CHECK OTHER REVIEWS FOR THIS PLACE:
Albergo's Rooftop: Fine Dining in a Cosy Atmosphere
Al Dente: A Fine Italian in Beirut...The Accademia Italiana Della Cucina Dinner
Beirut French Gastronomy Week: An Enchanting Grande Finale Dinner
Le Festival de la Gastronomie Francaise, Beirut 2013
Le Festival de la Gastronomie Francaise, Beirut 2012
The Al Dente Ristorante with Chef Jean-Pierre Jacob
Al Dente Ristorante at the Albergo Hotel, Beirut
Semaine de la Gastronomie Française 2015: Chef Marc Meurin
Albergo: Meeting Chef Erich
A Dinner Prepared by Jean-Christophe Lebascle at Hotel Albergo
I make it a point to attend this unique event year after year, because the experience by itself is worth a million. It starts as you walk up the stairs of this old mansion down in Beirut, a Relais&Chateau called Albergo. A restaurant called Aldente hosts the French gastronomic week. You are welcomed with a glass of champagne, a smile and are invited to walk in. Loft music plays in the background of this beautiful place decorated with touches of finesse and class.
Under the high ceiling painted in white are some round tables set to perfection. A spoon, three knives, three forks and a dessert set. With that are three fine glasses, on a table covered with a white tablecloth. "La classe" as they say in French, details make this dinner a unique one.
Dinner was scheduled to be served at 09:30 sharp! And yes, everyone was here. Waiters wearing white gloves with a white napkin stared touring around in preparation. Bread is served, salt and pepper -which usually shouldn't be available on a starred chef's table- and water.
On the menu:
- Velouté de moules au curry, mouillettes à la rouille
- Fotenes farcies, sauce au verjus et aux épices douces
- Minute de daurade, beurre léger au caviar d'Aquitaine
- Noix de saint Jacques poêlées, vinaigrette aux aubergines confites
- Volaille de Brese farcie au foie gras, suprême à la truffe
- Ipanema au chocolat
- Chateau Leoube Blanc 2013, Provence
- Chateau Haut-Lagrange 2010, Pesac Leognan
And the event started with the manager's introduction as he welcomed and thanked all the sponsors making sure to highlight that AirFrance had imported all the products we would be tasting and enjoying accompanied by wines from Vintage. Chef Guillaume Sourrieu took the floor re-confirming his love for Lebanon.
Dinner is served:
A cup of tea with mussel juice decorated with a bread stick, lightly toasted and topped with a cream. An intense taste, lightly acidic and lemony, mussel touches that caresses your palatial buds, leaving a long lasting aftertaste. It is strong indeed, a bit salty and surely not for the faint-hearted. An intriguing way to start, if I may say, while we prepare to welcome the rest. With that is a white wine, aromatic, medium bodied with touches of flowers. Together, they match perfectly well. Wine and mussel juice take you on a trip to the south of France where a breath of air from the Mediterranean caresses your cheek.
Lights were dimmed, the music was shut down while the second place was being prepared. I could smell fish, the sea... While waiting, let me tell you about Aldente, a restaurant I like and one of the few fine dining places still available in town. It's not only about decoration and not about the presentation or the food, but about the general feel of a place where everything is taken care of in a professional way.
The second plate had a bizarre name and bizarre presentation, called Fotene, this stuffed calamari is served on a bed of juice and light spices. A chewy envelope, a juicy heart, a tender meat mix, complicated flavors, but a plate that could have been prepared and presented differently for a one star chef. I personally was not amazed when I expected to be.
Sea bream, lightly laid on a bed of butter and decorated with some caviar drops. Served warm, the sea bream is tender, lemony and well balanced with those caviar drops adding finesse and style. It's a small portion, a good taste but, nothing to write home about.
It's served in a bowl plate, an eggplant puree with eggplant chunks, lemony with its vinaigrette juice and a scallop in the middle. An acidic sauce that diminishes the taste of the scallop, while the eggplant confit gives this plate its charm. Tasty it is, one star Michelin quality? Surely not.
Now for the red wine, smooth on the nose, light bodied, a bit dry, with after notes of spices. It's smooth and non acidic; a wine I like.
Chicken on a spread of potato puree... Honestly, I ate it all because I was so hungry, not because it's exceptional. A chicken that was hard to cut and to chew, a sauce that's a bit over salty and truffles which I didn't feel at all. Extremely deceiving! A chicken that has nothing different to it, cold in some sports, dry and hard to cut, a sauce that's salty, and a foie gras that's lost in the mix.
Now that we finished dinner, a four course menu with a amuse bouche and a dessert, it was dessert time.
Unacceptable: A plastic water bottle in a fine dining restaurant.
Delicious, dessert is mouth-watering. A square of chocolate mousse on a bed of crispy crunchy biscuits, a touch of dark madness tickles your throat in style with more chocolate cookies to decorate the piece. On the side is the ice cream, a light bodied, fragile and watery sorbet, icy, very aromatic and tasty at the same time. I'm not sure if the same chef did the desserts and the main plates.
I came here with high expectations, for products imported from France, a starred chef with years of experience and a restaurant with fine standards. Everything went fine, but the food was deceiving... I expected better from a starred chef.