Etihad Towers requires little introduction. An iconic glass structure comprising of five slender towers rising from the ground like shards of glass – penetrating the skyline for all to see. An integral part of the Abu Dhabi cityscape this lifestyle destination is more than just a five-star hotel and residential complex, having seen superstars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker ‘jump’ a Lykan HyperSport supercar between the towers in the 2015 movie Fast & Furious 7 and cementing the structure into Hollywood movie history in the process.
The stunt may be memorable but perhaps not as impressive as the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers luxury hotel that can be found within one of the glittering skyscrapers. Home to 382 rooms and suites, an elegant spa, private beach, and a selection of 12 eclectic restaurants and bars. It’s here at Li Beirut on podium level two of the five-star property that we find ourselves, following the restaurants win as ‘favourite Lebanese restaurant’ at the FACT Dining Awards Abu Dhabi 2018.
Li Beirut has long been recognized as one of the most popular Lebanese restaurants in the capital, having garnered an impressive collection of accolades and a loyal following since inception. What sets this particular restaurant apart from the slew of Middle Eastern eateries in the city is Li Beirut’s fearlessness. For the cuisine is unafraid to be different, taking the traditional food of the Levant and adding a unique modern twist.
Situated in a prime location overlooking the pool and beach, the dining room at Li Beirut is dark and seductive, presenting a sense of old world charm. Clad in dark wood, the walls are adorned with black and white images of Lebanese landmarks, accentuated via bursts of vibrant red from the leather upholstery. While wooden screens provide pockets of privacy there are also a number of private dining rooms, plus a pleasing lounge.
Diners at Li Beirut are likely to be astounded by the exquisite plating and the juxtaposition of flavours and textures which is wholly unexpected. Li Beirut’s ‘chef’s signature menu’ in particular takes a refreshing approach in modernizing such a beloved cuisine and these were the dishes that piqued our interest most during our recent dining experience.
Begging with freshly baked breads puffed up like pillows and served with olive oil, sesame and za’atar, we’re immediately reminded of the generosity of the Levantine table, a place where families and friends gather to share food and stories. The Chef’s signature menu encompasses a variety of interesting choices including Bastirma (dried beef, hargir leaves and labneh) and a foie gras kebbeh (complete with walnut chutney, almond purée, and lemon foam), though we find ourselves unequivocally drawn to the kunafa wrapped tiger prawns. A trio of succulent shellfish, shells replaced by kunafa pastry and laid upon a tahini sauce that brings an interesting contrast in textures.
Pan seared diver scallops served with crab harra and a za’atar mash subtly bring Middle Eastern ingredients to the plate as a means to enhance the delicate flavors provided by the large scallops without overpowering. Likewise, the yellow fin tuna plated alongside Atlantic lobster, tomato salsa and a quenelle of smoky baba ganoush is the perfect complement of flavours, accentuated via artistic plating that’s completely unexpected considering the rustic origins of the cuisine.Main courses of za’atar crusted lamb and succulent grills are hard to beat with the chargrilled tiger prawns of particular note. Beautifully seasoned and presenting an unexpected spicy kick, the charred flavour taken on by the prawns represent a real showcase for the art of barbequing. Similarly, the tender lamb is another well executed dish, served with a rich jus, sweet parsnip purée, shaved truffle, and a vegetable selection (including what could possibly be contenders for the best roast potatoes in the UAE).
For those in search of the more traditional dishes upon which Li Beirut has built its reputation, the hot and cold mezze, succulent grills and a choice of four set menus are all worthy choices, though we’d strongly encourage you to try at least one or two of the chef’s signatures.When it comes to desserts the tantalizing choice includes honey fudge, saffron caramel flan, Umm Ali, and a lighter than expected pistachio creme brulee. A dish which successfully manages to dial back both the prominence of the pistachio and the level of sweetness. Its refreshing, considering the overpowering usage of key ingredients like rose, orange blossom, cardamom and pistachio, so often associated with the cuisine.
The signature Arabic coffee chocolate globe is a dish likely to draw attention in a busy dining room (not to mention the Instagram worthy theatrics). A white chocolate sphere is slowly melted by a warm chocolate and coffee sauce to reveal macerated berries and the surprise of popping candy. The complementing flavours of strawberries and chocolate are often used in conjunction with one another, but at Li Beirut the idea is elevated into something truly mesmerizing, albeit a dessert that even two people will struggle to finish.
Li Beirut’s strengths lie in the ability to stand out from the crowd. Carefully balancing traditionalism and a modern approach to Lebanese food, it’s pleasing to see Jumeriah at Etihad Towers’ F&B team taking a different approach. From the fine dining setting with its neat grey and white striped napkins and dazzling silver Bernardaud crockery to the progressive presentation of the food. The traditional may be what Li Beirut have staked their reputation on, but it’s the chef’s signatures that are likely to become the talking point for this particular restaurant. Keeping regular guests and food aficionados coming back for more.
This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of FACT Magazine.
Location: Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, West Corniche, Al Khubeirah, Abu Dhabi
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Hours: 12pm – 3pm / 7pm – midnight
Phone: +971 2 811 5666
Out & About UAE were guests of Li Beirut. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.