Melissa Nazareth spent an afternoon savouring modern takes on rustic dishes at Ô Liban, a newly opened dining hotspot.

We headed to Block 338, arguably the Kingdom’s most happening food district, on a Wednesday afternoon. The heat was at its peak and so, we were relieved to know that the restaurant has its own parking facility, albeit small.

Ô Liban is located inside one of the newly constructed villas in the area – you can see them from the highway. A white, doublestory villa with balconies, al fresco seating, foliage and natural light, it offers quite the Mediterranean ambience. The entrance has a wooden door carved with unique diamond and circle cutouts. The ground floor has a small coffee area, which leads to a bigger dining space. The equally spacious top floor has a main section and two smaller, enclosed ones for private dining. Giving a homely feel is Ô Liban’s uncrowded, verdant interior: simple sofas and comfortable cushioned chairs, concrete flooring, many indoor plants and scaffolding-style shelves stocked with books and other knick-knacks and 3D letters spelling Ô Liban Mon Amour, French for ‘Oh Lebanon my love’. I later learned that Ô Liban is an exclamatory phrase used when you behold something beautiful.

There’s a bar in the loft and we decided to start our weekend slightly early with the Ô Liban special Bloody Mary, a potent mix but great for those who enjoy anise flavoured drinks. We also tried the Lychee mixed drink and the Pom Art – a beautiful, pink drink with crushed black berries and garnished with a rosemary sprig.

The food menu is extensive, featuring typical Lebanese selections but with ‘The flavours of home’. We started off with Kale Tabbouleh – a clever spin on the traditional parsley salad. Creamy yet light and refreshing, it prepared our guts for the feast that followed. The juicy tomatoes and ruby red pomegranate seeds offered a contrast of colours, textures and flavours against the kale. Next came the Avocado Hummus, which was silken smooth enhanced by the velvety texture of mashed avocados; it tasted like guacamole, perfect with the tortilla shards garnishing the dish. We ate this with flat bread.

Our hot mezze was Soujuk – spicy, fermented sausages, served on a plate of tangy tomato gravy. They had an intense flavour from the aromatics such as garlic and onion and spices such as pepper. These dinky delights were tempting to poke with my fork and I lost count of how many I ate. The next dish was Fateh Warak Enab – rice stuffed vine leaves sat on a bed of crushed flat bread. Cut into bite sized pieces and mixed with crispy fried potato cubelets, all blanketed in a yoghurt sauce, they were just the right balance of tangy and tart.

After this, we tried Lahm B Ajine, Arabic for meat in dough. Sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, mint leaves and beetroot hummus droplets, this meaty thin crust pizza, so to speak, was light and airy. So was its vegetarian counterpart, Labneh Makdouss, which was served with refreshing toppings such as creamy labneh, pungent rocket leaves, sweet cherry tomato halves and salty, chopped up makdouss – oil-cured, stuffed aubergines – which tasted and looked like black olive slices. This was followed by Kibbeh Bl Laban or meat croquettes in a thick buttermilk sauce. Kibbeh are usually made as spheres or ellipses but Ô Liban plated this dish as you would a steak tartare; an island in the middle of an ocean of spiced, aromatic laban. It had the perfect crunchy shell stuffed with juicy minced meat, and the cold, tangy laban complemented the hot kibbeh well.

Next, we tucked into Shawarma Rice; the beef was succulent and the toasted pine nuts offered a nice crunch. The dish was packed with flavour but not too overpowering. We also had Vermicelli Rice, which was slightly mild for me as I like a bit of spice but I can understand how it would serve as the perfect backdrop to a meat-heavy meal. My favourite dish was Chicken Mousakhan Rice; garnished with tart barberries, toasted pine nuts and fried onions, the rice was beautifully pink and had a bite to it.

Our Levantine lunch was topped off with decadent desserts; immaculately plated, the knefe came dusted with pistachio crumble and rose petals. A thick layer of cheese topped with fried vermicelli, all soaked in sugar syrup, it was juicy – yes, that’s the word. Um Ali Croissant was a warm hug on a plate with the buttery croissant, milk and raisins. It too was garnished with rose petals and nut crumble in addition to coconut shavings. We also tried the Ô Liban special – cookie bits with pistachio ice cream and nuts, mounted with cotton candy.

Our final verdict – Ô Liban! ✤