We’ve got to give it to the food and beverage team at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr whose aggressive industry approach in the last year or so has led to the opening of not one, not two, not three, but four new restaurants concepts. Adding Puesto Del Sol (outdoor lounge), Cafe Sushi (Japanese), Sports Cafe (sports bar) and Maison Beirut (Lebanese) to their impressive repertoire of dining options.
The newly opened Maison Beirut takes over a space previously inhabited by Cedar Lounge (another Lebanese concept) but begs one obvious question. With such an abundance of Arabic options in the capital, do we really need another Lebanese restaurant?
Heading into 2018 it’s a particularly difficult time for the hospitality industry. With seemingly fewer people dining out and the continued impact of ‘voucher culture’ taking their toll on the UAE’s ever-evolving dining landscape. Yet the number of new openings is astonishing, as are the list of casualties! With the first of 2018 being the magnificent Zahira, a modern Middle Eastern concept from Chef Greg Malouf which recently closed its doors after just seven months in operation in Dubai’s H Hotel.
On first impression, Maison Beirut appears to have all of the right components for a pleasing dining experience. The entrance to the restaurant is fronted by a classic car before giving way to a large dining room furnished with lavender upholstery and brilliant white woodwork. Despite a pleasing visual appeal accentuated by mirrored columns and slender archways, our choice to dine at lunchtime may have been a slight oversight resulting in a distinct lack of atmosphere! We’re assured this is not the norm, with Maison Beirut providing live entertainment on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Yet at 1pm on a Saturday we struggle to shake the feeling of conference hall or canteen, hoping the food can make up for the severe lack of ambience.
Things are compounded further by the service we receive, veering between friendly and disinterested depending on which member of the team you get. This lack of consitancy equates to a jarring style of service which doesn’t quite complement the dainty floral crockery and rose-folded napkins that sit before us.
Maison Beirut’s menu offers up the expected Lebanese classics and we’re quick to order a selection of hot and cold mezze – Hummus Avocado (AED 35), Raheb (AED 33), Sujuk Cheese Rolls (AD 45) and Maison Beirut Halloumi (AED 39). Priced slightly higher than one might expect, the plating of the dishes is certainly refined and reflects the fine dining approach that Maison Beirut is looking to achieve. The resulting dishes offer a mixed bag, with the avocado hummus making little impact in terms of flavour. A disappointment which is reinforced by the offering of packeted bread rather than freshly baked pita. The grilled halloumi also fails to make an impression. Cooked alongside onions and tomatoes inside a warm skillet, the mixture is doused in so much lemon juice it proves difficult to taste much else.
Thankfully it’s not all bad and the Raheb transpires to be of particular note. The plating is exquisite with the mixture prepared in a mold, meaning it resembles more of a terrine than a dip and the smoky eggplant mix offers prominent flavours, adorned with bejewelled pomegranate seeds. The crisp Sujuk Cheese Rolls are also good, with melted cheese hidden within golden parcels that show minimal oil residue considering they’ve been deep fried.
Forgoing the usual kebabs, kofta, shawarma and ouzi. We instead opt for the Seafood Platter (AED 170) of chargrilled shrimps, hammour fillet and fried calamari that’s presented on a bronze embossed tabletop barbecue. It’s a fair-sized offering with each individual element cooked well, allowing the shrimps to take on the charred flavour from the grill. While thecalamari is fried in a light batter than doesn’t overwhelm the flavours or texture of the mollusk.
If you opt to dine at Maison Beirut we’d encourage you to skip straight to the chef’s specialities section of the menu, which offers some interesting reinterpretations on the likes of falafel and kibbeh. We’re enticed into trying the Baklawa Bi Al Lahmen (AED 85), a savoury take on the popular Middle Eastern dessert, baklava. Transforming a dessert into a signature main is a brave endeavour and one that fortunately pays off. Layers of sweet flaky pastry, oozing with cheese and packed full of beautifully seasoned meat make for an exceptional dish that’s miles above anything else on the menu (ending up on our top 17 dishes for 2017). We’ve also heard great things about another of the chefs signature dishes, the Lahem Bil Fakhara, which cooks meat and vegetables in a flaming claypot in similar fashion to the show-stopping Hilvan Tava from Petek.
After such a memorable main, the desserts don’t quite leave the lasting impression we would’ve hoped for. With large portions being the primary thing going in their favour. With Arabic sweets and desserts renowned for overwhelming sweetness, our Madlouka Bil Kashta (AED 65) of pistachio, kunafa dough and cream was severely lacking in sweetness and came across as more than a little bland. Similarly, the Ghraybeh Bil Chocola (AED 55), a dish of Middle Eastern butter cookies encasing a large serving of Nutella, was so dense that even with a promising homemade Lebanese ice cream, became a struggle to finish!
Maison Beirut shows some promise but needs refinement in some of the dishes and a major overall when it comes to service levels. Granted we may not represent the target demographic of the restaurant but with so many Lebanese choices vying for diners attention, Maison Beirut doesn’t quite make the impact we expected. There’s certainly a USP in terms of plating and the chefs signature dishes but is it enough to pull diners away from their current favourite spots? It’s still early days but it’s unlikely we’ll be rushing back again anytime soon…
Location: Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Al Maqtaa, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 12pm – 1am (3:30am on Thuesdays)
Phone: 02 304 8306
Out & About UAE were guests of Maison Beirut. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.