I opened up the white envelope and started reading... My wife and I had been invited to a wedding, the first of the season. At the bottom of the page I discovered the destination: The Beirut Train Station. “No way! That's going to be fun,” I said to myself. Our friends Maroun and Lara had decided to share their joy with us in an unusual location, taking us on a trip down memory lane. The wedding, which took place in the heart of the Beirut city, was one of the finest I’ve attended to date.
Until now, I had decided to review only one wedding on NGNO, the one held at Chateau Rweiss last year, a wedding that amazed me enough to label it "The wedding of the year". A coincidence maybe, but what was, in my opinion, 2013's wedding of the year, was catered by Faqra Catering, as was this event. It was 8:30pm when we reached the Beirut Train Station, down in Mar Mikhael. A team of valets took the cars away and we walked down the aisle to the welcome drink area. I anticipated being amazed and so I decided to take my camera with me... I'm glad I did.
How about we start with a few historical notes?
- 1895: The Mar Mikhael site was chosen to serve as the Western terminus station of the Beirut-Damascus railway
- 1942: The Orient Express was regularly arriving from Paris and stopped at Istanbul. There, the Taurus Express took over, serving the Rayaq station three times a week, and thereby enabling commuters to travel to either Beirut or Aleppo. After World War Two the Taurus Express terminated in Beirut, allowing the transport of merchandise from Lebanon to Europe.
- 1977: This year marked the last journey for a cement train from Chekka towards Beirut.
- 1991: The dedicated railroad workers guarding the railway heritage during the war years undertook repair works between Beirut and Jbeil, inaugurating the Peace Train in 1991 to symbolize the end of armed conflict.
- 1995: The trains stopped forever
We walk into the wedding space…Old houses, trees, stones, metallic structures... but until this point we couldn’t see the trains. A large square area was covered with white curtains, hiding the train station. The setup was so enchanting, with its red colors, wine barrels and vintage items taking you back down memory lane to when passengers still filled up the nooks and crannies of this station.
The welcome drink:
- Kaak: On the back of an old bicycle, a box was filled with kaak, two kinds of them. The large Asrouniya ones and other small bites with cheese topped with zaatar and sumac. A quick toasting and there I was, enjoying those nibbles that are carved into our history.
- Festok Abid: Another station was offering up heated peanuts. Pealed or with their skin, papers and cones were distributed, matching perfectly with the punches and drinks available that night.
- Jambon a L'Os: Imported from Spain, a majestic ham was lying on a wooden board. Jamón ibérico "Iberian ham", also called pata negra, is a type of cured ham produced mostly in Spain. According to Spain's Denominación de Origen rules on food products, the jamón ibérico may be made from black Iberian pigs, or cross-bred pigs as long as they are at least 75% ibérico. The term pata negra is also used; The term refers to the color of the pigs' nails, which are white in most traditional pork breeds, but black for the Black Iberian breed. The ham was served with a fresh baguette and melon.
- Sausages: The "Saucisses" station was first class. Cut and eat after adding some mustard, cornichons pickles or capers.
- The Parmesan Mold: I went to the bar, got myself a glass of white wine and got back to this huge parmesan mold. A flinty and lemony Chablis with bright acidity, along with notes of pear and minerals went perfectly with this hard, granular parmesan... I could have eaten this all night.
- Punch and Drinks: Great food but great drinks as well, prepared by the country's finest bartenders. The youngsters and the elder generation alike enjoyed a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic fruit punches.
A fanfare announced the start and while music played, the white curtains started going, slowly up revealing the amazing setup behind. Breathtaking!
Maroun and Lara set up their wedding in the heart of the train station surrounded by old trains on one side along with the old water tank, and on the other side the old locomotives many guests had used at least once in their life. What an enchanting ambiance. Red and violet lights followed by yellow... long rectangular tables, perfectly set cutlery, beautiful flowers and lots of candles. I loved the table setup, the black designer chairs, the black placemats, the fine silver cutlery and the thin crystal wine glasses.
They even started with a short movie of their wedding in Paris. A state of the art animation and editing that made our hearts skip a beat. Faqra Catering, known as one of the best catering companies in Lebanon, really outdid themselves. The place was packed with guests all visually indulging in the food presentations at the various stations; it was really artwork to feast upon before we enjoyed tasting the food. Over 20 cooks were busy working at their stations, making sure that they catered to all the guests needs on the spot. Many pastry chefs were working on fueling our senses during dinner, building the anticipation of tasting the delicious sweet choices. For the early hours, when you’ve danced yourself to hunger again, a chef was there to quench our early morning cravings.
Come take a walk with me through the details of this wedding… food wise! The main salad buffet:
- Asparagus salad, green peas, broad beans, cherry tomatoes and tete de koine cheese
- Red quinoa salad with diced vegetables
- Artichoke salad
- Toscana tomato salad with goat cheese with nuts and purslane
- Sucrine lettuce salad with avocado
- Mozzarella buffalo with eggplant and balsamic cream
- Red endives salad with gorgonzola, Granny Smith apples, cranberries and pecan nuts
The Stations: Seafood station:
- Fresh smoked salmon cuttings
- Grouper ceviche
- Shrimps tartare with avocado
- Paella with seafood and lobster
- Caramelized black cod with noodles
Foie gras station:
- Terrine de foie gras
- Panfried foie gras with truffle oil
- Fig brioches
Pasta and flaky pastry station:
- Artichoke and lemon risotto
- Aumonieres de chèvre (goat purse)
- Aumonieres de camembert et jambon de parme (camembert cheese purse with parma ham and red fruit sauce)
- Mushroom ravioli
- Black truffle gnocchi
The Lebanese corner:
- Live Fattouch making
- Beetroot hummus
- Avocado batenjen
- Eggplant maklouba with kafta
- Frike with lamb gigot
The lamb station:
- Live cooking lamb spiced and served in bread bites
- Chicken with Turkish spices
- Peking Duck in hoisin sauce
- US prime beef
- Rosemary infused potatoes
- Grilled vegetable brochettes
I was personally amazed by the quality of the food served that night, catering to more than 300 guests, all eating fresh, hot and sophisticated food like if it was homemade. I tried to taste as many things as I could and found them all great.
While enjoying dinner, a series of black and white train stories played on the big screen. I fell in love with the Peking Duck wrapped in fresh Asian bread and topped with hoisin sauce. A fine sweetness followed by a slight crunch of the cucumbers inside this juicy sandwich. The quality of the salmon was exceptional, knowing that I rarely enjoy it around town. Only two salmon smokers in town provide a unique quality with international standards and tonight one of them was here for sure. A lean salmon, adequately oily with an interesting texture and color. The foie gras section... You know how hard is to succeed with foie gras? What if it’s done at a wedding out in the open? A perfect foie gras quality pan-fried and served with homemade blinis. I decided to start with the hot section while everyone was busy with the salads. I then moved back to the salad section to enjoy the great looking plates. Freshly produced and beautiful, each salad was unique in its own way. I could feel every ingredient sliding under my teeth. Even though displayed and maybe prepared in advance, the salads were juicy and enjoyable. The tomatoes were fresh, the quinoa salad very tasty, and the mozzarella as good as it can be, the endives fresh and the asparagus salad one of my favorites on this buffet.
Afterwards, was lamb and meat time: I stood in front of this lamb turning over the fire and started looking at everyone's face. The chef was preparing individual bites of lamb taken from the clay pot mixed with spices; that was unique. It’s rare that you can experience lamb meat this way. When I thought that dinner was done, I decided to check out the BBQ section. Charcoal grilled US prime... Do I need to explain? The only thing that needed improvement was the live pasta and risotto station. The lemon risotto lacked flavor and was served soaked and overcooked... as well as the pasta not cooked al dente.
To accompany dinner the wines had been carefully selected:
- 2011 Domaine L Chatelain Chablis: Chablis, Burgundy, all French. With a bouquet and taste of Granny Smith apples, this 100% Chardonnay is unoaked, and offers hints of pear and mineral notes. The cool climate and slate soils of Chablis brings out a bracing acidity that pairs well with seafood and shellfish.
- 2009 Chateau Franc Pipeau grand cru saint Emilion: Lots of big oak, currant and dark fruit aromas. Gobs of chunky, dark fruits on the palate were joined by coffee and chocolate notes. French barrel oaking shines through on this very big, full-bodied Merlot. It's well balanced, has very good acidity and a long finish.
- Verrines of white chocolate, feuillantine and dark chocolate
- Cheesecake verrine
- Martini and banana cup
- Martini and tiramissu cup
- Meringue bowl
- Mini Oreo cheesecake
- Mini Rice Krispie cakes
- Mini baba au rhum
- Mini cupcakes with frosting
- Mini éclairs made with rose water
- Oriental desserts selection (Mafroukeh, mhalabieh, riz bi 7alib, creme caramel)
Cheese and bread station Chocolate fountain:
- Fruit brochettes
- Mini bags of red fruits
- Pomegranate fruit salad punch
Chocolate Shawarma station
- Strawberry cake
- Baba au rhum
- Red fruits
- Caramelized bananas
- Choco croustillant
- Caramel chocolate
- Lychee with rose cream
Ice cream and sorbets:
- Vanilla, lavender, loukoum, red fruits, mango, oreo, sahlab, strawberry
Crème brûlée station The deserts were even better than dinner itself. Chef Robert Matta, executive pastry chef was touring around the aisles making sure all was mastered to perfection. I've rarely eaten tarts that were so fresh and crunchy, especially at a wedding, and surely rarely have enjoyed a good natural ice cream. I might be giving them too much credit but this review is a reflection of the event as it happened.
The after party selection: Saj, Sahlab with kayak, waffle station
What a day, what an experience:
- The wedding was perfect from the very first minute it started until it ended at 4am
- The organization was excellent
- The bride and groom made us all want to dance non-stop
- Faqra Catering did a great job out there
- My latest favorite discovery is the chocolate shawarma and the ice cream
Other than the superb entertainment brought directly from France and the beautiful projections accompanying us all night long, the ambiance was so festive and fun. Everyone had a blast. Mabrouk my friends…