February 03, 2014

Copla: We Dined Alone... It Means Something (Restaurant Closed)

Phone Number: +961 1 999 250

Address: Berytus Building, Park Avenue, Mina El Hosn Downtown, Beirut, Lebanon

Website: http://www.copla-beirut.com

Price Range: 75-100 $

NGNO's rating

Welcome 4/5

Music/Ambiance 6/10

Architecture/Decor 10/10

Food presentation 9/10

Food temperature 9/10

Food Taste 20/30

Service 7/10

Value for money Soon

It was time for me to visit Copla, this beautifully designed restaurant by famous Lebanese architect, Bernard Khoury, created by two Michelin Star Chef Dani Garcia and managed by the Add-mind group. Although two big names are involved in this Andalusian restaurant, Copla hasn’t – bizarrely so - been the talk of town since it first opened... I wanted to understand why.

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Nestled in the heart of Downtown Beirut, this rectangular shaped restaurant is the creation of renowned architect Bernard Khoury, the man behind Yabani, B018 and Centrale to name a few; as well as the first and only Michelin two Star chef in Lebanon; This is what we understand until we discovered that this chef is never in Lebanon. Andalusian chef Dani Garci­a, born in Marbella, Spain, runs the two-Michelin star restaurant Calima. He's now making a name for himself in the U.S. with Manzanilla, the modernist Spanish restaurant he opened earlier this year in New York City and in Lebanon with Copla. The interior seating is lined up against on wall and directly opposite is the bar. In between is an easy passage from one end to another in an unobstructed linear space. Bench-like seating upholstered in black leather appears to be carved into a niche in the wood paneling facing it are specially designed tables and chairs from DW5. Even the tables mirror the symmetric pattern on the walls where miniature lime trees decorate the surfaces. Beyond that the bar also runs the entire length of the space. Towards one end of the bar is a spiral staircase winds up towards a private table located on an entresol from which one can view the kitchen. Simplicity is key and a challenge succeeded by the architect, where three colors only constitute a place that's relaxing and fun to eat at. Beige, black and white plates displaying two materials, fresh wood and black metal.

The simplicity of the design allows diners to better enjoy their meals by the Two Star Michelin star chef. The place's little details:

  • Behind a high glass facade, a dimmed lit space welcomes you
  • To the right, a long bar facing dozens of high stools
  • To the left, square tables are placed one next to the other fill in the distance between the entrance and the garden access
  • Thirteen cylindrical lamps pend over the bar
  • Twenty one lamps pend over the line of tables
  • At the very end is another glass facade giving access to the garden that welcomes you during summer days
  • Wood floors, walls and even restrooms, this space reminded me of mountain lodges
  • Next to the entrance, a serpent ladder takes you up to a private office
  • All tables are decorated with a set of cutlery, Schott Zwiesel wine glasses, colored water cups, table cloth napkins as well as Peugeot salt and pepper mills
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We reached Copla at 9pm to discover an empty space managed by two persons; a waiter and bar manager. Waiting for our guests, I took the time to have a closer look at some details...
 
The first impression:
  • We were alone tonight... Literally alone. Bizarre isn't it for a Thursday night?
  • Water bottles, opened without us asking for it, are "plastic" Sohat ones. Plastic in a two star Michelin restaurant? Don't we have the choice between sparkling and still? No one asked
  • 20 red wines only, from 65,000L.L to 1,200,000L.L with just two choices of Lebanese wines... and one single Spanish one!
  • A basket of bread landed on our table with a dip of olive oil, and olive oil only. Wouldn't have some balsamic vinegar be better with it?
The menu:
  • The land
  • The sea
  • Raw bar
  • Salad
  • Main course
  • Desserts
  • Friday special
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Dinner started with a complementary amuse-bouche, available as starters on the menu. Cherry flavored gazpacho with cheese snow, served with basil oil, pistachios and anchovy. All I felt was acid, a strong acidic flavor that tickles your throat; non of us finished its cup. These cups were served with no spoons and when asked for some, only two were delivered. We had to taste the soup-like fillings with our forks.
 
The culinary experience:
  • Burger Bull 29,000L.L (Oxtail burger with cheese, arugula and our oxtail sauce): Oxtail is a bony, gelatin-rich meat, which is usually slow-cooked as a stew or braised. It's so tender and soft that this bovine family is used for meat stock and canned meat. We received a rectangular plate with four mini burgers displayed one next to the other. Grab it between your fingers and slowly and gently bite into this soft and tender creation that's unique. Inside a soft bun is a perfect tender and melting meat topped with white cheese, a light sauce and some rocket leaves. A simple yet innovative creation that we all devoured in seconds. Two thumbs up for that innovation.
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  • Calamari with almonds 26,000L.L (Pan fried calamari Au Jus with roasted flaked almonds): Inside a copper pan, and floating in some juice that tasted like soy sauce is a mix of hard calamari with an unpleasant feel. I liked the idea of this innovative creation, mixing calamari with roasted almonds but the super-inedible salty sauce mixed with elastic calamari wasn't the best of experiences. Fine tuning needed.
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  • Brava Potatoes or “Patatas Bravas” 15,000L.L (Crispy potatoes with our spicy brava sauce): Served in a copper pot, this plate consists of white potatoes that have been cut into about 2 centimeter irregular shapes and then fried in oil and served warm with spicy tomato sauce on top. Despite the fact that this dish is known in Spain, I don't think it fits this restaurant. It has nothing to talk home about
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  • Seared tuna a la Catalana 37,000L.L (Seared tuna loin with spiced tomato and olive oil): Tasty tuna, delicious premium ingredients, amazing spiced tomatoes but unfortunately too much olive oil. Yes, too much that you feel it tickling your throat.
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  • Avocado cannelloni stuffed with spicy king crab 36,000L.L (Avocado stuffed with spicy king crab and light bell pepper salad pipirrana): Wow! Superb to say the least. An amazing dish that can take me back to Copla. Rolled up like a maki wrap, thin sliced avocados embrace a rich mix of fresh king crab. Mmm... This is the least I can express as the ingredients melt under your teeth. No chewing needed but a deep appreciation of the different ingredients that blend perfectly well together. The bell pepper salad on the side adds a touch of color and finesse
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  • Wakame and quail egg salad 22,000L.L (Seasoned wakame seaweed salad with quail eggs and sesame seed vinaigrette): Presented like a bird's nest, some fresh seaweed marinated in lemon and topped with vermicelli, decorated with sesame seeds and used as a support for three quail eggs. How simple, how lovely. Doesn't the picture speak for itself?
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  • Classic Seafood Paella for two 70,000L.L (Saffron rice with fresh shrimp, calamari, mussels and sea bass): Mixed with a perfectly cooked al dente crunchy rice, a selection of calamari and shrimps cut in small pieces are served in a large generous plate where yellow overtakes it on the blend of vegetables and seasonings and that's good for more than two persons. On top, three mussel shells, shrimps and a juicy sea bass piece make of this creation a unique one. I loved it despite the fact that it's a bit too spicy covering on the real flavors. The price is reasonable and its taste is unique. If you are a Paella fan, this is a dish you should try.
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Food was good, desserts not:
  • Torija 18,000L.L (Coconut scented caramelized bread pudding, citrus crème anglaise): What looks or can be called a Pain Perdu in our local language is a square bread that's so chewy, so heavy and so soggy that it enters your stomach like a ball of concrete: that's a premiere for me. A thick piece of bread that's served warm - not hot - and chews unpleasantly. It's sensation on the palate is so bizarre; A huge big no. I don't want to imagine the space it's taking in my stomach...
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  • Coconut Chocolate 15,000L.L (Coconut mousse on brownie crumble and Mojito Gelée): A Beautiful creation... and it stops here! Gelatins with no taste of mojito or whatsoever. Biscuit crumbs and half a bowl of chocolate filled with cream... a heavy gewy cream. Not a recommendation at all
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  • Crema Catalana 14,000L.L (Traditional caramelized Catalan custard): Creme brûlée, I think, since it looks like it but tastes nothing like it. A repulsive thick piece of cream, that's caramelized on top: No, No, No is all I can say
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I'm sorry for being so blunt in describing the desserts, but they were simply unacceptable.
We dined alone... It means something... Maybe a lot of things. It means there is something wrong with the concept!
 
Asking around, none or few of my friends ever tried Copla before, and the ones who have had something to say about. Some didn't understand why the plates are small, while others cmpalined about how expensive it is and others have mentioned the fact that the service was average. Let's recap and tell you my opinion.
 
My opinion about Copla:
  • The place is beautiful but it's not enough. We're coming to eat here, not to visit a gallery
  • The buzz around a "two star Michelin chef" has had a negative effect, in my opinion. You expect something perfect when it's not and on another hand it scares customers who think the prices are too high
  • The prices are not as high as everyone presumes. It's acceptable for the quality you get, the innovative dishes received and ingredients used
  • The service is very average... Although the waiters are welcoming, smiling and want to give their best. Unfortunately they are not trained enough for such a place. When I say average I mean the service is good for a diner and not a fine dinning restaurant.
  • The desserts are a mess, they need to be changed or improved the soonest
  • The wine list is ridiculous for a restaurant of this caliber
  • Glass water bottles are a must and a choice of local and international water is crucial
  • The food is good but can be much better with some fine tuning; The seasoning of plates needs improvement
I'm not sure if this restaurant will stand for long in this bad economical crisis unless an urgent marketing and improvement plan is launched. I invite you to try it, without the fear of paying too much, to experience what real fine Spanish cuisine is all about, a premiere in Lebanon. Good Luck guys...




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