You must start with the Arak, a pungent licorice alcohol that puts Italy's grappa to shame. Only have one though, or you may not remember what the rest of your meal was like. It's very strong in both alcohol content (45 per cent) and flavour (aniseed).
Wait-staff enthusiastically push the banquet, describing it as "a tantalising array of Lebanese cuisine in one degustation" and we're happy to oblige. Tray after tray of homous, labne, tabouli, grilled meats, shish kebabs and batata filled our table. The star is the baba gannoush, with big smoky flavours. You can taste every ember of the burnt sides of well-oiled eggplant, with a punch of lemon acting like a shot of pure adrenaline to wake you from your Arak coma. The tabouli is a Pollock painting of bright red tomatoes and parsley with the same tart acidity that cuts into the fat dripping from the skewers of lamb and chicken.
Among the grilled meats on skewers, stick with the Shish tawouk, sliding right off the skewer in a stream of luscious meat juice. The lamb kebab is not as agreeable, and has to be forced from its stick, not to mention the chewing which is harder work than it should be. Meanwhile, the squid napped in milk, then deep fried has an almost Italian vibe to it, especially as it's served with aioli.
If you baulk at the idea of paying big bucks for a cuisine that's generally represented in more earthy surrounds, you're probably better off walking straight down Church street to the more hole-in-the-wall type places for your fix. But the quality of the food here harks a new era of fine dining Lebanese. Pass the Arak.
|Venue name:||El Phoenician|
328 Church St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Fri noon-10pm; Sat 5pm-10pm|