Lebanese culture has permeated the Arab world with modernity, sophistication and class all at the same time. Time and again, this small Levant nation has amazed its neighbors by breaking the mold and seamlessly ushering in classics into today’s world with ease that the rest cannot help but appreciate. Now, Kuwait has a new restaurant to enjoy the best of Lebanon with the newest opening in the Arabella food complex, Semsom.
It all started with entrepreneur Christine Sfeir, the businesswoman that brought Dunkin Donuts to the Middle East and was named one of Arabian Business’s Most Powerful Arab Women of 2012. She had the vision to spread the Lebanese way of life through a restaurant that truly captured the essence of her homeland’s cooking.
Her goal was to make every one of her customers feel as if they just had dinner at their grandmother’s home. With a team of chefs and tasters they got to work revisiting recipes that had been passed down in their families for generations. The result, a menu that is both daring and traditional and bound to keep you coming back for more whether you’re in Lebanon, Saudi, Oman or Erbil and soon in Dubai and New York.
The first decision a diner has to make at Semsom is where to sit. The inside is decorated with gorgeous purple and yellow hues, with dark cherry wood furniture. Floor to ceiling windows give the restaurant a light and airy feel, and the modern décor blends old with new. Photos from Lebanon line the walls above the bar, giving every spot in the restaurant a view of the best scenes from the country. We chose to sit outside on their large cushioned chairs, and enjoy the freshness of the outdoors.
The most important part of a Lebanese meal is the mezzas and the chefs at Semsom have perfected these simple dishes, then given them a twist. We started with the hummus dip. You can’t go wrong with the classic and its perfect creamy consistency, bursts of fresh tahina and hint of lime. Then, they gave it the Semsom twist with three different variations: olives and sesame, zaatar and sumac and, our personal favorite, cumin with parsley.
At Semsom, you can indulge in the Lebanese love for eggplant with a delicious eggplant sweet and sour, made with raisins and sprinkled with sesame seeds. If you want the best of both the hummus and eggplant, then go back to the traditional with their baba ghannouj. Dip one of their perfectly rolled and cooked stuffed grape leaves, close your eyes and take a bite and you can imagine that you are sitting in an outdoor restaurant in Beit Mery overlooking Beirut.
You can also dive into new twists with their Mama Ghanoujeh, a variation of the classic that uses zucchini instead of eggplant, pureed with the hummus to give you a refreshing and delicious salad. What about savory osmalieh? At Semsom the thin dough strands are wrapped around a chicken, cheese or shrimp filling and fried to a crisp shell surrounding a delicious blend of meat and spices.
All of the starters at Semsom lead to the main event, and where the party in your mouth really gets going. The restaurant offers saj (a flatbread) platters with marinated chicken and steak, a special chicken with coriander and garlic or a variation of grilled meats. You also have the choice of dough based oven baked dishes like kafta, lahm b’ajin and zaatar.
We decided to go for the meat during our visit with a traditional mixed grilled platter, and it was divine. The platter came with perfectly spiced kafta, juicy chicken tawouk and an incredible kebab that made our taste buds dance. Yet the crowning meat was the bobby veal (calves of milking cows) cuts that melted in our mouth like butter with each bite.
Not ones to ever say no to dessert, we indulged in an amazing raha cheesecake, a thick filing made with Turkish delight and sandwiched between perfectly toasted osmalieh. The traditional ghazal, a Lebanese cotton candy, layered with ice cream has the perfect sweet rose water taste. Don’t forget the chocolate-layered osmalieh, rich with chocolate ice cream and cocoa syrup giving you a deeply satisfying end to your meal.