Hummus Hurrah: A home away from Beirut, Maison Libanaise brings epicurean joy to the heart of Hong Kong
The hubbub of laughter and feasting echoes against wood- block and salmon-pink painted walls and zellige tiles. Fine, dainty lamps suspended from the ceiling and no-fuss green wooden stools at the bar, while doing little to absorb the thrum, add lustre. Just these elements alone conjure an inviting haven for a long, slow nightcap after a long, frantic day.
Occupying a three-storey walk-up in the bustling SoHo district of Central, Maison Libanaise stands as a culinary oasis, offering a captivating escape to the vibrant flavours and rich traditions of Lebanon. With its warm ambience, friendly service and an extensive menu that showcases the best of the country’s cuisine, it has become a go-to destination for food enthusiasts seeking an authentic Middle Eastern experience – transporting diners to the streets of Beirut, or as Chef Teya Mikhael would have it, her childhood memory lane.
“My recipes are very home-inspired rather than restaurant-inspired,” she says. “We try to provide a real home experience. It’s a female-dominant kitchen, just like it is back home. It’s all mothers and ladies who give out dishes with so much love and so much beauty.” The exuberant chef bursts into laughter: “But I am not a mom – yet!”
Stepping inside Maison Libanaise is to be greeted by an inviting, cosy atmosphere, reminiscent of a traditional Lebanese home. It makes for an intimate experience – though perhaps a little too snug at times, depending on the size of the dining crowd. Just as personal is the service. Chef Mikhael chats to diners like she would to friends, sharing her personal recommendations from the drinks list which runs from Middle Eastern-inspired contemporary cocktails to largely familiar and beautiful wines.
“Lebanon has a really big wine scene with over 60 to 70 wineries’” she says. “Here, we have the biggest Lebanese wine list, which we really try to emphasise. The Lebanese way is best spent with wine in hand, over long and leisurely meals shared with friends and family. It’s so ingrained in me that I try to sneak a couple of bottles home whenever I can,” she adds, with a cheeky wink.
But what has seen the restaurant boom is the food – with guests returning many times to explore the broad menu designed around a charcoal and wood grill. Spices are sourced directly from Lebanon, with sumac, in particular, standing out. Enhancing the natural flavours of the food it is cooked with, deep- red sumac features in almost every dish in this vibrant restaurant. There are specific seasons for sumac berries and the tart, acidic spice is prepared and used in the traditional way. Like pomegranate molasses, which the culinary team also applies liberally, it is at the heart of Lebanese cuisine.
The new a la carte menu is inspired by dishes the chef made with her mother and grandmother when she was growing up. Each dish is an edible memoir of cherished recipes from her childhood in Lebanon, carefully curated and reimagined from her unique perspective. Exhibit A: Sujuk Bel Banadoura, a symphony of spicy, tangy and sweet notes showcasing grilled beef sausages with matbucha (Moroccan tomato salad) and pomegranate molasses.
Another crowd favourite, Hummus Araydis is a testament to the chef’s creative spirit, marrying her love for hummus with the fond memories of prawns she orders at her favourite beachside haunt. In this dish, the creamy chickpea purée dances with chives, coriander, lemon and chilli, and is crowned with prawns sautéed in Aleppo chilli oil.
Of course, Lebanese cuisine is entirely about the shared table, a balance of flavours and dishes, and the moment of bringing people together. The Mashewe Mshakal platter does just that, embracing beef kafta, beef skewers, shish taouk (chicken kebab), lamb chops and vegetable skewers accompanied with hearth-baked pita bread, sumac-roasted tomato, grilled onion and the holy trinity of harissa, toum and tahini (red chilli-, garlic- and sesame-based relishes) for dipping.
Maison Libanaise is all about celebration, food and fun, and as home to three layers of indoor and outdoor drinking and dining salons, the merry hubbub will only intensify.
Maison Libanaise, 10 Shelley Street, SoHo, Central. Tel: 2111 2284. maisonlibanaise.com.hk
Photos: Maison Libanaise Video: Jack Fontanilla