CHECK OTHER REVIEWS FOR THIS PLACE:
Yabani: One of the First and Still on Top (Restaurant Relocated)
Yabani: New Location, New Look, New Menu (Restaurant Closed)
Yabani: (Restaurant Closed)
After visiting almost all casual Japanese diners in town, I needed to go back to Le Sushi Bar and Yabani, the best two sushi places in the city, and enjoy some fine culinary preparations few know how to master. I think we already agreed that sushi places in Lebanon are divided into two big categories, the casual ones and the fine dining ones, of which Yabani and Le Sushi Bar are the main players.
Last week’s Le Sushi Bar experience was very pleasant and enjoyable but the price was a bit high for what we ordered. Putting a grade on value for money, I would say 5/10. Yabani was next on the list for comparison, the food, the price and the experience. In a few words, lunch was awesome!
Yabani has a new address and, of course, with it comes a whole new look. Its first location, designed by the esteemed Bernard Khoury, was located in Achrafieh and accessed through a large elevator, which took you underground into the restaurant. Just a few months ago, Yabani moved into a more eclectic and modern space, designed by Riad Kamel Architects, in the heart of Downtown Beirut.
Yabani, which was, and still is, one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in Lebanon has now been given a whole new look, decor and menu ... today, I think, the space is second to none in town.
The place is incredible and worth looking into:
- Reach a glass space, opened to the busy streets of Downtown Beirut from two sides
- Grey concrete floors cover the entire space
- At the entrance, a bar welcomes you before moving forward to the first dining space, separated from the other by a support column covered in metal panels
- A high ceiling covered with glass panels makes the space look twice as big, while a large, designer chandelier hangs from the ceiling
- Wood is all over the place, decorating the walls, especially the high parts with parallel design panels In the middle, the black metallic column is crafted and back-lit
- Stairs take you to the restrooms, perhaps the most beautiful part of the restaurant and not to be missed. A large piece of art featuring a Japanese knife, crafted in white marble, decorates the wall on the right.
- Wooden tables fill the space and each has a grey stripe decorating it. Grey fabric designer chairs surround them while a few wooden ones are meticulously crafted into designer pieces.
- To the left, from side to side, is the rolling bar where a group of busy chefs prepare the orders
- Take a look at the high walls, they are not to be missed. Dozens of layers of wood of different colors change the straight wall into a design piece
- Light grey marble tiles are used everywhere, adding class and finesse
- Under the facing wall is a long bench
- High glass facades give a view of the busy streets of Beirut
The menu sections: Salads, Starters, Dumplings, Breaded Agemono, Tempura, Rice, Noodles, Cold Specials, Hot Specials, Beef Specials, From the grill, Hozo Maki, Crispy Ura Maki, Ura Maki, Temaki, Desserts, Izuzukuri, Sashimi, Nigiri Sushi, Gunkan Sushi, Special Maki.
Last time I was here was the opening and I promised you that I’d come back for more. Today, the experience was memorable. We were three, three food amateurs who are hard to please, and we left with smiles on our faces.
Lunch was exquisite:
Lunch was really perfect. While the waiter took the order, calmly and with a smile on his face, his iPad was sending our requests to the kitchen. One plate after the other started to land, as he continued to explain the plates while recommending the favorites. The Panko salmon is not to be missed for sure, a fine crumble of salmon cubes and crisps, mixed in their special sauce and decorated with thin slices of nori. The cucumber and carrot salad followed, mixed in soy sauce with white and black sesame seeds. We loved it so much that we ordered another plate of this simple, yet unique order.
As a special cooked meal, we ordered the peanut noodles and the eggplant. Wow! Again, they were so good that we doubled the order. Just as a quick reminder, we were three not ten, three people enjoying these fine delicacies. The noodles, thick and enjoyable, are perfectly cooked and topped with a crumble of peanuts alongside a quarter of lime. Press the lime on top and start rolling those enjoyable ropes while the nuts crunch pleasantly under your teeth. The lime leaves a pleasant aftertaste to remember.
The eggplant! Wow! I’m not sure how to say it, but you should have seen me talk to myself while enjoying one bite after another. Cooked in its skin, half an eggplant is perfectly cooked inside out, topped with a sweet sauce and sprinkled with sesame. Close your eyes and feel the finesse of this plate melt on your tongue while activating all your senses at once. On the side, sticky rice blends perfectly with the main preparation, adding a texture your taste buds expect.
And now for the rolls. We started with an order of 15 rolls and couldn’t but order more. Yes, again, we ordered more and finished them all to the last piece of rice left on the plate. Finely rolled pieces of Japanese innovation where perfectly cooked rice, one that was not sweet, embraces some fish and the crunchy, fresh nori leaf. Where there is sweetness, it is perfectly added. Where there is saltiness, it is felt in style. Where there is fried food, oil does not dominate the plate. The rolls were all extraordinary, all being light, and all offering a unique texture with no mayonnaise. We finished lunch without feeling heavy or needing to sleep. That is fine dining indeed. My two recommendations are the salmon skin and the eggplant roll served warm.
The Mil maki 4, is the only set of rolls served without rice. Salmon and avocado wrapping and shredded crab sticks. Enjoyable. Shake salmon, order 54, is interesting as well. Salmon sashimi in their sour sauce and topped with chili pepper.
The Temaki as superb. I’ve rarely enjoyed a Temaki that much; a super crispy and mouthwatering, fresh Temaki. A hard crunchy nori leaf, a reasonable quantity of fish inside and some crisps to add an enjoyable texture. Bravo!
The details I liked:
- Welcome to a luxurious Japanese restaurant.
- There are no photos on the menu, just 117 orders, with numbers.
- I admire the fact that they don't use any of those ugly plastic green leaves.
- Cabbage and lettuce are not used to fill in the empty spaces of plates. Enjoy the dishes as they are, beautifully presented.
- The decor is breathtaking.
- The waiters are well trained and professional.
- The restrooms are a must see t. Discover an architectural innovation up the stairs.
My only disappointment:
I wanted to have some fine Lebanese wine. Why are the only two choices Kefraya and Ksara? Where is Ixsir, where is the Karam Winery, where is Atibaya and all the rest? We are proudly Lebanese and love our wine, please, for the love of God, give them the right to be on your wine list.
I loved today’s experience and yes, I can safely say that Yabani is one of the few fine dining Japanese restaurants in town, offering exquisite food and good value for money. Give it a try.