BEIRUT: Famed around the world for its food, Lebanon has a plethora of loud and lively restaurants where mezze and jokes are shared over a period of hours, the drinks flowing as the night draws on: perfect for family get-togethers or birthday parties, but not so ideal for a date.
Here are some of Beirut’s best restaurants for a night where it’s just about the two of you.
The Gathering, Rue Pasteur
At the recently opened The Gathering behind Gemmayzeh, three sister venues are dotted around a central courtyard, filled with sparkling tea lights hanging from the trees. The three buildings, renovated Lebanese houses, offer you and your date dining options. Choose from The Gathering: Butchers, a steakhouse with lots of meat options; the Italian restaurant or finally the Bar Cellar, which stocks around 500 different vintages, and serves up cheese and meat platters for the most low-key option.
All three settings are intimate and cozy, but if you need some fresh air after your meal, sit in the courtyard and enjoy a nightcap. Sat right on the edge of the highway, the interior designers have used a clever kind of glass which makes the tail lights of the cars whizzing by look like some slow motion light fitting. The Gathering does not accept reservations. The Gathering, Rue Pasteur, Gemmayzeh, 01-566-196, open from 12 noon to 12 midnight.
Seza, Mar Mikhail
A key addition to the Gemmayzeification of Mar Mikhail over the last few years, Seza is one of the most charming restaurants in the area. More refined than the classic Armenian institutions over in Burj Hammoud, Seza still serves all the best traditional food from Yerevan.
Share some manti (little boats of meat or spinach in a yoghurt sauce) or some sausages in cherry sauce with your date. For these early summer nights, it’s still cool enough to sit on the terrace, where fairy lights and flowers lace the walls and old book cases and ladders are covered in tiny pink and white potted plants.
The dreamy atmosphere continues inside, where huge chandeliers and mismatched lace doilies are juxtaposed against rustic paint finishes and sanded pastel-colored wooden seats and cabinets for a stylish surrounding. Seza, Patriach Aarida street, Mar Mikhail, 01-570 711, open for dinner from 7:30 p.m. until midnight, Monday to Saturday.
Indigo, Le Gray
With panoramic views of the city, this restaurant on the sixth floor of Le Gray hotel in Downtown Beirut is a fantastic spot for a special date. Appropriately purple orchids dot each table, and pink flower beds encircle the edge of the terrace.
Sit outside, for views of the sea, the mountains and Downtown rooftops or pick a corner table inside, where floor to ceiling glass windows still allow a view of the world outside, and watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen, or place yourself conveniently close to the seafood bar for first pick of fresh lobster, shrimp and fish of the day.
The international menu prides itself on its fresh fish, and the latest summer edition includes pan seared sea scallops, Dover sole and calamari, but also features a wide selection of grain-fed Black Angus steak. Pick the Indigo chocolate assiette for two, comprising fondant, tart, mousse and ice cream. Afterward, relax in the neighboring cigar lounge or go for a cocktail or coffee in the Cherry on the Rooftop bar, also on the sixth floor. A reservation is highly recommended. Indigo, Le Gray Hotel, Martyrs’ Square, Downtown, 01-972-000, open for dinner from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Les Vilains, Ashrafieh
This cute little restaurant near Monnot only has around 12 tables, but internal walls – adorned with empty ladder rungs decorated with tiny baubles – break up the room into sections and provide privacy. Empty bird cages become lamp shades and the restaurant, once a traditional home, still has beautiful original floor tiles. Each dish on the menu takes its inspiration from a different country around the globe. Go for the lightly seared sesame seed tuna steak with delicate Vietnamese salad or the rich Scottish beef filet and share the chocolate fondue for two for dessert. Les Vilains, Baroudi street, Ashrafieh, 01-323-531, open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday from 8 p,m. to 11:30 p.m.
Momo at the Souks
A sister restaurant to the London original, Momo offers up a menu which could be the love child of a Lebanese and a Moroccan. This classy venue in the Souks would be perfect for a special occasion, beautifully decorated with dark lighting and lighting fixtures that look more like works of art.
Choose from spicy Moroccan meatballs with quails eggs or a sea bass fillet with a lemon crust and an artichoke pesto as a main, and finish with a mojito sorbet or the passion fruit and chocolate cake. After the meal, move through to the bar or onto the terrace, with sofas tucked around each corner offering solitude from the busier bar inside. Momo has an extensive cocktail menu, featuring their unique concoctions, and an extensive wine and spirits list. Momo at the Souks, opposite TSC Downtown, Jewelry Souks, 01-999-767, the restaurant is open for dinner from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday and from 12 noon until 2 a.m. Sundays.
Dar Bistro, Clemenceau
This newly opened bistro is perfect for a casual, relaxed date. The converted house (complete with bookshop during the day) has a large terraced area, which winds around corners, providing plenty of secluded seating options. This leafy quiet space is quite unlike anything else in Ras Beirut, and is somewhat of an idyll in the city.
Like the setting, the menu is unpretentious and laid-back, but of great quality. Go for the steak frites or the chicken souvlaki with tzatziki platter, or one of their fantastic homemade burgers with wedges. Dar also has an exhibition space upstairs and occasionally holds live music nights, so enjoy a chilled out cocktail after your meal. Dar Bistro, Roma street, Clemenceau, 01-373-34, open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.