The problem with opening a restaurant that pleases everyone’s palate and becomes one of the city’s institutions is that if you try to do it again, you have set the bar so high that you might not make it over. Such is the case of Beirut’s latest upper-crust addition to the cities cuisiniere: LUX. Brought to us by none other than the same Johnny Farah and co. behind the famed and flavorful Casablanca, LUX has the feel of an upstate New York-style dinner with the clientele of Brooklyn’s Peter Luger Steakhouse.
What its creators understand well is the economics of proximity: the Marfaa district of Beirut is fast becoming our version of the Empire City’s Meat Packing District with names like Farah’s own IF, Karen Chekarjian’s Atelier and Robert Keyrouz’s boutique, all choosing it for its ‘edgy on the water’ feel. But its not there yet.
All the districts that have become our capital’s bohemian bread and butter — from Monot to Mar Mikhael — started with a select few flagship locales before bursting out into multi-million dollar industries in and of themselves. To reach this critical economic mass, those first few concepts have to be airtight, not places that lose steam once people figure them out.
For those of us who expect the quality and feel that Casablanca gives us (and we do), the Asian fusion at LUX leaves much to be desired, apart from the meat Carpaccio, but do not try the fish as it is, well, fishy. What is perhaps even more perplexing is how an organic salad made by the same folks at Casa can taste so different — now that takes talent. And even for those of us who don't mind spending a little extra to get a little more, a nice bottle of wine and a par-for-the-course dinner shouldn't cost $250, even if the bottle docked me around $100.
This can all be overlooked if the ambiance can cover for it. But apart from the character the rusty sign at the entrance brings — which I recall seeing at the Carawan Gallery just a stone’s throw from the place — there is not much else to keep me enthralled except for the politeness of the staff.
One thing that works at the moment is the clientele. Already, given the name and the area, the people you want to see and be seen by are there. But even if you strike up a conversation with the jolly bartender and then look around for less-busy company, you will find it hard to make the usual eyes around the room. Unlike Casa, the layout of LUX means you will be poking your head around the corner and glaring across the room, instead of flicking a glance at the lady in red.
If LUX were just another addition to an already thriving district of bars and restaurants perhaps its shortcomings could be overlooked. But as a flagship restaurant of the Marfaa district it lacks the lure to drive people away from their comfort zones in other parts of the city. So, like many things in life, the original turned out considerably more captivating than the sequel.