Subtle, authentic quality are the most apt words to describe Maison Libanaise. From the generous top of extra virgin olive oil that finishes most of the (addictive) dips in the way one might find in Jordan (country not suburb), to the tahini that tastes like a replica of the sesame condiment which is doused onto street snacks in Egypt. This shouldn't surprise us, given James Harrison, head chef of ML, isn’t looking in on a culture and executing lazy stereotypes in the form of pork kebabs. The pita is made fresh everyday, some of which is crispy fried and becomes the darling of the fattoush salad (incidentally, a salad I would have normally avoided but ended up being my favourite menu item).
All the dips deserve praise, especially the baba ganoush–where the charred skin flavour makes it smoky, savoury, bright, and creamy–and the cucumber labneh, perked up with house blended za’atar. And although the pita is an excellent vessel for scooping great mounds of hummus into the mouth, it’s the bowl of fresh market veg that I think is the best suitor for the appetisers. Put on the menu as an alternative for those given over to the #glutenfreelife, the vegetables are crunchy and fresh, and also doused in more of that beautiful, healthy extra virgin olive oil, finished with a sprinkle of rock salt. Seasoned raw vegetables of this variety and quality should make many more appearances on Hong Kong menus.
The other must order is the halloumi. It somehow manages to be pointedly sweet but entirely addictive, even to sugar-averse palates. The honey is warm and spiked with orange blossom, and melts magnificently into the dates which are also hot and sticky. The pliable, grilled cheese absorbs all these great flavours, and results in a pretty perfect dish.
Haloumi in orange blossom honey with dates
All things considered, it’s easy to see why this restaurant has captured the imaginations of Hong Kong’s food lovers, elevating interest in Lebanese ingredients and techniques, while retaining a very democratic price point (no dishes I ate were more than $98 and the dips all go for $48 a piece). Basturma doesn't appear on many menus in our capital (or, indeed, much of Asia), and it’s ingredients and methods like this which display the fine line Maison Libanese straddles between skilled-execution and innovation. It’s a line we should seek out and encourage, and one that we need to cross more often to fuel this city’s voracious food scene.
Basturma cured and cut in house by James Harrison
10 Shelley St, Central