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10.04.2017

In my childhood in Dubai, Lebanese food was a weekly event at an outdoor restaurant near the creek where the dhows went out with loads for India. Kebabs arrived in steaming plates, brought by proud servers with dry stares. Hummus appeared in white corrugated trays, with a hollowed centre that held magically limpid olive oil, chickpea, and mint. The place had it sorted. Hummus was chicken soup for the Lebanese soul. And it remained the same, for weeks, for years. Remembering this is easy. Small places turn our attentions to small things.

It is to Mumbai’s great misfortune that every promising new Lebanese restaurant eventually descends into dullness, languishing in the low threes on Zomato. But on soldier new proprietors and customers anyway, each hoping for a meaningful life for the venture.

With Beirut, a new takeaway place in Bandra, the promise is in the name. Of fresh mint, of crispy falafels, of tahini oozing generously, of lamb kebabs and wet khoubz (or loubnani, or pita).

As it happens, the only promise Beirut holds is in its name. It simply isn’t ready, and its hard to see how it will be, when its idea of Lebanese food is neither Lebanese nor particularly edible.

Take hummus. What is there to hummus? Soften chickpea for a while, cook the stuff (or don’t), throw in some sesame paste, a little garlic, lots of olive oil and, if you’re feeling adventurous, a little yoghurt. Have someone tell you that you forgot salt, add salt, overcompensate, add more chickpea. Nothing along the way turns hummus pink or orange, the colour of the paste that arrived in tiny unlabelled boxes from Beirut. 

It is to Mumbai’s great misfortune that every promising new Lebanese restaurant eventually descends into dullness, languishing in the low threes on Zomato.

What is this, I said loudly, startling the flying bug that fell out of one falafel, flapped its wings in preparation for takeoff, and drowned in the flavourless paste I poured over it in self-defence. I quickly saved my children from the open face shawarma and its mushrooms and stared at the lamb kebabs - four tiny roasted digits that looked like they should have come with a ransom note. 

The bread we were sent was clearly a dare, and so I sealed it well after sniffing it, returned everything to their boxes, found a large enough trash bag, and sealed that as well before flinging it outside because our building cats are wise but not very smart. Then I opened the windows and dialled up every fan.

As I write this I think about balance, consideration, sympathy, understanding, and other things writers tell themselves in the hope of accumulating karma points for when their book comes out. Restaurants aren’t easy. And Mumbai is hard enough without the food Taliban messing up meat supply chains.

But come on. Every ingredient, every combination, every preparation here screamed of a befuddling indifference to hygiene, taste and paying customers. And here's the thing: according to the laws that govern Lebanese restaurants in Mumbai, Beirut hasn’t even begun its decline.

Getting there: Beirut, 33rd Road, call 30151766, Rs 1200 for a family meal. 

This review was contributed by a journalist who grew up in Dubai and (occasionally) makes his own hummus. 

 

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Food & Drink