Walking down the wide set alley-way between the Palms Hotel and Arabella, you eventually end up at the azure sandy beach leading to the Gulf. At this corner, when turning to look to your right, you are taken aback by high walls washed in baroque blue and sporting a delicately small sign, hanging from the side, that reads: “Em Sherif”. This experience may sound a little Alice-in-wonderland magical, yet for us bazaarites, walking through those heavy wooden doors, we had actually entered a culinary, magical world.
When you first walk into Em Sherif, you find yourself stunned by an ornate environment drowned in light and luxury. Similar to that of an antique, oriental mansion, moods of regality are evoked with high intricate ceilings, adorned with chandeliers. Light pours through the arched windows and playfully bounces off of the mirrored table-tops, and silver cutlery creates a shimmer and shine throughout the open space. The waiters, dressed to impress in their bow ties, gracefully glide through the restaurant while soft old-arabic music plays in the background. Almost everything is set in different moods of blue that mimic the sea view, inviting feelings of warmth. One thing is clear, Em Sherif is doing décor differently by moving away from the cookie-cutter style of your average Lebanese restaurant, and bringing lavish opulence to culture and history.
Décor is not the only thing Em Sherif is doing differently. The restaurant is reservation-only and offers a set menu. We know what you must be thinking; how can a Lebanese restaurant work off of a set menu? Yet this alarm and bewilderment is immediately soothed and settled once you know why it is that a set menu was chosen. Em Sherif was founded by Mirielle Hayek, a Lebanese restaurateur and talented chef who, upon persistent request of her family and friends, first opened the concept in Beirut in 2011. Naming the restaurant after her son, Mirielle Hayek (or “Em Sherif”) decided to incorporate a set menu concept because she wanted to replicate the experience you have when you go to your grandmother’s house on a lazy Friday afternoon, and she feeds you whatever she cooked and whatever is at home. This is what is so delightful about Em Sherif, this fine establishment takes tradition and breathes magic into it.
We were just getting comfortable in our seats as the first act was served. The attentive and elegantly dressed staff streamed out with plates upon plates of our favorite cold mezzeh: Fattouch, Tabbouleh, Kabis Mehchi (stuffed pickles), Salatit Malfouf (cabbage salad), Labneh Bil Joz (labneh with shredded almonds), Bourghol Bi Banadura (Bulgur wheat with tomatoes), and so on and so forth. Every dish is displayed and garnished so beautifully that eating them felt like a crime. This is why when the waiters offered to serve the mezzeh on our plates, we did not refuse.
Let’s talk about two things: quality and hummus. Quality: Em Sherif’s cold mezzeh tasted as though the produce has been freshly picked from a garden in their backyard. So much so that we were tempted to dress in camouflage and uncover this secret garden. Hummus: they say that you can judge a Lebanese restaurant by its hummus. If this is the case, then Em Sherif is hitting the nail on the head. The hummus was indescribably smooth and had been evidently freshly prepared. A few forkfuls into our starters and we knew why Em Sherif was brimming with people.
The second act arrives: a warm mezzeh consisting of Balila, Sawda Djej, Kreidis Meshwi, and Fattet Batenjan. Each dish was an explosion of flavor that met the fine balance between ingenuity and tradition. The Kreidis Meshwi (grilled shrimp) was perfectly battered and grilled to give that smoked flavor without compromising moisture. The Fattet Batenjan (Eggplant Fatteh) was a wonderful bowl of perfectly grilled eggplant hidden in a rich and creamy yogurt and topped with bits of fried bread that created the perfect mix of smooth and crispy. Each dish of the cold and hot mezzeh sang its own tune while still being part of an orchestra of flavors.
Enter, the main act: the meat. This, dear readers, is where we knew why Mirielle Hayek’s friends and family had convinced her to share her food with the world. While the Kebab was succulent, tender, and exploding in flavor, the Taouk was marinated to perfection and cooked to retain all of its moisture. The fluffy white garlic dip and warm French fries combined with these meats to form a holy matrimony on our forks. In the center of our table stood Tabekh Em Sherif or Em Sherif’s dish of the day. In our case, we tried the chicken and artfully prepared Kebbeh on a mountain of rice (slow cooked in homemade chicken stock) and doused in creamy yoghurt sauce. One, two, three helpings later we leaned back in our chairs and sighed with relief.
Now for the closing act: the sweets. The sugary spread included something to satisfy everyone; Meghli, Bouza (ice cream), Um Ali, and Biscuit au Chocolat to just name a few. The Ghazalieh became the center of our attention as the traditional sugar candy is beautifully wrapped around a soft rose flavored ice cream turned on its head to form an upside down ice cream cone, which we devoured in minutes. The dishes were flawlessly selected to complement each other and deliver a balance of flavor and texture. The warmth of the Um Ali was contrasted by the tart coldness of the pomegranate gelatin dessert. If one dish was smooth, rich, and creamy, then another was deep fried to a golden crisp that gives you that satisfying crunch.
When the last of the Um Ali left our plates, we sat back both satiated and satisfied, and celebrated the grand four-part performance that was our lunch. Assuming that our experience could not be more perfect, we found out that, had we come for dinner (which starts daily at 8:00pm) we would have dined with live traditional music!
Sipping on our hot White Coffee, we came to two unanimous consensuses: That Em Sherif is Lebanese gourmet done to perfection, and that this little gem of restaurant is perfect for special occasions. The set menu is a blessing in disguise for those large Birthday dinners where twenty odd minutes are spent debating what to order. Alleviating this stress means you can simply sit back and enjoy the people you are with, the glamorous décor, and the live music while waiting for your food. Once you sink your teeth into those warm little manou’shehs, you’ll know you’ve made the right decision.
Em Sherif is located at The Palms Hotel in Bida’a. For more information and reservations, please call 9097 7997 or 2208 5717 or follow them on Instagram @EmSherifKuwait.