Thanks to the rash of various eateries in Beirut, not to mention the ongoing sushi craze, the current trend in Lebanese dining would appear a long way from eating fassulya wu ruz in mom’s kitchen. But that is just the kind of image that La Tabkha – the latest eatery to open its doors in the increasingly ‘in’ Gemaizeh area – is hoping will lead diners to its doors. Offering a menu of hearty dishes that promise to taste like home, La Tabkha’s food is convenient and affordable, with the average meal costing about $10 per person. “We noticed there were no places offering home-cooked meals as their main concept,” said Fady Saba, managing owner of La Tabkha, adding that his restaurant is especially appealing to working couples not able to make their meals everyday and people who are sick of ordering junk food at the office. “We are trying to create a new food behavior by providing meals that are fast, good, healthy and available at good locations.”
For starters, La Tabkha’s healthy concept of eating consists of an all-you-can-eat appetizer buffet for LL8,000, which includes everything from fried eggplant, squash and cauliflower, to hindbi and loubieh bi zeit. There are salads on the menu, for LL3,500, including the traditional cucumber and labneh combination.
The entrees listed for LL5,000 include lentil soup, omelet’s and kichk wu kawarma. However, La Tabkha also offer a set menu for LL11,000 featuring the plat du jour – which was cheick mihshi with rice (stuffed eggplant) or a chicken casserole, on the day my companion and I visited the restaurant – and includes a salad and dessert (a choice of nammoura, sfouf, rice pudding, chocolate biscuits, and muhalabiyeh au chocolat). I opted for the appetizer buffet and my companion chose the set menu and, as it was a touch on the chilly side outside, we both decided to start with some sumptuous lentil soup. The portions were very generous and we both enjoyed the richly textured soup amid the charming backdrop of a combination of French bistro and Lebanese culture. It was also reassuring that the cleanliness of the kitchen was clearly visible thanks to large glass windows that allow patrons to see the cooks actually prepare the food. At the buffet, I helped myself to a selection of loubieh bi zeit, hindbi, mashed potatoes with olive oil, fried eggplant and my favorite, fried cauliflower with a noticeably fresh taheeni sauce. Of course, my biased taste buds would have to pick the fried cauliflower as the standout appetizer of the buffet, but it must be pointed out that the hindbi was nice and crisp, the loubieh and potatoes just the right amount of tangy and the eggplant light and not too oily. I would’ve liked, however, to see some hummous or mutabel on the menu to make the meal more complete, which was a thought reiterated by my companion. Despite the absence of hummous, my lunching buddy enjoyed his cheikh mihshi with relish. The presentation was very attractive with the eggplant and rice coming in separate plates. When I asked how he liked his meal, he replied, “It’s just like mama made it.”
For diners who prefer to avoid the bustle of a busy restaurant, La Tabkha also offers a delivery service, with meals coming in a neat, compact box much like the old-fashioned metal lunchboxes. As the menu is set a month in advance and includes a calendar of plat du jours, it’s easy to pick out your favorites. With the apparent initial success of the restaurant, Saba revealed plans of an expansion of their delivery options and a La Tabhka franchise. “We expect to have two more outlets in Lebanon over the year, and if we succeed, we’ll go abroad,” explained Saba. “But the locations of the different outlets in Lebanon are not official yet.”
If packed tables are anything to go by, then La Tabkha is certainly on the right track. By one o’clock, the restaurant was crowded with a sprinkling of celebrity clientele. In a nutshell, my companion put it best: “I think they’ve got it just right.”