, judging by a quick glance at the prices, for a fraction of the cost of any starred restaurant in a world capital.
Judge for yourself:
A bread basket with warm, fresh and crusty rolls made in-house.
An appetizer which consisted of a hummus trilogy, a brilliant interpretation of our classic hummus by Chef Chédid, with a medley of crisp veggies incorporated into the classic hummus.
The salad, which we split (it was huge) was a sweet and delicate, subtly-spiced construction including shredded cabbage, crabmeat, strawberries, kiwis, melons, grapefruit segments, all meshed with a light vinaigrette and a garnish of walnuts.
I ordered a local mediterranean fish, which came baked in a salt crust and, once the crust removed, was incredibly moist. My friend ordered a fabulously tender filet of beef, which came with some crispy potatoes carved in geometric shapes, on a bed of lightly steamed green beans. Classic but perfectly executed.
Of course, I was not going to pass up a dessert! In came the Tarte el-Khalil, a pistachio tart, with a rich pâte sablée, a most ethereal ashta (clotted cream), served with a dollop of sahlep ice-cream, some dots of rosewater-flavored sauce and a pecan and caramel crisp.
L’Atelier will not disappoint you; in fact, you will love the cuisine and the staff. The kitchen, which was graciously shown to me, is outfitted with the best equipment in the world, from sous-vide machines, to ovens or pastry sheeters and the standards of hygiene get the highest marks. (I have never been more impressed by a restaurant kitchen).
(I am taking my darling aunts and cousins there next week!)
Damas street (Rue de Damas)
Phone number (01) 426-474, Beirut (next to the French Embassy and the National Museum)