Conflict-ridden Levant did not top lists of must-visit places even before COVID-19 struck. But to those that go beyond cosmetic headlines, the temperate Middle-east is a source of endless wonder, where East meets West and hospitality is not held hostage to the size of the home or wallet.
Though the Levant doesn’t lack in culture, heritage or class – think Petra and ‘Paris of the East’ Beirut– it hasn’t been able to market itself as well as its neighbours across the Mediterranean Sea in Greece, Italy and Spain have. Nowhere is this more visible than food.
Pretty much anyone can rattle off a zillion varieties of pizza, pasta and paella. But when it comes to Levantine cuisine how many can go beyond basic Hummus, Shawarma and Falafel? That is why Rue Du Liban is such a valuable addition to DraMumbai’s food scene.
To be honest, while Rue Du Liban had been on my radar, I hadn’t stopped by before as Middle Eastern flavours weren’t to my taste. Or so I thought. Until last week, when they sent over a lavish feast for me to sample their new delivery menu! That ensemble of excellent fare threw my tastebuds
into a tizzy. I had sampled similar dishes before, but that’s like oohing at a few marble floors before you’ve seen the Taj Mahal.
First off, I must tell you how well the food travelled. Perfectly dished and topped with oils and garnishes into non-spill eco-friendly containers, the hot and cold mezze looked salon-fresh and red-carpet ready! Everything was neatly labelled so there was no confusion. We were set to dig in as soon as everything was duly sanitised and photographed.
My husband, who loves Levantine cuisine so much that he thinks the sumac used liberally in it should be a superfood, headed straight for a nibble on the Manakeesh Za’tar. This beautiful bread, fresh from the oven, had the right kick to counter the spongy sweetness of the pita it sat on and a liberal helping of Za’tar on top, the spice mix made with tangy sumac, subtle thyme, punchy oregano, sesame seeds and salt.
The other offering from the ‘furn’ or oven, was Jibneh Arayes, another flat bread but filled with the Libyan red pepper paste called Harissa and three cheeses – Feta, Mozzarella & Emmental – and topped with marinated olives. This could have had a more generous filling, in my view, as I didn’t really get that deliciously decadent mouthful-of-cheese feeling that a pizza does, but it did give me the taste without all the calories.
The Mouhamara from the Cold Mezze section tasted the closest to what I imagine an accomplished Syrian cook would have whipped up at home before their world turned upside down. The bell peppers were perfectly roasted and complemented well by the hotter peppers in the Harissa. The genius of authenticity was in the pomegranate molasses, the Mediterranean answer to balsamic vinegar. It’s tangy acidity with a hint of the sweet cut through the richness of the dip nicely. Topped with walnuts and a dash of olive oil, I could eat this daily and never have enough. The other cold dish, a creamy and garlicky Labneh Mtawameh, was quite moreish too, with a liberal sprinkle of nutty Dukka on top.
Next, we hit the Halloumi, usually one of the most delicious cheeses in the world. This one, perhaps because we allowed it to go cold and then reheated, was a tad rubberier than it usually is. But again, taste-wise, it delivered and then some! The Falafel Salad we tried next was fresh and flavourful; the onions, tomatoes and feta dressed in a delightful mix of lemon and olive oil with a liberal helping of tahini to pour over the plump falafel, deep fried to just the right crunch. It was like a Greek salad with a lot more oomph.
Their Hummus is arguably the best in the city, if not the country. Silken in texture, yet with a certain heft that gives it gravitas. They have six on offer, of which we picked two. The vegetarian Beiruty version had some extra character with the addition of juicy cherry tomatoes, spring onions and parsley oil. The Lamb Shawarma that topped the non-vegetarian hummus was well spiced but a trifle dry.
From the grills, I was intrigued by the Farrouj Meshwi, which lived up to its exotic-sounding name. The grilled chicken was all about garlic and a strong lemony sumac-based marinade. I puzzled over how huge it was until I checked the Internet to learn that ‘farrouj’ means rooster in Arabic. Ah, size does matter when it comes to tasty chicken, I suppose. It was delicious, served on pita bread with a Syrian parsley salad called Biwaz and the most brilliant condiment on their menu – Toum.
The Toum deserves a special mention. You’ve probably tasted this emulsified dip before, especially with a lot of Middle-Eastern wraps. It’s made with just garlic, lemon juice, salt and ice water and is a good foil to grilled meat or pickled vegetables that are often eaten together. But the one made by the Rue Du Liban kitchen has an almost magical consistency, sitting like a solid pat of butter in its box but somewhere between liquid and air when you eat it. I would love to order a big tub of it to have by itself or elevate my snack time!
With this pleasing our palate, we could have almost done without the fabulous desserts that followed. But I’m so glad we left some room for them. This was the first time I was introduced to the Lebanese version of Baklava (they call it Beklewa), which, instead of layers of phyllo pastry like I’ve had in Istanbul, is actually a delicate roll of it stuffed with nuts. Topped with dried rose petals and syrup, each bite transported us to the bustling bylanes of Beirut. And the Halawa Fondant, a truly unique meld of a molten chocolate cake and pistachio halawa (made with a tahini paste base), was even more sinfully good than it sounds!
All in all, Rue Du Liban (the French for Lebanon) showcases the food of the Levant, the region between the Mediterranean Sea and Turkey, beautifully. This region, rich in history and culture has been a corridor connecting several trade routes since ancient times and a melting pot where tribal traders came from every direction, accompanied by animals laden with sumptuous silks, gleaming gems and exotic spices. It has seen the birth of some of the world’s most widespread religions, experienced great power and great strife. And Rue Du Liban’s in-home menu, which draws liberally from the cuisine of the entire region – big on flatbreads, dips and grills, offers a variety that is mind-boggling and portion sizes that signify a very large heart. A good way to eat adventurously while you stay safe. While travel is off the cards and dining out still seems a dream, the restaurant brings the flavours of the Middle East right to your doorstep.
Where: Sassoon Building, 43, VB Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400023
Order: rueduliban.in, swiggy.com
Phone: 022 2286 4444