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Over the weekend, we had the great fortune to lunch at Batchig, sister restaurant to the famous Mayrig. The Armenian restaurant is tucked away on a side street of Antelias, immediately before Burj Al-Hamam if you’re driving northbound from Beirut. The red building catches your attention because such a color is rare for a façade in Lebanon, but you don’t start to comprehend how spacious and soothing the interior is until you push open the door and walk past the threshold.
We arrived Saturday at 2pm, peak lunch hour. Most of the dining guests seem to be middle-class Armenian families who live nearby. There are three spaces: the ground floor, the upper floor (which isn’t receiving guests just yet), and the terrace. The head waiter Elie received us warmly and seated us inside. We started to take in our surroundings: white-washed walls, white floor, aluminum tables, and wooden chairs. In short, modern and minimalist décor. The ambiance is organic and comforting. Waiters are buzzing in and out of the kitchen, attentively tending to each table. Our waiter, Costa, was very friendly and helpful, suggesting traditional Armenian dishes and constantly replenishing our wine glasses.
Now for the edibles. In brief, everything was exceptional. Ingredients exude freshness and taste; portions are just right; and the blend of savory and sweet is absolutely surreal. Let’s recap dish by dish:
- Itch is Armenian tabbouleh, and this is one salad you don’t want to skip! It’s heavy on tomato and bulgur, and parsley is merely an afterthought, contrary to the Lebanese version. On its own, itch can constitute a meal, especially if you scoop it with the cabbage. We ate it alongside hommos, which came garnished with morsels of basterma, air-dried beef, giving it an Armenian twist.
- Vospov keufteh is a subtle dish that can also satisfy your hunger on its own. The main ingredients are red lentils and bulgur, and the mixture is seasoned with cumin. This dish can be eaten either with a fork or wrapped in traditional pita bread.
- The kibbeh stuffed with mouhammara—a paste comprised of red peppers, walnuts, and olive oil—is tasty but on the dry side. We later realized that you can dunk it in the plain yogurt of the Fishna dish to resurrect its juiciness.
- The Batchig sticks are an Armenian take on “rkekat” fingers, except that they are much more generous and creative in stuffing content. There are five types: chanklish, labneh and olives, zaatar, cheese, and cheese and basterma. Resist the temptation to eat them when they’re hot, as the core oozes with intensity and will likely sear tongue and palate.
- The Sou Beureg is phyllo pastry sheets layered with cheese, but the mélange of cheeses we found to be a little bland. Maybe thyme or coriander could animate this dish more.
- The batata harra (spicy potatoes) were indeed a showpiece. These are alive with tomato, pepper, and coriander.
- The fishna—which means cherry in Armenian—was hands down one of the best dishes. Call it the pièce de resistance, or the Armenian form of fatteh, this combination of kebab balls, crispy pita squares, plain yogurt, and sour cherry coulis was absolutely divine. Even those who are not usually fans of savory and sweet will melt at the delicious intermingling of these tastes.
- Mante—little pockets of dough stuffed with minced meat—were also impeccably crafted. Warm tomato juice is poured over the mante and then plain yogurt is slathered on top, followed by a drizzle of sumac. Though we were stuffed from the parade of dishes before this one, we couldn’t help but wipe the plate clean.
No meal is complete without dessert, but we opted for a lighter, more refreshing option. Mount Ararat features four scoops of ice cream—marzipan, almond, pistachio, and rose water—stacked high with Lebanese cotton candy, or ghazel el banet. This is far better and more generous than Leila’s. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect end to the feast.
Batchig is truly a first-rate family-style restaurant that boasts excellent food, service, ambiance, and price/quality rapport. It’s equally tasty to Mayrig (dare as I say even more so?), but the environment is far more mellow and casual, making it a go-to for any occasion any day of the week!