Back in August, we decided with my sister to spend a long weekend in Prague. We’d never seen the city and its always been on my list, so off we went! In the weeks leading to our trip, we infinitely pinned things to do and places to see in one of Europes most magical cities. One pin led me to a food tour. I’d always wanted to see cities through the eyes of locals and discover how they spend their time, their weekends and holidays. After a bit of research, I found a tour called Prague Food Tour. From their website, we saw that it was something simple, fun and truly local. The guides were Leona and Georges and we were set for a few hours around local places.
The new kid in town. Bistr’eau. This place holds a very special place to my heart as it is my husband’s hard earned success. If you’ve been following us for a while, you know my husband Jean (initially an electrical engineer and financial consultant) is a food lover and amateur Chef. His dream for the past few years was to have that restaurant where he would go crazy and work on his passion. This summer, he found it.
If you’re faithful readers of this blog, you’ll know that half of my heart lives in London, the city of my childhood travels and last student year. What’s more, is that my sister’s been living there for the last three years so I’ve been visiting frequently. Inspiration strikes when I’m there and we constantly find loads of things worth sharing. So if you frequently visit London for work or to visit family and friends, here’s a series destined to give you a glimpse of the city through our eyes.
This week, it’s all about workweek lunch. Here are 5 places to grab a quick lunch in Soho/Covent Garden.
When my sister was here visiting, we had a great day at the beach around a BBQ and excellent wine (Chateau Sainte-Andrée) brought by John-Peter, a great friend of ours. I was nicely surprised by this delicious wine and I was fascinated by its story.
John-Peter’s father Paul Sacre has been a wine amateur for as long as he can remember. He’s always had his own wine cellar filled with bottles of wine from all over the world. Some of the bottles were even very old (with one of them dating from 1947!).
Paul used to spend his summers at his aunt’s in Mradiye, a small village next to Ghbele in North Lebanon. He loves this region and that’s why he ended up buying a 25,000 square meter land there and started making his own wine. Like any success story, this started as a hobby. During the first 2 years, Paul was making wine to have fun and enjoy it with his family. He then started to sell it in fairs and wine tasting exhibitions.
The vineyard produces almost 8,000 bottles per year: red (3 cuvées), white, rosé, fruity (peach) and 6 tastes of liquor.
The quantity they produce is not large but their aim is to produce the best quality there can be. Paul is helped by an oenologist for the mixes, the cork is wooden rather than silicon, which is better to preserve the wine’s quality and to be able to leave it in cellars for years (up to 12!).
The red wines are placed in French and Californian oak barrels for 8 to 16 months instead of aluminum or stainless steel which gives it a nice aroma.
Andree is the name of Paul’s wife (thus the name Sainte-Andrée) and each red wine cuvée has the name of his 3 children: Peter, Lynn and Laura.
It’s also worth mentioning that they also produce organic honey from the Jabal Moussa reserves that come from the pine trees, oak trees and fir trees. And they also produce their own vegetables (but those are not sold).
I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I did. To order the wine, you can call Paul Sacre directly on: +961 (3) 700 267
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Every culture has its own way of interpreting one dish. They all add their twists and spices, making it particular to their tastes and habits. Restaurants too have to gratify the palate of the people they are serving. One thing I’ve noticed about Italian restaurants in Beirut is that they add crème fraîche to a lot of their pasta sauces. Almost all Italian people I’ve met are quickly revolted by the act of adding cream to pasta sauces. They also consider the use of a spoon to roll your spaghetti as a disgrace. But here in Beirut, it is considered to be the proper practice of eating Italian food. Where did these habits come from you ask? From restaurants, of course. Who started it? I think it’s a chicken and egg type of story.
But it’s safe to say that the way the Lebanese have adapted Italian food has somewhat strayed away from the original cuisine. So because we can’t go to Rome everyday (check out 20 Things about Rome), we’ve been on a quest for ‘real’ Italian restaurants in Beirut.
My judgment of ‘what makes a restaurant Italian’ is personal but of credible experience. I’ve been to Italy a lot, read about their food, talked to people and been in their kitchens, cooked a carbonara and more with them, and visited their restaurants accompanied by locals.
In my mind, the ones that serve the famous spritz or bellini have the knowledge, the ones that serve dishes cooked with fresh ingredients have the quality, and the ones that present the place and the dish well have the honesty and authenticity.
There are many criteria that can lead you to judge a restaurant as being typically Italian and accordingly, I’ve ranked the top 10 I’ve tried in Beirut, keeping in mind that all of their menus contain dishes adapted to the taste of the Lebanese audience (hospitality rules oblige).
#1 Harry’s Bar
Harry’s Bar is my recent favorite. It is THE place to fine-dine, enjoy great wine and beautiful dishes. The staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable. The sommelier recommends excellent wine and the service is the most professional I’ve seen in a while. When it comes to the food, you won’t regret one bite of it. Apart from being exceptionally tasty, every dish is carefully crafted and full of colors. The presentation clearly reflects their recent Michelin Star touch. Don’t hesitate to go there for a nice, romantic dinner or even for a business lunch, where you’ll find a set menu for the circumstance. Make sure to try their Fleur de Courgettes with ricotta cheese, beef carpaccio, beetroot risotto and panna cotta. An unforgettable Italian experience in the heart of Beirut.
When walking into Totò, you’re struck by the simple yet uplifting décor. The way they managed to give an identity to the place while keeping the original charm of this old house is admirable. Waiters and staff are not only nice and helpful in your choice of dishes, but they also have a sense of humor. Their seafood risotto is one that I won’t forget. I also love their pizzas and their Totò Express concept upstairs for a more relaxed dinner experience or for takeaway and pizza night at home.
Every time I visit Rome, I go to my favorite place (Vicolo 88) for an absolutely delicious Spaghetti al Vongole. In my mission to find it in Beirut, it’s at Marinella that I discovered one very close to the taste I never forget. The interior is refreshing and the changing menu gives you the certainty that their ingredients are freshly picked. The presentation of their dishes is lovely and the waiters are friendly and professional.
#4 La Traviata
La Traviata doesn’t serve pizza but they sure make it up by serving the freshest pasta dishes in town. If I’m looking for a place to have a calm, relaxing lunch or dinner with a good dish of traditional pasta, this is the place I think of. They also have generous service, offering bites and nibbles before your order comes through, and great knowledge about Italian wine. Oh, and no ketchup allowed! Their carbonara, tiramisu and most importantly their tortellini al cioccolato are a must-try.
The best thing about Cucina is its location. Located in the most modern and trendy part of Beirut, it’s a good place for hip lunches in the sun and dinners. The staff is welcoming and friendly. Their appetizers and risottos are a good choice followed by pain perdu for dessert, which is worth a try. I’m heading there for a friend’s birthday tonight to enjoy a nice setting for this special occasion rather than the relatively average food.
Al Dente’s risottos are a must-try as well as their desserts. This hidden place gives a feel of authentic old Italy mixed with a refined character. Their appetizers include the famous Melanzane gratinate alla Parmigiana and Mozzarella di Buffala which is one of my favorite mozzarellas. It’s an excellent place for a special occasion.
Dottore is the type of place where you go for comfort food and good wine. Burrowed in one of Hamra’s inner streets, it’s the perfect place to spend a cozy night with a few friends. All you need is their wooden-oven baked pizzas, the spinach crepe and really good Italian wine that the staff will perfectly recommend, and you’re set for a great night.
Nestled in one of the inside streets of Mar Mikhael, Mario e Mario offers a very special menu. Get ready to taste dishes you haven’t before, as this fine-dining Italian knows how to use fresh ingredients and transform them into a beautiful and innovative dish. The place is charming and romantic and the table is set with special little touches. I also love the use of fresh ingredients in all of their dishes. You’ll also be very happy with their famous olive oil and bread served before your main order.
#9 La Posta
If you’re planning on booking a night out at La Posta, make sure you ask to be seated outside. The staff shows gusto for Italian food, and their pizza is not too thick or too thin. Their portions are generous but you can be sure you’ll get a refined presentation. Go for a seafood linguine with a nice wine or head there for Saturday brunch with friends or family.
If you’ve been to Italy, you must be familiar with the Aperitivo concept. L’Osteria is one of the rare Italians in Beirut that master the Spritz and its accompaniments. Their dishes are also appetizing and typically Italian. You can head there around 7 pm for a fresh Spritz and a cheese/cold cuts platter. They also serve homey dishes that will satisfy your tasty Italian food cravings.
Any Italian place to add to the list?
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I can’t complain about our national food. The mezza and everyday dishes are nothing but healthy (unless you over-use oil or fatty ingredients) and full of flavor. But my weakness for spices and that mix of different ingredients that varies from one culture to another, gets the better of me every time I have to choose where to go out for a meal. I’m afraid to say that I prefer a great ethnic meal over our traditional food contrary to Jean’s opinion, but we’re working towards a compromise 😉
What I mean by the word “ethnic” is precisely what I mentioned above. For some (like myself), ethnic is food from other cultures, in which ingredients we know are used differently and ingredients we don’t know are there for us to discover. For others, the meaning of ethnic is different as it is only meant for specific cultures or countries around the world.
So when we don’t feel like cooking at home, here are the top ethnic food places we visit in Beirut that give my palate what it needs to feel satisfied.
1) Mótto, Mar Mikhaël, Beirut. This charming bohemian-style little place is located in one of Mar Mikhael’s streets. We went there several times for brunch (once for Sri Lankan and another time for Palestinian which was cooked by my good friend Hisham from Cook in 5 m2). I heard they also make exquisite Ethiopian meals so that’s on my list!
2) Little China, Monot, Beirut. If you’re looking for a simple and authentic place to have a casual dinner with friends, that’s your place to go. Food is delicious and affordable.
4) Jaï, Clémenceau, Beirut. Thaï food places are rare in Beirut. Jaï satisfies your Asian food cravings provided you reserve in advance as the place is tiny. They deliver but I’d advise you to go and have your meal there for a fresher experience.
I have yet to try one of the Indian restaurants here in Beirut and let you know which one is my favorite. Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated 🙂
What are your favorite ethnic food restaurants in Beirut? I’d love to know!
We live in a world where freelancing is becoming the trend, where bloggers are increasing and where meetings take place in trendy places instead of a standard office. Coffee shops are thus the place to be. A few days ago, I got a message from a friend asking us where he could go sit and work calmly with fast wifi and a nice cup of coffee. That’s when it dawned on me that I only knew about 2 places – the ones I visit all the time. But there surely had to be others. So I kept digging in my head and came up with those 5 places I think are the top to go work in.
Breadonbutter’s Top 5 Coffee shops to work in Beirut
Urbanista – Gemmayzé
The interior of the place is already enough to make you productive and creative. It’s really a coffee shop/library where you can spend the day working, eating and meeting people.
L’Appartement Beirut – Sioufi, Ashrafieh
This is a calmer place to work for days when you really have to concentrate. This charming appartment turned coffee shop/drinks/art showcasing place is welcoming and warmly decorated.
Dar Bistrot and Books – Clémenceau, Hamra
I like to go work at Dar on mornings just because of their excellent breakfast. If the weather is not too hot, their garden can be used as your inspirational place. Book lovers, prepare to rejoice.
Balima – Saifi Village
A quiet place in the midst of the city, surrounded by painting-like architecture will sure spruce up your creativity. A nice tea pot and your laptop will suffice.
Papercup – Mar Mikhael
Papercup has no wifi but you can take it as good news and go there to quietly work offline, surrounded by books. Order a latte and a piece of their daily cake and you’re all set! You can read all about the place on this link.
Where do you work? Any additional recommendation?
Back in Rome last August (click here for more details), we fell in love with this place my sister had recommended (here). On the day we stumbled upon Sant’Eustachio Caffé, we weren’t really looking for it, but just the sight of it made us feel like we had reached an oasis in the middle of the August heat. Once we’d taken a seat on one of the tables outside, we quickly learnt the difference of price between being served outside or just having a quick coffee inside, standing at the coffee bar. We opted for a seat, 1 cold coffee for me, one fresh Kampari/Orange for Jean and both of our captivating books. I can still feel the charm and pleasantness of it all 🙂
Sant’Eustachio Caffé is located in the heart of Rome, just minutes away from Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, facing the actual Basilica named for the martyr of Saint Eustace. We went there twice while we were there for a nice coffee a l’italiana. When you enter to order, you learn the charming story of this place.
Sant’Eusatchio has been successful and crowded since 1938. Kissinger and many other international famous people have visited it. I say Kissinger because the owners are so proud of his visit that they hung the newspaper story about it on the wall and on their website (you can see the picture below).
Sant’Eustachio is not merely a Coffee shop, but also a Roaster. Brothers Raimondo and Roberto Ricci began running the Caffè in 1999 to continue the family tradition of selecting coffee varieties and offering a range of product prepared with a legendary secret blend. Their priority is only one: ensure consistent quality. The Sant’Eustachio coffee blend is made with the best Arabica beans. The raw coffee is slowly roasted over wood.
You can of course sit down for a nice cup of coffee but you can also purchase it and make it at home.
All the coffee varieties, roasted, washed and selected, are top quality. The freshness and the high quality of the product guarantee an ever fresh fragrance and a quintessential aroma which cannot be found in the coffees of large-scale retail trade.
Of course, the place is now more touristic and more expensive than typical Italian coffee places, but in my opinion, at least one visit there would be a nice addition to your trip.
Another great thing about Sant’Eustachio Caffé is their Buon Caffé initiative
The Buon Caffé Program is an initiative by Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè. The Program consists in donating the extra proceeds from the sale of the traditional Sant’Eustachio Blend to COOPFAM, the Brazilian Fairtrade certified co-op from which Sant’Eustachio buys coffee. The protagonist of this initiative is the consumer who, through a traceability procedure, can actually control the use of the proceeds.
Have you been to Rome? Any other places to recommend?
Unlike last winter, this one promises to be cold and rainy. Unsurprisingly, everyone seems happy about it. After all, we needed the water and we all miss going skiing on weekends and splurging on Fondue dinners at night in front of a cool fireplace. Over the years, we have explored a lot of cozy places with nice chimneys. So to give you ideas on what to do and where to go this winter, here’s a first list of some of the best fireplaces in town.
Lola – Bikfaya – Lebanon
Located in the heart of the mountains, Lola is a warm restaurant with a magnificent view that opens its doors in summer and winter. For spicy lovers, I strongly suggest their special spicy fondue. You won’t regret it!
Byblos Sur Mer – Jbeil – Lebanon
This cozy hotel holds a special place in my heart as that’s where we got married a year ago. With a view over the great Byblos port, they also offer a comfy place to sit and relax by the chimney. Grab a book, order a nice hot cocoa and read the day away.
La Maison de la Forêt – Bkassine – Lebanon
Ideal for a weekend away in summer and winter, La Maison de la Forêt is the perfect hideaway. Snuggle with family around their fireplace and enjoy Tawlet Bkassine’s food.
La Gargote – Broumana – Lebanon
One of the rare authentic bistrots in the country, La Gargote‘s atmosphere has always stayed true to itself. Head there for a nice Soupe à l’Oignon and enjoy the crackles of the chimney wood in the background.
Ristorante La Traviata – Gemmayze – Lebanon
For the ultimate urban winter experience, you must try La Traviata‘s grilled chestnuts! The best thing about it all is that you get to sit outside with your coat still on, sipping wine and eating bits of parmesan cheese. It’ll be up and running by Monday so hurry up and book a table.
Pierre and Friends – Batroun – Lebanon
If you just can’t get away from the sea for long, Pierre and Friends‘ fireplace is the place to be.
Shangrilla – Laqlouq – Lebanon
For a quiet weekend with board and card games, head to Shangrilla Hotel in Laqlouq and relax by the fireplace. They also just launched their fondue and raclette menu so you’re in for a nice treat.
I hope you enjoyed the list and I’d love to know your feedback if you try any of the places! Any other fireplaces suggestions?
Giovanni De Luca, is a person I have known for exactly 9 years. You can therefore imagine I know him quite well, especially that we were born on exactly the same day. As a fellow Leo, I can safely say that he is determined. Having an Italian father and a Lebanese mother, he had the opportunity a few years ago to go live and do business in Rome, his city of origin. And there he went, determined to make it happen. A few years later, I’m sitting in Vicolo 88 – Garden, amazed by what he has accomplished.
While we were in Rome 2 weeks ago, we went to Vicolo88 twice (the garden, that is – because there are two Vicolo 88: one in the center in Via Dell’Orso, more of a Bistrot; and one in EUR, in the outskirts of the city, which is more for the summer and the good weather and is outdoor with a garden and fabulous Italian music).
Once you arrive at Vicolo88 – Garden (Viale America, 18 – 00144 – Eur – Roma – Tel +39 06 87728001), you immediately feel good, relaxed and ready for a really nice and cool evening. A Spritz is a must upon your arrival (it’s literally one of the best Spritz I have ever tasted), followed by (hold on tight) potato peels, fried and sprinkled with pecorino cheese! Yes. Believe it my friends.
What followed was an array of beautiful and tasty dishes that make me want to go back and eat up. I’ll let your eyes savor them for now – until you’re sitting there yourselves!
And last but not least, dessert!