Balthazar is ideally located just by the main entrance to the Beirut Souks, which ensures that the outside tables are usually crowded with shoppers and people watchers. But don't be deceived by the outward appearance: this not really a casual café, despite the fine selection of pastries. Inside, you're greeted with plush (if vaguely forbidding) black, red and gold decor – colours every bit as rich as the offerings on the high-end menu of French classics. Elaborately seasoned tartares and grilled meats put in an appearance alongside more neutral bistro fare such as burgers and halloumi salad. Balthazar is also a great place to sip an early evening cocktail.
The French and the Lebanese have history, not all of it happy. Yet today, the panoply of French restaurants in Beirut stand as a testament to the more salutary aspects of the colonial relationship. As with the city’s Italian restaurants, these come in all sorts, sizes and fashions: fancy, cheap, cosy, vast, decked out in nostalgic Empire style or snazzy modern decor. Homesick Parisians can take refuge in Metropole’s faithfully recreated brasserie atmosphere, while those looking to mark a special occasion should book a table at the extravagant Chez Jean-Claude. These restaurants are a tad pricier than the Beirut average – but given the range and quality of Gallic cuisine on offer, that’s only fair. Bon appétit.