Liz O’Reilly checked out the newly opened Bayt Fairouz Lounge and discovered a menu so authentic, you could be dining in Beirut.

They say first impressions are lasting and, if that’s the case, then Bayt Fairouz, in Saar, has certainly hit the nail on the head. An expansive space, art deco touches abound and there is a feeling of understated opulence, almost as if it’s saying, ‘we don’t need to brag’.

Velvet chairs, in soft pastels and, for once, at the right height for the marble-topped cast iron tables; a central chandelier coupled with eye-catching hanging lights; atmospheric wall décor and a vintage-looking bar, all combine to conjure an atmosphere of relaxation and enjoyment, with just a subtle hint that there might be a party to be had – yes, there will be live music and even karaoke in the not too far distant future.

The menu is extensive and it’s not easy to know where to start. Fortunately, we were treated to a selection of dips of which my favourites were the Moutabel, which had that distinct smoky taste that tells you the eggplants have been cooked over a naked flame, rather than baked in the oven, and the Tajine, which was completely new to me. It’s vegetable based and can be served as a completely vegetarian option, however ours had a hint of salty fish and was absolutely delicious with its slightly stiff texture and herby aftertaste.

Other standouts were the chicken livers – oh my goodness, a complete revelation. Liver is something I would usually run a mile from, but these were cooked to perfection; not a hint of the sliminess that I so abhor and with a wonderful texture and deep resonating flavour, almost gamey in its intensity.

Chilli fries, short and sweet with a crispy, fiery bite, had my dining companion exclaiming in pleasure. And a super-tasty lamb dish, of small pieces of meat with potatoes and herbs, is so new that it hasn’t been named yet. When you visit, just tell them you want what I had!

For the main dishes, we enjoyed Kebab Ofle, Mexican Kebab and a variety of fried Kibbeh that we were assured cannot usually be found outside of Lebanon. The authenticity of the dishes is a testament to the talent and creativity of Chef Rita, who is herself Lebanese.

The Kebab Ofle was moist and tasty, far less oily than kofta kebabs usually are, and along with the standard onions and parsley it was enriched with a faint hint of chilli and almonds – an interesting combination of flavours to keep your taste buds paying attention. The Mexican kebab offered juicy chunks of seasoned meats, including beef and chicken, served with a fiery salsa speckled with fierce green jalapeno peppers. For me the salsa made this dish, adding a kick to the tender meat that led to perfection. We certainly have to talk about the fried kibbeh, which came as a perfect crispy dome and had a different taste and texture to the smaller starter version we had tried earlier. The classic mix of cracked wheat and lean minced meat is there, but the herbs and spices include Arabic Seven Spice, mint, marjoram giving a faint hint of oregano, cinnamon, chilli powder and pomegranate. Altogether the greater size and volume of meat makes for a much moister and more pleasing texture, and the taste combination put me in mind of true, traditional comfort food – definitely one I’ll be coming back for.

And so, onto the desserts, of which there were several. Special mention must go to the Karabeej, a veritable tower consisting of rahash – the sweet, milky, tahini-based halwa; mahalabiya – the traditional creamy milk pudding; pistachios and a crumbly biscuit layer adorned with a Maraschino cherry. Literally the cherry on top. I have to say that, though extremely pleasing to look at, this was a little too much for me but the small squeals of delight coming from my dining companion (a full mouth rendering her incapable of actual speech) more than adequately conveyed the triumph of this impressive dish.

For myself, I chose the homemade chocolate ice cream that surprised with a texture more akin to mousse and was hiding delicious crispy flakes of chocolate at its base. Both texture – rich and gooey – and flavour – deep and satisfying, got my immediate seal of approval and I didn’t feel nearly so bad at missing out on the Karabeej.

With a pot of tea to finish, we were invited to savour one of the many flavours of shisha on offer, but decided we’d better get back to the office and do some real work. I’ll certainly be back though, particularly when the live music nights kick-in. ✤