The story behind Villa Beirut, the newest restaurant to open at Abu Dhabi’s Marina Mall is an interesting one:
“It all started in the early 1900’s when a little girl named Dalia grew up watching her mother prepare traditional Lebanese delicacies in the suburbs of Beirut. Delia mastered the skills of preparing authentic Lebanese food and knew that having her own restaurant was the only way she could fulfil her dream of creating a truly memorable dining experience. She envisioned a vibrant and happy place where families gathered to enjoy good food and traditional music.
In 1940, Dalia, along with her husband, opened a small unassuming restaurant in an old Lebanese house in the outskirts of the capital. It was called Villa Beirut and by the second year of operation, Villa Beirut was a resounding success with patrons willing to wait in huge queues just to sample Dalia’s delicious cooking.
Dalia seized an opportunity to expand even further. Villa Beirut moved to a bigger location. A charming house with bold blue windows surrounded by a beautiful garden. Unfortunately just before the grand opening in 1942, for unknown reason, Villa Beirut never opened.”
Fast forward seventy years and a new Villa Beirut has opened its doors in Abu Dhabi, using the traditional home-cooked Lebanese recipes of Dalia’s original restaurant, which have been handed down through the generations.
Entering the restaurant, patrons are immediately transported into a Mediterranean villa. On top of the bare concrete floor scattered with groups of colourful tiles, sits white wooden furniture. The walls are bathed in sunny yellows and contrasted with shutters of deep blue (much like the original Villa Beirut), providing a contrast much akin to sand and sea. Decor is simple, with hanging plants suspended from wooden beams and intricately textured soft furnishings completing the look. The menu is filled with quaint illustrations depicting Dalia’s story and even the crockery takes on a homely feel, featuring floral designs upon the ceramics.
We’re not going to lie. Prior to our summer vacation we were suffering from Arabic food overload (thanks to the many Iftar invites), but after six hummus-free weeks, we were pleasantly surprised by the food offered at Villa Beirut. The cold mezze are definately the standout dishes on the extensive menu that caters to breakfast, lunch and dinner service.
The selection of cold mezze – served sharing style – were our favourite part of the meal. Featuring Lebanese classics such as hummus and moutabal – it was the twists on these staples of the Lebanese table that impressed us the most. ‘Hummus Chmandar’ mixes beetroot into the chickpea and tahini hummus mix to create a dip that is not only visually striking in its vibrant purple colouration, but changes the flavour profile of hummus forever. Apparently Villa Beirut is one of the only places in Abu Dhabi that serves this dish, making it worth a trip for this reason alone.
‘Moutabal Dalia’ adds cauliflower to the grilled eggplant and tahini mix, which has a distinct charred flavour unlike any moutababl we have sampled before. The cold mezze selecton also contained the traditional Fattoush salad and tabouleh, with other favourites such as labneh, moussaka and stuffed vine leaves also available.
Hot mezzes are exactly as one would expect with falafel, arayess, kebbeh and sambousek vying for attention on an already extensive menu. We chose to forgo all of these in favour of the ‘fekhariyet’ selection, as recommended by out kind server. These hot meat dishes included ‘Sawda Djej’ a concoction of chicken livers, pomegranate and garlic. A dish that we would never have selected ourselves (due to chicken livers being a very acquired taste) and despite our issues with the texture, the flavour was rich and warming.
We thought we knew everything about Lebanese cuisine, but Villa Beirut certainly proved us wrong. ‘Sojok’ is a Lebanese sausage dish in which spicy red sausage is prepared in a tomato and onion gravy. Whereas ‘Makanek’ comprised beef sausage cooked in a secret bend of Arabic spices that was almost fruity to taste and topped with crunchy pine nuts.
Our main course was the ‘Villa Mixed Grill’ which was exactly as expected with breads, tender chicken shish taouk, grilled lamb cubes and a kofta which was slightly under-seasoned for our liking. With grilled tomatoes and golden french fires, this mixed grill was more than enough for two people to share.
Let us just take a quick moment to discuss the beverages. Aside from the usual sodas, juices and hot drinks. We were happy to find some more unique options such as rose juice (unavailable when we attended) and a mango pina colada. This virgin take on the cocktail favourite was delightfully sweet and the replacement of mango for pineapple worked wonders. Despite it being more of a dessert than a drink – we loved it.
Accompanied by a soundtrack of traditional Lebanese music and prompt unassuming service, our meal at Villa Beirut surpassed expectations.We thoroughly recommend this new spot for their flavoursome Lebanese cuisine, featuring age-old traditions and timeless recipes.
Keep your eyed peeled for a second branch opening in Dubai’s Umm Suqeim 2 in the near future…
We were invited to dine at Villa Beirut. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.