BEIRUT: Ever since Em Sherif Café opened near Beirut’s Zeitouna Bay two years ago, it has been the place to see and be seen.
The establishment is owned by the charismatic Mireille Hayek, the diva of Lebanese cuisine who opened her first restaurant, La Parilla, in 2006. She sealed her reputation as a golden restaurateur with Em Sherif, which means the mother of Sherif, Hayek’s own son.
The concept of this eponymous cafe is grounded in traditional family values. “We are a family who loves to eat. You just have to look at me,” Hayek says, breaking into a hearty laugh. “I have always loved to cook. I cook at home for my family and friends. The recipe for success is simple, you just need good food and good service.”
She insists that the food served at Em Sherif Café is home cooking at its best, “I like authenticity in Lebanese food. There is no room for fusion.”
This year, a delicious appetizer called the “ajina bil awarma,” a pie stuffed with small chunks of fat-coated meat, features on the iftar and suhoor menu for the first time. Hungry diners can also enjoy a range of traditional Ramadan favorites, including soups, fattoush and fatayer — pastries stuffed with meat, cheese and spinach.
For those who favor a light iftar, the eatery offers a delicious spicy chicken. The presentation of this dish — and this can be said of all the dishes served at the restaurant — is superb. A long, rounded chili crowns the spicy chicken, accompanied by two little square bowls of sauce, including the addictive hot sauce.
To end the meal, those with a sweet tooth can opt for the pistachio brioche, which consists of a thick layer of crushed pistachios topped with ice cream, delicately sandwiched into a brioche and then popped into a hot oven.
With up to 800 customers a day, it is no wonder that the café is a must-try this Ramadan if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Beirut.