Visiting Leila last month located at the entrance of Verdun coming from Hamra, where a series of other restaurants stand together, I was intrigued to experience what their next door neighbor Cafe Blanc has to offer, since they resemble each other in the type of food they serve - Lebanese dishes with a twist. I found myself in the area and decided to try it... since I haven't been to one of it's branches in a while.
Leila is definitely one of my favorite Lebanese restaurants with twist, but Cafe Blanc, also has a great reputation for being one of the places that started the trend of modern Lebanese restaurants - waiters wearing denim sherwal, food served in a modern plates designed especially for the place... a touch well appreciated. But I was honestly taken back as I walked in. The first impression was not a good one and had the urge to leave on the spot. Every single detail was disastrous: an open door restaurant on a cold 15 degrees stormy day, scratched tables, people smoking indoors, dimmed lights - the place looks dull and gloomy and at first we had to shout out for the waiter to come take our order. Asking to close the door since we were freezing, the waiter's simple answer was that the access to the outer tables will be blocked if they close the window. Come on! If I wanted to sit outside, I would have simply moved to the terrace. Inside should be well lit, warm and welcoming.
Unfortunately we could not even move places to sit away from the window, since a table of women were smoking as if there was no law against smoking in public closed places recently been implemented. Asking the waiter to do something about it, he replied: " What can I do?" Unbelievable first impression until I asked to see the manager.
Politely and friendly - and that is something I never ever do- I informed him that I am a food critic and what is happening until now is not in his favor. We didn't even start eating and the problems didn't stop to appear. Here the complete experience transformed by closing the door, making the guests stop smoking and making sure we are perfectly served to our total enjoyment.
The menu is nicely colored, thick and pleasant to browse, offering a large variety of signature Lebanese dishes created especially by Cafe Blanc.
The first page is a description of the concept: explaining the meaning behind the name Cafe Blanc followed by the different sections: traditional breakfast, bil ajeen, bayd bil fokhara, hot mezze, cold mezze, salads mezze, special salads, sandwiches, masheweh, main dishes, arayess, desserts, hot desserts, ice cream, pudding, house cocktails, sparkling cocktails, juices & sharab, hot drinks and sodas. "At Cafe Blanc a respect for the past and its traditions is infused with a dynamic and fresh approach. The charm of familiar dishes and the heartwarming customs of the orient have been given a creative lift to bring them into the future. The result is a new and unique experience. The name Cafe Blanc is a reference to a cherished tradition loved by generations old and new. This drink holds a special place in the heart of every Lebanese as the perfect ending to a perfect meal. Likewise, at Cafe Blanc, we aim to bring you an unforgettable culinary experience that leaves you feeling satisfied in so many ways. Sahtein" I loved the idea that the menu is written in two languages - Arabic and English - making it easily understood by many people. I think its a good idea and a way to help guests feel more welcomed. Example, most French Bistros in Lebanon offer French menus where half of the Lebanese out goers have a hard time understanding.
Grilled halloumi, rakakat Jebneh, rakakat bulghari w Zaatar, kebbeh meshwiyeh, Fattouch, rass Asfour, shankleesh, labneh bil Zaatar, kebbe meshwiyeh, masheweh mixed platter
The food is deliciously amazing. Bravo!
- MTV, Music Television screening on the large LCD in a Lebanese restaurant? That point I unfortunately didn't understand, especially when old Arabic tunes play in the background.
- Tables from different sizes are stuck together all moving like a sinking boat. I had sea sickness while eating.
- All lights should be lit at all times, especially the beautiful white chandelier dangling from the ceiling giving the place its identity. Being turned off doesn't give it justice.
- The tables must be changed as soon as possible. Although the restaurant is not old, the decoration is fresh and modern, the tables are heavily scratched. It's something that you can not ignore as you're sitting...
- I liked the colors of the sofas and chairs: Light blue and beige for the bench and individual wooden chair blocks covered in exotic fabrics of pink, blue, green and white.
- A very high ceiling, beige walls and the geometric oriental engraved designs all over the place giving it a unique look.
The food experience is great:
- Meat platter comes with hummus and pickles. The tenderness of the meat makes it melt under your teeth for a joyful sensation.
- I loved the labneh presentation, offered in a simple bowl and carefully crafted into a cylinder, with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh green thyme (Zaatar). That is a success.
- Five cubes of halloumi, adequately salted and grilled.
- The minced meat (Rass Asfour) are delicious and perfectly seasoned.
- I liked the rounded toasted bread of the Fattouch
- The chankleesh bowl is generous and tasty.
Today's lunch ended with one of their special desserts:
The Sultana's Delight:
a superb blend of cool vanilla ice-cream, light biscuit bites, exotic loukoum and coffee sauce, topped off with hazelnuts. Loukoum are cut in small crunchy pieces that look like sugar cubes served with hot coffee and Ghandour biscuits. Yummy!
I enjoyed the food, but unfortunately not the place which has been taken for granted but will surely come back to make sure improvements are made to one of Lebanon's restaurants who wrote history. If only the place is as good as the food... Cafe Blanc wouldn't leave any other "Lebanese restaurant with a twist", standing in Lebanon.