This small restaurant (only 36 covers) is tucked away up a side street and is (if you are lucky) easily missed. I couldn’t say it’s like a corner of old Beirut, but Le Lys du Liban has a rustic charm and some of the biggest wooden ceiling beams I have ever seen – and they looked authentic, which is more than I can say for the food! (I am not going to give you the address as you won’t be going there.)
Things didn’t start well! We walked into the restaurant to find it empty with an overall impression of shabby. Just as we realised our error the “chef” appeared from under the bar. No, dear reader, I don’t mean from behind the bar but he was hidden out of sight and stood up in a state of shock…probably at seeing a customer!
This man was no more Lebanese than I am. He was tall (6ft 6 inches) with a pale complexion and reddish hair. He was huge and, although smiling, managed to seem a bit on the rough side. The sort that probably has friends by the name of Bugsy, No Nose and Knuckles. Now, I don’t want to offend anyone that has been christened with any of those names, but I hope they appreciate that en masse they are daunting!
The prospect of escape being cut off, we found our table (the one nearest the door) and resigned ourselves to the inevitable. BUT the menu looked quite good! Perhaps this was going to turn out to be the favourite lunch-time eatery for every office worker in the centre of town. Perhaps our early arrival had allowed us to sneak in and bag the best table and quick service in the most popular Lebanese restaurant north of Africa. Wrong. (You knew I was going to say that.)
We ordered mezze for 2 which supplied us with 12 different dishes. If you have been reading my reviews of books by Anissa Helou and others you will know all about mezze. To those who are new to the site I ask “What kept you?” and explain that mezze are rather like a Middle Eastern tapas, small dishes of various kinds of delicious (or should be) savouries.
A small pitcher of French rose cost 5€. Although there were a host of Lebanese wines on the list, it was only the French that came in either ½ bottles or 25cl pitchers. That was a shame as I would have liked to try some Lebanese wine. To drink a whole bottle alone (my companion had the car) would have been a bit too much even for my practised constitution! It was fortunate that only half their customers (me, that is) needed a wine glass, because the other glass still had traces of lipstick!
The basket of shop-bought pita arrived cold and in a plastic bag. (Note to waitress: Must try harder.)
OK, so it took a while for the food to arrive but there were 12 dishes to be made from scratch (yeah, right), and the mezze looked lovely. The waitress couldn’t tell us the ingredients in the dishes (she could have nipped out and read what it said on the plastic boxes) nor did she know the Lebanese names for the mezze.
Tabbooleh (herb and cracked wheat salad) was authentic in that it had mostly parsley, a hint of mint and a little cracked wheat but it had far too much salt.
Kibbeh (stuffed meat patties, usually my favourite). The shape was typical, like pointy meatballs but that was as near as they got to the succulent individuals that I am accustomed to.
Kafta (meat balls). The kafta were not hot but warmer than room temperature (the microwave was evidently on the blink) and were tasteless. The tomato sauce was from a tin and was very distinctly Italian spaghetti sauce.
Hummus (chickpea dip) was fine but I am sure it came in a catering pack.
Stuffed vine leaves with cracked wheat, mint and peppers was probably the most flavourful of the dishes.
Stuffed vine leaves with meat were tasteless.
Cheese-filled pastries were over-cooked to the extent that the pastry tasted bitter.
Chickpea and bean salad had a delicate flavour of cumin which was so delicate that there was hardly any flavour at all.
Aubergine salad (Baba Ghannooge) was too salty.
Cucumber and yogurt dip was fine but that would be hard to mess up!
Falafel came from the same place the hummus did.
Stuffed courgette was tasteless.
Le Lys du Liban would probably be an OK restaurant on a hot summer evening with a long table full of friends. We, on the other hand, spent the entire meal alone – if you don’t include the daft waitress, the pasty-faced chef, and the men delivering the catering packs of ready-made food. Our focus was on the meal and it wasn’t great. It didn’t kill us and it didn’t cost a lot. Having said that I couldn’t say it was value for money.
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018