Tawlet: Beirut’s hidden gem serves up simple, seasonal treats

The restaurant all but shuns the staples of popular Lebanese cuisine, favoring instead the food of the home. (Photo supplied)
Updated 29 July 2018
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Tawlet: Beirut’s hidden gem serves up simple, seasonal treats

  • There’s something wonderful about Tawlet, which means ‘table’ in Arabic
  • The restaurant all but shuns the staples of popular Lebanese cuisine, favoring instead the food of the home

BEIRUT: Set back from the main road in an unassuming corner of Beirut’s Mar Mikhael district is Tawlet, the farmers’ kitchen of Souk el Tayeb. If you didn’t know it was there you’d never spot it.

There’s something wonderful about Tawlet, which means ‘table’ in Arabic. Maybe it’s the constantly changing menu and the rotation of cooks, or the championing of small-scale producers and the celebration of culinary traditions. Whatever it is, Tawlet is a rarity.

The restaurant all but shuns the staples of popular Lebanese cuisine, favoring instead the food of the home. Its dishes are regional, seasonal, simple. There are stews and salads, pastries and desserts. All form part of Tawlet’s ever-evolving daily buffets.

The man behind Souk el Tayeb is Kamal Mouzawak, an eccentric, flamboyant, occasionally arrogant but consistently articulate social entrepreneur. He oversees an organization that was formed to host a simple farmers’ market back in 2004, but has since grown to include restaurants such as Tawlet Beirut and Tawlet Ammiq, and a handful of guesthouses that are sprinkled sparingly across the country.

Souk el Tayeb is built around what Mouzawak describes as the “idea of coexistence through sharing food and sharing tables.” As such, a different cook from a different area prepares food from their region at Tawlet every day. They are Muslims and Christians, Lebanese and Syrians, Palestinians and Armenians. As a social enterprise, it is almost beyond reproach, generating profit to support cooks and producers above all else.

The restaurant's bayd bil fokhara. (Photo supplied)


When we visit it is a Saturday afternoon in early June. The restaurant, situated at the far end of a short cul-de-sac, is all but full and there are two rooms, the smallest of which houses the buffet. The day’s menu is written on a large green board that stretches to the ceiling.

A long communal wooden table dominates the main dining area and there are plants and paintings adding splashes of color and contrast. At the far end of the room, behind a bar serving coffee and desserts, is a giant floor-to-ceiling shelving unit. Outside is the small terrace on which we sit, hidden from the sun by the shade from a carob tree.

The day’s chefs are Fadi and Nada, siblings from Dhour El Choueir, and it’s hard to know what to eat first. There’s hummus and tabbouleh, of course, and batata harra (spiced potatoes), plus an array of salads that burst with both color and aroma: freekeh with chard and mushrooms; courgettes with garlic; tomatoes with basil; grilled cauliflower and green beans.

Of the salads, it is the massaee’t batenjeen that I savor the most. A mouthwatering aubergine and tomato dish, it is made richer by the addition of onions, garlic, chickpeas and chilli pepper.

There’s bayd bil fokhara (eggs cooked in a clay dish) and lahme bi ajeen (spiced lamb flatbread). I also encounter kibbeh krass for the first time. It is plumper than the regular restaurant fare and filled with fat, finely chopped mint and onions. Mouzawak, who has been sitting inside throughout most of our meal, warns us not to eat the fat, only the meat, mint and onions, which have been additionally flavored with both sweet and black pepper. It is, like everything else on the menu, delightful.

The kibbeh nayeh. (Photo supplied) 



Much of the success of Tawlet, of course, is down to Mouzawak himself. A perfectionist, a quibbler, a purist, a pedant, he takes pride in detail and is genuinely committed to Lebanon’s food and the land.

“All that I do is out of love of life and respect for life,” he once told me. “If you have this, how are you going to celebrate it? If you love life, you love to eat. If you love to eat, you love food and you respect the ingredient. I’m not trying to create a fancy restaurant or wait for a Michelin star. It’s about celebrating life. It’s about celebrating our traditions.”


The London Project: Unpretentious high-end dining in Dubai

The London Project resturant in Dubai. (Supplied)
Updated 21 January 2019
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The London Project: Unpretentious high-end dining in Dubai

  • The London Project is located on Bluewaters Island off Jumeirah Beach Residence
  • The menu features “flavors from the boroughs of London where dishes are designed to be shared”

DUBAI: We’re fans of visiting restaurants before they reach Instagram-level hype, and so during an outing to Dubai’s newest neighborhood, we had to pass by The London Project. This establishment — which opened late last month, and is located on Bluewaters Island off Jumeirah Beach Residence — is the latest addition to the emirate’s ever-changing culinary scene.

It won’t be the first eatery you’ll come across when you arrive from the mainland; it’s tucked toward the far end of the marina, near the giant, yet-to-open Ain Dubai.
Offering glorious views of the Ferris wheel attraction and the Beach JBR, the venue has launched at the right time: perfect weather makes for perfect outings.
Upon entering, there’s an instant ‘Secret Garden’ feel to the place, with bespoke plants adorning every corner right up to the top level. Try and get a table on the terrace — the views are unbeatable.

The star of the show, naturally, is the food. Designed by chefs Christopher Walker and Robert Fairs, the menu features “flavors from the boroughs of London where dishes are designed to be shared.” The food is certainly eclectic, ranging from chocolate-fed wagyu steaks to salmon flatbreads. It is a tad disappointing that each dish doesn’t come with a story of the borough it’s inspired by though — that would have been a nice touch on the menu.
We opt for small plates to share, and they’re impressive. The buttermilk chicken is perfectly juicy with just the right amount of crunch, while the braised beef in the pulled beef soft shell tacos is melt-in-the mouth. The heirloom tomato burrata is another delight: fresh and topped with a smoked raspberry sorbet that surprisingly works; while the Ika Mata ceviche marinated in coconut cream is a sight to behold.

For dessert, the restaurant’s signature is a vanilla yoghurt parfait served with fresh strawberries, and strawberry parfait.
The food, then, certainly passes the test. Another plus point? The friendly service. We were met by smiling hosts and that welcoming, laidback attitude remained throughout service. The décor and dishes are upscale, but without the air of pretension often associated with venues like these. It’s so refreshing to see.

As you’d expect with any new establishment, however, there were teething problems. While the ‘adult’ beverage menu was extensive, little information was offered regarding soft drinks, and a staff member had to take a minute to check which sodas were available. It’s important for any restaurant, not just in this region but everywhere, to understand its clientele, and be knowledgeable about ‘zero-percent’ options. After all, non-alcoholic drinks are in demand more than ever in real London, too.
We visited midweek, avoiding the more-manic weekend. However, we were distracted a couple of times during our meal by staff members discussing the evening’s service in a group huddled together right behind our table. We know that it’s important to cross-check things with colleague — it just might be more professional to do so in a quieter area away from diners.
Nevertheless, it’s evident that a great deal of detail has gone into The London Project, and if it maintains its food quality and friendly, laidback style of service, then it will fast cement itself as one of Dubai’s restaurants to watch in 2019.
And the eatery recently announced that it is now brewing its own brand of coffee, Queenie’s Estate.
“The Queens first ever official, unofficial roastery in Dubai,” the restaurant’s Instagram page stated this week. “Obviously named Queenies, and obviously roasting coffee that is strong, sophisticated, and has a touch of sass — just like Ma’am herself!”
That gives us one more reason to pay another visit.