21° & RAINY ON MONDAY 27 MARCH IN AUCKLAND
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Testing the waters with a relatively unchartered cuisine.

From the folks that have already brought us Mexico and Orleans comes another regionally-named and themed restaurant, this time with the boundaries pushed even further to the limit. The main focus of Beirut is Middle Eastern cuisine, based around both traditional elements and more contemporary experimental techniques. You're going to taste things you've never tasted before people.

Alongside head chef Jacopo Crosti (formerly of Sid Sahrawat's fine dining experience Sidart), the engine room is run under the guise of executive chef Javier Carmona, a man who has previously travelled to the depths of Mexico to expand the creations at his namesake restaurant group.

An all day affair, the menu is separated into 'before', and 'after midday'. Early risers are set to enjoy an especially inventive start to the day, including dishes comprising haloumi with chervil, cracked wheat and lemon oil; flatbread with Sujuk sausage; fava bean and falafel; watermelon with orange blossom, and freekeh (the young green wheat) transformed into a lavender porridge.

The floral elements recur throughout the afternoon and evening menu, as does the use of the dehydrator. The unconventional fattoush salad is made up of watermelon, beetroot, compressed cucumber, dyed onions, and micro parsley (who would've thought), and together with the orange blossom has an overarching floral fragrance, as well as looking like a bouquet on a plate. The same goes for the duck ras el hanout which comes alongside rose petal jam, cured cabbage, and a suspicious looking carrot; the refreshing buttermilk ice-cream with sticks of dehydrated meringue and Turkish delight ice keeps the theme running too.

Further reinventions come via Beirut's standout take on baba ganoush; the smoky and salty eggplant dish contained so many flavours that even the imaginative table spices really had no use here, like they didn't with many of our choices. But Beirut is all about experimentation and testing out the waters with a relatively uncharted cuisine. So, go ahead and use that aleppo pepper rub, the green kale seed mix, the black charcoal lime powder, and the smoked salt.

For something a tad more conventional, you may want to try the manoush flatbread which comes topped with ground spiced lamb; the air-dried basturma beef with cauliflower made four ways (pureed, torched, pickled, sliced) or the raw kingfish kibbeh nayeh, similar to that of a ceviche, just with less citrus zing. The staff will happily guide you through anyway.

The drinks list is balanced, featuring wine varieties from every corner of the globe, and also includes 'shrub' drinks; the 17th and 18th century concoction that involves preserving fruit in liquor. Non-alcoholic versions run all day, while the pepped-up versions appear after noon. The inventive flavours span: persimmon with orange and cherry (with tequila), honeydew melon (with gin), and their most popular variety - raspberry with mint (and vodka).

There's a lot to tell about Beirut, but you may as well go there and experiment for yourselves. As the warmer months roll on, the seating will be pushed out into Fort Street too.

Published on September 24, 2015 by Stephen Heard

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