Here's an easy way to tell how good your meal at a Levantine restaurant is going to be: order muhammara first. If this classic Levantine dip of red peppers, garlic, walnuts, and pomegranate molasses has balance – it's equal parts creamy, tangy, sweet and spicy, with a beautiful nutty textural bite – you're in good kitchen hands. At Rue du Liban in Kalaghoda, the muhammara is ace; Yotam Ottolenghi might approve, and you will eat it by the spoonful.
The restaurant, which shares its very French name with a street in Paris' 20th arrondissement, is a mix of Beiruti Art Deco and French bistro style. With its maroon booths, dangling glass leaves, filigreed lights, and aged mirrors, Rue du Liban is beautiful, dark, sexy, and once the door closes behind you, transportive. One well-travelled dining companion said it reminded her of Manhattan French brasserie and institution “Balthazar at 2am, where you'll know most of the people in the room”. To us, it brought memories of raki-scented meals along the Bosphorus.
There isn't any of this anise-scented liquor available at Rue du Liban yet (it only has a decent wine list at the moment) but everything else about the restaurant – the selection of dishes, the way the servers pronounce their names, the table sauces – show a deep commitment to flavours Levantine.
Toum and harissa come in little bowls. The garlic sauce is fluffy, buttery, and very white, suffused with a delicate, assertive garlic flavour; the hot pepper paste is creamier than expected, but don't be fooled, it bites back. In moutabel beetroot, the sweet and earthy vegetable puree gets body from tahini, and in the light and lemony labneh mtawameh, the topping of chopped marinated olives, dried mint, olive oil, and garlic does the same. With puffy pita and a glass of wine, these make an excellent start to a meal.
Spare space for halloumi, which does not belong in the salad section. The salty cheese is treated like a piece of meat or fish, grilled (and we suspect, deep fried) until it develops a well-built crust and is topped with a refreshing pile of pomegranate molasses, pomegranate arils, arugula, and cherry tomatoes in a lemon, olive oil dressing.
Skip past the bakery section for now – fatayer b'sabanekh has stodgy, barely flaky pastry that smothers its filling of spinach, onions, pine nuts, sumac, and dukkah. Instead, have house-made soujok, garlicky bullets of coarse ground lamb in a bell pepper marinade topped with pistachio. They're a bit more firm than the ones we've tried in Istanbul, but the flavour is bang on.
We were skeptical about having water buffalo meat instead of beef in lahme meshwi, but Rue du Libane's treatment of the charcoal grilled meat let it shine. The meat was only gently marinated, interspersed with wobbly little chunks of flavourful fat and served on flatbread smeared with harissa. A side salad of onions dusted with sumac and parsley made us want to roll it up and eat it, lahmacun-style.
The menu is bookended with sesame – after our moutabel we found it in our dessert, in a scoop of tahini ice cream to be specific. Like the deeply floral mastic ice cream, it arrived under an inverted sugar cone. After, we couldn't say what's sweeter at Rue du Liban – the dessert, or the service. We'll definitely be back to confirm.
Getting there: 43 Sasoon Building, adjacent to Ayub's, VB Gandhi Marg, Kalaghoda, Fort. Call 2286 4444 or 7045000015. Currently open for dinner service only. Meal for two is approximately Rs 5,000, with one drink each.
bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.
Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in NYC, lives in Mumbai and writes mostly about food and travel for many a publication. She’s a contributing editor at Vogue magazine, and her words have also been found in Conde Nast Traveller, Mint Lounge, Scroll.in, The Hindu, Saveur, The Guardian, and Travel + Leisure, among others. She's crazy about obscure ingredients, and she always knows where to go back for seconds. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @roshnibajaj.
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