SoHo is an area that’s packed with restaurants, but Maison Libanaise still manages to stand out.
In terms of looks, it’s painted a terracotta-like red on the outside and one side of the building has a large, colourful mural. In terms of location, it’s situated alongside the famous Central–Mid-Levels escalator, which means the place is always buzzing. And in terms of layout, it’s a fun catch-all place with a takeaway spot on the ground floor, a more formal dining room on the first floor and a gorgeous terrace with string lights and picnic benches on the rooftop, which is just as good for a romantic date as it is for a big group dinner.
Helming the kitchen is Chef Jad Youssef. Chef Youssef was raised in Beirut, where his dad owned a traditional pastry shop, and more recently lived in London. There, he opened casual Beirut street food restaurant Yalla Yalla, and his sawda djej (chicken liver mezze) was named one of the 100 Best Dishes in London in 2012 by Time Out.
The purpose of our visit to Maison Libanaise was to sample some of Chef Youssef’s new dishes for spring. Many of these are specials, so prices and serving schedule are TBC. This might make it a little difficult to plan, but whenever you do go, no matter what you try, the food is sure to be delicious.
I might be in the minority here, but I always thought my previous visits to Maison Libanaise left something to be desired. The sauces weren’t strong enough, the dips weren’t rich enough, the meats weren’t tender enough. Everything was fine, but the dishes didn’t have that something special that called on my cravings and lured me back. This time, though it’s only been a week since I went to try out the new dishes, I’m already thinking about my next visit, because I want to eat that lamb again – but more on that later...
We started with some meze to share. The hummus bil lahme (hummus with spiced lamb confit) was creamy and delicious, and the hot, doughy pitta was perfect in taste and texture.
When the kibbeh, a lamb tartare with spiced bulgar, basil and roasted pine nuts, arrived, many at our table warily eyed it. The meat looked so... raw! But one bite and we all understood why this is such a staple in Lebanon. The taste was fresh yet hearty and not at all gamy, with a slightly gritty, breadcrumb-like texture thanks to the bulgar – definitely a conversation-starting dish.
I tried eating the quail with a fork and knife, but then I just dove in with my hands. Featuring juicy meat with a pomegranate molasses glaze, this dish speaks for itself.
Now for the aforementioned lamb. This whole roasted lamb shoulder came in a huge bowl (just look at the individual plates for scale) and completely fell apart at first touch. The meat wasn’t overly fatty, but it was juicy and flavourful, and the juices saturated the freekeh base, which contained large chunks of roasted fig, pistachio and pomegranate seeds. Holy moly – was this delicious. I had some for leftovers the next day and poured some of ML’s garlic sauce on top (a stronger garlic sauce than before – hooray!), and it was just as good. We were told that this is a popular dish around Easter, so that’s when the restaurant plans to offer it.
Our meal ended with a plate of assorted baklava, which was nutty, floral, buttery and crunchy – brought in from some magical bakery in Lebanon.
I really loved my meal at Maison Libanaise. The flavours were fresh and strong and the dishes were inventive and complex. I can’t wait to return and see what Chef Youssef and the rest of the Maison Libanaise team come up with next.
10 Shelley Street, SoHo, Central, 2111 2284 (no bookings)
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