Liz O’Reilly visited Byblos, the gorgeous new restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay, for an evening of refined Lebanese dining.

Byblos sits on the hotel’s private beach and we arrive at the restaurant through the lush garden. I am immediately impressed with the décor with atmospheric lighting, including tiki-style lamps flickering on the beach and fairy lights on the tables. White wicker seating is adorned with deep turquoise cushions and the atmosphere is festive with the sliding glass doors opening to the elements on a beautifully breezy evening. Perhaps the most stunning aspect is the view, with Byblos gazing across the dark water to the glittering Manama skyline, a vista that’s enjoyed from every table and also from the separate outdoor garden hookah area.

We settle to enjoy the sounds of a DJ playing light electronic music and first to the table is a selection of appetisers, including hummus, muhammara, Warak Enab (stuffed vine leaves), pumpkin mutabal – slightly sweet and definitely my favourite – and Mafroutkit Tajen – a mix of tahini, thyme, raisins, nuts and onions. I’ve not had this before and really enjoy the inclusion of sweet raisins among the other savoury elements.

Stuffed vine leaves are a dish I usually avoid, there’s just something about the look of the dark green leaves that really puts me off. However, this is the Four Seasons, it’s a Lebanese signature appetiser and I already love Chef Tony El Khoury’s food, so I decide to give it a try. I’m not disappointed. Sharply lemony from the simmering of the leaves, the rice, tomato, onion and mint mix is surprisingly tasty – surely the seven-spice blend has worked its magic, offering very faint hints of the sweetness of cinnamon coupled with earthy turmeric. An absolute joy for the taste buds.

A Beetroot Carpaccio is so pretty to look at that it seems, almost, a sin to tuck in. But eat it we do, and with great relish. The sweetness of the beet makes a delicious contrast to salty feta and smoky walnuts, while mixed leaves have the whole concoction bursting with the tart goodness of fresh, garden produce.

We are served a good selection of hot mezzes and I immediately zone in on the mini arayes. Generously stuffed, the meat kofta boasts delicate and delicious seasoning, leaving a lingering sense of warmth and the fried pitta imparts a wonderful crispy texture.

The kibbeh balls take this humble option to the next level – the firm crust on the outside giving way to a flavourful and fluffy interior, I could honestly eat only these and the pumpkin mutabal and be quite happy. The batata harra – spicy potatoes – are a great favourite for me, no matter which cuisine I find them in. They arrive at the table piping hot and wonderfully crunchy, their coating redolent of peppers, garlic and chilli and deeply satisfying.

A manakish chicken shawarma is deliciously garlicky, a different take on the popular street food and oh so moreish. I love the pairing with mozzarella, which adds a great depth to the flavour combination, and the lightness of the flat bread ensures it doesn’t interfere with the following dishes.

Next up is Shrimp Fattah. I’ve lived in the Middle East a lot of years, but I think this is the first time I have encountered this particular dish. I am bowled over. Composed of shrimps, eggplant, garlic yoghurt and coriander with pine nuts and fried bread, it is superb. The sparky tanginess of the yoghurt blends beautifully with the smoky aubergine in a rich, almost creamy, sauce that perfectly complements the sweetness of the seafood. The pinenuts give a delightful earthy touch alongside the crispy fried bread.

Our first main is the mixed grill and I think I can honestly say I have never eaten better lamb chops. Using the highest quality Australian meat, they are thick and deliciously succulent, the outer lightly charred, the inner delicately pink with the juices running. Served on a mini table grill, the shish tawouk is also of excellent quality, the familiar flavours bursting forth, while the meat tikka brings a delicately spicy flavour to the mix and is, again, beautifully tender to the bite.

However, for me, the Lamb Shank Ouzi is the standout dish of the evening. My dining companion even declares it comparable to that prepared by his late Lebanese mother-in-law, high praise indeed. Wrapped in a roasted bread case, our server takes great pride in cutting it open at the table, releasing a wonderful aromatic steam that tells of hours of slow cooking, rendering the shank meat so tender as to literally fall from the bone. The ouzi rice with ground beef bears a deliciously subtle spice blend, no single taste overpowering the others but instead coming together to form a splendidly rich combination speaking of years of history, with mixed nuts adding an earthy crunch. Served with gravy and yoghurt, it is a dish we both go back to several times, each mouthful a symphony of tastes and textures, deeply rewarding for us diners and, I’m sure, for our talented chef.

The finale of our grand repast is Kunafa – the warm, golden baked cheese dessert topped with pistachios and served with ice cream. A sight to behold, it looks amazing but, alas, with all that has gone before, I simply do not have an ounce of space left. That famous dessert stomach – the one that always has room for a little something sweet – has completely deserted me.

But perhaps this sad failing is for the best, since I now have even more excuse for a return visit. Byblos and Chef Tony, thank you. I shall be back soon. ✤