Some culinary traditions live on and over the years move on to different parts of the world. In our dear Lebanon, we have been heavily influenced by French traditions, naturally so, look back into history… and some of these traditions have found their way into a number of dishes that have become classics in different households, restaurants, cafes…And a good example is pain perdu.
Pain perdu, a simple French toast, is a prime example and has become one of the most popular desserts in Lebanon. With its French translation, pain perdu is “lost bread” – the tastiest way to reclaim any loaf bread lost to day-old staleness. The recipe has been interpreted into countless sweet, fruit-filled versions, served in a bowl or plate… but I had to pick out the best out there…
The pain perdu at Gordon’s is to die for… I wish I discovered it earlier. A perfectly round piece of bread, airy and light, is topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, walnuts and caramel on the side. Add the great, consistent caramel and indulge in a fine piece of a heavenly creation. A soft bun that melts under your teeth like ice on a hot surface, soaked in milk and eggs without being sweet and without dripping around. Close your eyes and be transported into a world of wonders. A fine softness caresses your palate while the crunch provided by the fresh almonds differentiate this pain perdu from all others in town. Warm and soothing, wait until you reach the ice cream, that’ll wake you up! Beware of moaning indistinctly… I’d heard that Gordon’s pain perdu was awesome but I was not expecting something like that. A must try for sure.
A beautiful ambiance decorated with summer’s finest colors, Sud at La Cour Saint Michel welcomes you for lunch and dinner. A lovely environment, which acts as a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city – just a few steps away from the road. Sud’s Pain Perdu Caramélisé is different from others. Circular in shape, what looks like a burger bun, is soaked in milk and sugar then toasted from the outside, leaving making it soft and juicy in the inside. Topped with Malagasy vanilla ice cream, the whole thing bathes in caramel sauce… yum.
Couqley has been a favorite in Beirut, providing a real French bistro experience in a setup that will transport you to the streets of Paris. I sat in one of the corners and enjoyed the vibes this restaurant has to offer. It was Pain Perdu time. On a round plate a large piece of square bread, nicely soaked in milk, perfectly cooked and covered with a layer of crunchy, caramelized sugar, was served. To top it all, caramel sauce covers the mix in style. Awesome to say the least. That’s a real, simple pain perdu, exactly as it should be and as the French created it. I loved it and consider it to be one of the finest in town.
Blackrock Mar Mikhael and Dbayeh welcome you for lunch and dinner serving one of Lebanon’s most tender meat. Served on a hot lava rock, a large selection of meat, fish and duck are proposed to be grilled on the spot with two side orders and a sauce. Pain perdu at Blackrock is also different. Served in a square bowl, chunks of bread are cooked and soaked with milk and sugar and covered with caramel sauce. The mix is enjoyable and tasty. Every person at the table can pick a piece without having to touch the other. It’s a perfect plate to share and the only Pain Perdu in a bowl that’s actually good.
Le Talleyrand is indeed one of the oldest fine dining restaurants in Beirut. Le Talleyrand, located in the Kantari area on Fakhr-el-Dine Street is a selective high-end restaurant that seats more than 80 persons. It’s the restaurant for some regular clients passing-by for their business meetings or family gatherings. This pain perdu is “finger-licking” delicious served in a cup. The special Pain Perdu is not on square bread like all others. In a cup, a mountain of cubes are baked and served with caramel on the side. The waiter mixes the Pain Perdu in front of you, combining the caramel sauce before serving it to everyone.
Lebanon is truly an amazing country and regardless of anything that goes on – the positive vibes prevails and a great example to this is the continuous opening of new restaurants – places that are exceptional in many ways. One such place is Prune, a French bistro that boasts the feel of its neighborhood, Mar Mikhael. Old meets new, innovation meets restoration, good food meets amazing ambiance… keeping it real, Prune pays tribute to its surrounding. Someone has found the real taste of French toast. Le Pain Retrouvé, a signature of Prune that is one of the best Pain Perdus I’ve had to date in Lebanon. Le Pain Retrouvé: Two large bricks of bread covered with caramel sauce served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Slightly crunchy on the outside and inside is softer and tenderer filled with milk, butter and sugar that’s blend perfectly together. Some almonds decorate this plate soaking in a caramel sauce that’s not sweet and rich in flavors. Two thumbs up.
Batchig means a kiss in the Armenian language – a kiss that at this new restaurant comes with a thousand colors, flavors and aromas. Batchig by Mayrig is a new concept serving regional Levantine specialties with an Armenian twist, located in the Dbayeh area. You won’t get lost; as you go up the Antelias Bridge you will see a huge sign leading you to Batchig. Ever tried a pain perdu with an Armenian twist? Pain Perdu-’ian’: Home made Madeleine cakes with rose flavored loukoums fitted inside served with hot sahlab and cinnamon. The lokums melt in contact of the warm sahlab that gets absorbed by the round cakes making them spongy and wet. A pain perdu that has nothing to do with the ones you’ve tried before, trust me.
At La Petite Maison, you are guaranteed a great experience. This unique restaurant, which has opened in some of the world’s most beautiful cities, including Nice, London and Dubai and recently Beirut, offers a culinary adventure like no other. I’ve tried La Petite Maison over six times all around the world and after every visit I leave happy and satisfied. The two pain perdu bricks… Bread carefully crafted covered with a layer if thick crunchy caramel hiding the soft and tender bun inside. Every detail is carefully mastered to perfection in a fine classy way. Lovely!
Many casual French bistros have mushroomed around town, but finding a high-end French dining spot is rare. You sometimes want to enjoy a high-end ambiance with a loved one in a cozy spot. Taking over what used to be the Lutecia in Saifi village, Alesia is now open for French food aficionados. Just imagine a different and fine dining version of the Pain Perdu. Two slices of bread, soaked in eggs and milk to perfection then covered with a caramel layer mixed with crunchy almonds. Every bite guarantees amazement.
Shakespeare & Co. is one of the most beautiful restaurants you can imagine visiting. In this old English style place, your eyes can’t stop wandering around the many colors and details that create the Shakespeare&Co. Bread and Butter Pudding with Caramel sauce: The English version of pain perdu, this dessert is heavy to say the least but worth ordering. Covered with perfect quality of caramel, its hot and consistent. The bread doesn’t feel either oily or watery. Every bite is tasty – not too sweet or over flavored. Topped with a ball of vanilla ice cream and roasted almonds, this dessert deserves two thumbs up.
I’ve been touring around the country this past month looking for the best pain perdu and 10 orders later, I can fairly say that Goutons Voir’s is good. Served in two blocks like Prune, the pain perdu’s juicy heart is good, milky, adequately buttery and tasty. The caramel sauce adds certain sweetness, but it’s not enough. A bit more sweetness is needed and it would be better if the borders were burnt less.
Walking along Hamra Street is a treat on its own. A well known bubbling street, where locals and foreigners alike have enjoyed and still do for generations…. The street boasts so many cafes and restaurants; one that caught my attention today is Hamra Cafe. I often pass by it and wonder what’s behind the huge facade – today was the day I decided to discover the inside. Bread Pudding (Brioche and vanilla custard, baked a la minute, served with hot caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream). This English version has a faded custard taste dissipated within the fluffy spongy bread with its crusty top layer it adds a sensual plus. The waiter serves it on the plate then prepares it for you before you add the caramel sauce. The bread pudding feels like a Pain Perdu but tastes nothing like it: it is simply unique and worth trying. Expect to wait 20 minutes for it to be freshly prepared.
Julia’s was one of the first high-end restaurants in town and I’m happy that this little bistro is still surviving and doing great. Julia’s has an exceptional yet simple pain perdu made, as is, without sophistication. Square piece of bread, perfectly cooked, well marinated with caramel sauce and ice cream vanilla scoop tops it all. It looks amazing and tastes even better… Julia’s is part of my top 3 best Pain Perdu in Lebanon.
Toto, fine Italian restaurant and pizzeria, welcomes Italian food aficionados into a cozier 50’s ambiance in a trendy modern setup, all within a preserved authentic Lebanese house. On a round plate comes a square piece of bread, three centimeters thick, bathing in caramel sauce. Cut a piece to enjoy a sticky envelop while the heart, juicy and tender is adequately sweet and enjoyable. A mouthwatering pain perdu... But the experience is far from being done. In the middle a surprise awaits. A dark Valhrona chocolate, trapped inside is guaranteed to give you a memorable moment. A spongy sweet dough, a caramelized envelop, sweetness... And inside a chocolate that equilibrated the mix. This is an original pain perdu.
Popular for its Sunday brunches, Casablanca prepares great food using organic products from eggs to vegetables to jams and cheese… all produced in-house. Let’s try their French Toast. I was in awe when the plate landed on the table. Filled with a rectangular piece of thick bread, the round plate was meticulously decorated with a mix of bananas, apples and strawberries. Maple syrup gives it that extra flavor. This is a dessert I loved; A sumptuous thick premium piece of bread topped and stacked with maple syrup, slightly crunchy on the borders and chewy inside, married with the fruits … Yum an unforgettable experience.
Each is different... each is unique. Which is your all-time favorite?