Abu Naim - Lebanese restaurant in Beirut
30 October 2017
Last week I was in Beirut to speak at a conference there about business purpose and sustainability. It was a great event, with a full-on agenda of commitments for me to get my teeth into, which is how I like it if I’ve travelled any distance to an event. Food went from the irrelevant (I’m busy, I’m preparing for the next session, I’ve no time to worry about food) to the sublime (the enormous charity dinner for “saving little hearts” which had a three course menu of which any top restaurant would be proud).
At the end of the event, I had been conversing in some shape or form pretty much non-stop for two days, and me being the introvert that I am, I needed a seriously chilled and quiet evening before setting off home the next day. I’d already done a quick bit of research to see what sort of places there were close to my hotel in Hamra, and Abu Naim had stood out as a small, friendly but authentically traditional Lebanese place that attracted high ratings from its visitors. Even better, it was really just around the corner, so I set off to see how it would be.
Abu Naim is a family-run establishment, and I was certainly made to feel welcome when I arrived. It was relatively quiet when I got there - a group of six people were at one table, and then it was just me. As the evening went on, it gradually filled up - a mix of locals and visitors like me. The decor is fairly simple, but there was still a great charm in the ambience, and I was immediately comfortable there, sitting at a table by the open window.
Call me a wimp, but I was flying first thing the next morning, and I looked at the extensive raw meat section on the menu and decided to give that a miss this time. I feel bad for having done so, I generally don’t shy away from such things. But having a food incident on an aeroplane struck me as being no fun at all, so even though the risk be small, I thought I would play it a little safe. Things I passed over included dishes such as raw lamb’s liver with spices and raw lamb kibbeh.
Instead, I had an excellent starter of hummus with ground beef and pine nuts, with a salad of familiar and exotic vegetables. The hummus was beautiful, as silky smooth as you like and earthy with a great hit of tahini. I tried unfamiliar looking items from the salad plate, which included a vegetable which looked like a baby aubergine (eggplant) but tasted more like a pickle.
For the main course, I went for the (cooked) kibbeh - a lovely meaty treat made from cracked wheat, onion and ground beef or lamb, along with the archetypal Middle Eastern spices cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice. These ones, which were flat on the plate, were made from beef which I only realised after I’d ordered them meant I’d gone for beef for both dishes. It didn’t matter - they seemed pretty distinctive in how they’d been prepared, and the kibbeh came with a fruity zingy sauce that worked really well. In any case, with a half-bottle of red wine to go with it, the food was exactly the sort of straightforward tasty local cooking I’d been craving and it went down a treat.
One of the things about travelling is that you manage to serenely accept things that would annoy you at home. Abu Naim allows smoking - not just the commonly-seen hookah or nargile pipes, which have an aromatic charm - but standard cigarettes as well. While I was there, activity peaked only at one cigarette smoker and one hookah, and that didn’t seem too much to interrupt my positive frame of mind.
Neither did the fact that, next to the open window you have the privilege of sharing the joy of all motorists in the fact that they have a working horn on their cars. Having completed my arduous work for the day, I was untouchable. You might want to bear it in mind though if you’re looking for somewhere in Hamra, reading this review and not feeling quite so untouchable by such factors.
Abdel Aziz St., Hamra
Tel. +961 1 750 480