Growing up in London as a young girl, my dad was always keen on exposing my mum, older sister, younger brother and I to all types of different cuisines and foods. He would regularly make it a point to take us out for lunch or dinner on the weekend, especially during the warmer months. From when I turned about ten years old, my dad had an Egyptian friend who introduced us to Lebanese food for the first time. I remember feeling very tentative with every bite I took for that first Lebanese meal, not enjoying the new sensations and tastes, and neither did my siblings. Still, my parents seemed to relish it, and it soon became a regular occurrence for us to visit the famed Edgware Road for its plethora of Arabic and Lebanese restaurants. Needless to say, I eventually grew to fall in love with Lebanese food…
I happily feel at home now in any Lebanese restaurant, and can easily order my favourites off a menu. What I have always loved about this cuisine is its freshness, simplicity and consistency. Piping hot falafels, smooth and creamy hummus, juicy and tender grilled meats - I know what I am going to get, and I know I am going to enjoy it.
That’s why I was delighted recently when Brand Terminus, a branding agency in Dubai invited me to dine along with my husband at Café Blanc, a Lebanese restaurant they look after. Situated on the lower ground of Dubai Mall, with an outdoor seating area facing the Dubai Fountain, Café Blanc is a restaurant which prides itself on combining traditional Lebanese food with a modern approach. The interior is sleek and contemporary, with pops of lively colour and geometry inspired décor - an aesthetic which is carried through into its food too.
We were talked through the ethos and history of the restaurant, before deciding to seat ourselves in the entrance dining area of the restaurant. Rather than ordering off the menu, we were presented with a variety of dishes to sample. For starters many of the well known appetizers were offered, including fattoush, hommos, tabbouleh, moutabel. stuffed vine leaves, cheese stuffed rolls, and fresh Arabic bread. In addition were a few hot dishes, most of which I admittedly have never sampled before – small chunks of beef seasoned in soya sauce and lemon juice, diced spicy fried red pepper potatoes, and delicious pan-fried mini spicy beef sausages. All three were tantalising highlights. Something else I had never tried was the arayess halloum, a combination of halloumi cheese, parsley and onion, stuffed into flat Arabic bread and toasted – exactly the type of bread which the term ‘good comfort food’ takes after. With so many dishes to sample from there were those which I didn’t care much for, found satisfying in the familiar sense, or enjoyed enough to help myself with seconds. The moutabal was some of the best I’ve ever had. Smokey and smooth, it was delicately peppered with pomegranate arils, parsley and onion, and much creamier than most aubergine dips I have tried before.
Any true Lebanese meal is not complete without grilled meat. Our mixed platter came with one skewer each of chicken taouk, cubed beef and a minced lamb kafta. I was neither pleased nor disappointed as I found the meat to be nothing out of the ordinary and thought it could have done with being a little more juicy and tender. Once again, it was the smaller unattested dishes which stole the show. A creamy tomato dish with halloumi and chicken cubes was lip-smackingly good, as was the ras asfour – diced marinated beef with sautéed onions. The syadiet samak, showcased a more traditional dish consisting of grilled fish with rice and fried onions, accompanied with a fish sauce.
All of the food was beautifully presented, in the same way that all regular diners would also receive their meals. Even though traditional style pots were used, touches of individual details and twists to the dishes are what made them stand out in a playful yet modern way – I carefully noted the freshness of lettuce leaves and accompanying sides such as olives. The custom-made tableware and cutlery added to the contemporary take on otherwise traditional fare.
To finish our meal, we were given a small glass of warm orange blossom water, important to note as this what the restaurant takes its name after – Café Blanc, the drink beloved by generations of Lebanese as the perfect ending to a meal. Of course dessert came too, and again we were spoilt for choice. The familiar knefe and mouhallabieh were presented alongside aysh el saraya (soft juicy bread topped with kashta and nuts, and served with syrup) and byzance (a cheesecake topped with a layer of rose loukoum). As a huge fan of perfumed desserts (one only has to look at the recipes on my blog!) all four treats were sampled with delight, albeit on full bellies.
As this was a little different from the typical review style whereupon my dining partner and I would have ordered off the menu by ourselves, I felt that some of my usual reviewing crietira had to go out of the window. Instead I took the opportunity for what it was, graciously accepting the experience offered by my hosts. Infact it almost felt like having been invited around a friends house for weekend lunch, where traditional Lebanese fare had been laid out for all to enjoy, and with that touch of originality that comes with eating home-cooked food. By the end of our meal, the restaurant was packed to the brim, by many of whom were Middle Eastern customers.
It’s often lovely to stop by a dining venue where you are confidently secure the cuisine is one you are accustomed with. With so many restaurants to choose from in the Dubai Mall it is unlikely to be the type of place one would actively choose to dine at. However if it is Lebanese you are after and you do chance upon it, Café Blanc is a welcome retreat to stop by. Having also eaten at a couple of Lebanese restaurants within the mall, this was definitely my favourite thus far. There is something for all taste buds, and so much more variety to choose from than I have seen at most Lebanese eateries.
I have always felt that Lebanese cuisine is amongst the most ‘homeliest’ one can experience, and as a Lebanese establishment Café Blanc does this very well.
Photo credits – Brand Terminus
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