Driving down a narrow road off Monot Street in Ashrafieh, you find a French style, 1920s building with a purple neon sign displaying the word ‘Noa’ from a first floor apartment. The trendy and ultra-modern pub-restaurant serving Japanese cuisine is the last thing you would expect inside such a building, but this is one of Noa’s many charming twists.
Not a newcomer to this business, Fadi Saba, owner of Noa, founded the Sodeco area nightspot Zinc in 1997. More recently, he wanted to create a place that reflected his maturity. “After all these years, I cannot start a small project, nor can I cannibalize myself and recreate Zinc,” explains Saba, and so Noa came to be. Saba uses the words “food, booze and mood” to describe Noa and says his concept is an even blend of the three, a cross between a pub and a restaurant.
Though such blends can overemphasize one aspect over the other — leaning too close to a pub that serves food or a restaurant with good music — Noa does well in balancing the two, mainly in thanks to its divided layout. Shying away from open spaces, which he finds frigid, Saba kept the original apartment’s layout. Noa’s entrance leads to the wide main room, the dining area, which in turn opens up to several other rooms: one with high tables houses the bar, another houses the DJ, one has a sushi counter, another is a lounge style room with low purple divans and finally there is a room for private gatherings. This division lends the venue a dynamic and fresh feel.
Designed by the architect Serge Abi Saleh, each room is different but comes together splendidly with the others to give Noa its chic vibe. The whole venue is dimly lit, bar style, with live DJ music. Yet, aspects of fine dining such as fancy cutlery and an extensive wine list are incorporated.
Noa’s menu, based on Saba’s extensive travels to Japan, is a light one and was chosen to be complimentary to a drink. With that in mind, and with the small sharing portions meant to create a cozy mood, one is advised not to visit Noa starving.
Those who are fond of traditional sushi offerings such as sashimi and maki will not be disappointed with the food’s fresh taste, and those with more adventurous tongues will discover authentic Japanese staple items such as creamy hotate (scallop tartar) and namasu (Alaskan king crab). One disappointment was the tempura, which was a tad over fried and bland. The drinks menu has all the usual offerings plus saki-based drinks, Saba’s attempt to spread the saki culture in Lebanon. Executive’s party tried the saki caipirinha, and found it a smooth substitute for vodka.
In its third month of operation Noa, which fits 120 patrons, is filled almost every night, according to Saba. His target “audience” is the well-traveled individual between the ages of 30 to 60 years who can afford to pay for a fine dining experience. On the night Executive visited, it was obvious that Saba had captured his desired audience, although $130 for nine pieces of sushi, one appetizer, one main fish dish and two drinks is on the pricey side, no matter how fine the dining is.
Saba hopes to return the $1.5 million invested in Noa in the next three years, taking into consideration the dismal current state of the hospitality industry in Lebanon. He admits that he began working on the project a year and a half ago, and when the hospitality situation became what it is now, it was too late for him to postpone. “I have to assimilate to the situation — I have to succeed,” says Saba. Indeed, so far Noa’s ship would appear to be on course and hauling in the catch.