Spice trail: Maison Libanaise was inspired by the vibrancy of Beirut in the 1960s, against a colourful backdrop of geometric murals and ornate Arabic ceramics. A new addition to Black Sheep Restaurants arsenal of eateries, the Lebanese "canteen" spans three floors in Hong Kong's touristy Soho district, alongside the world's longest escalator. On the ground floor is a buzzy open kitchen which serves up delicious takeaway dishes ranging from grilled saffron chilli chicken, to mezze platter, to Syrian salad and tabouleh. The first floor is the main dining hall, where guests can indulge in spice-infused delicacies accompanied by fine Lebanese wine. The casual rooftop is perfect for al fresco dining, or private events, under the twinkle of fairy lights. At the helm of the kitchen is Head Chef James Harrison, who earned his stripes under the guidance of Michelin-starred Chef Greg Malouf, otherwise known as the "Godfather of Lebanese cuisine".
Our Lebanese feast began with generous bowls of hummus bi tahini ($48), baba ganoush ($48), and labneh ($48). It was a humid and hot Hong Kong evening, so we relinquished the traditional pitta bread for a giant bowl of fresh vegetables. The sweet crispiness of the chilled vegetables complemented the creamy dips beautifully, with our favourite being the lusciously velvety cumin-infused hummus.
We've heard plenty of raves about the roasted cauliflower ($88), rubbed with spicy harissa, zhoug, lemon and dry lime. One bite and we were in love. The sweet yielding cauliflower florets were the perfect vessels for the incredibly bold spice blend. Vegetables never tasted so good.
There's nothing boring about the eggplant fattoush salad ($98) at Maison. Brimming with roasted eggplant, sweet onion, roasted tomato, and punctuated with zingy herbs and crunchy za'atar croutons, this salad packs a knockout of vibrant flavours. Although a vegetarian dish, the alluring spice blend and contrasting textures appeased even the most steely of carnivores amongst us.
Served piping hot, the almond falafel ($98) came alongside cool cucumber labneh, tahini and pickled salad. We are usually not big fans of falafel due to its denseness, but the version at Maison won us over with its crunchy exterior and fluffy interior. Just make sure to eat this while piping hot to fully appreciate its contrasting textures.
The pan-fried haloumi ($98), drizzled with honey glaze, date and Byzantine dressing, was the Golden Child of the evening. The briny, toothsome cheese was balanced by the sweetness of the dates and honey. An addictively moreish dish perfect as an accompaniment for both casual cocktails or as a headliner to the beginning for a substantial meal.
It really isn't a Middle Eastern meal without lamb. The pulled lamb shoulder ($198), nestled in goat cheese and topped with soft herb salad, was infused with beautiful notes of cumin, alongside other spices. Although tender, the meat was on the dry side, and we craved for more sticky, juicy morsels typical of slow-roasted meats.
The za'atar fried chicken ($108 for half, $198 for a full chicken) is made with free-range chicken and came alongside sumac labneh. We found the chicken to be on the dry side, and lacked the mouth-watering juiciness usually associated with fried chicken. Although we enjoyed the dusting of za'atar, most of the flavour of the dish came from the rich sumac labneh.
A beautiful ending to our meal, the olive oil, rose petal and pistachio cake was almost too pretty to eat. Each bite was simply heavenly.
Verdict: A solid option for lighter summer eating, thanks to the abundance of flavourful vegetarian dishes and moreish dips. We adore the intoxicating spice blends. The protein main courses were a tad on the dry side, although we are huge fans of the takeaway grilled saffron chicken pita (not pictured here) which is a juicy, smokey bundle of euphoria.
Maison Libanaise has recently started offering delivery service, so you can enjoy the best of Lebanese cuisine without stepping out in the heat!
Maison Libanaise, 10 Shelley Street, Central, 2111 2284