With its latest location at the Avenues, a new escape exists for those wishing to run away from the hustle and bustle of rushed shoppers. At zahr el laymoun, relax by the fragrant jasmine trees, rustic furniture, and take a moment to take an incarnated vision of the Lebanese countryside.
A concept focused on recreating the oriental Lebanese kitchen in its pure and basic nature, zahr el-laymoun aims to deliver the simpler, and more importantly, original, tastes of Lebanon, inspired by nature and its fresh ingredients. With a menu developed based on grilling and baking all of your local Lebanese favorites, one feels immediately at the heart of a mountainside garden, spoilt by the tantalizing flavors of provincial cooking.
Upon being seated, you’re presented with a basket of fresh Kaak, rounded pieces of herbed bread, along with small dishes of herbal mixes. With fresh and dried thyme, mint and summak, you’re invited to try out an age-old Lebanese tradition: drizzle the light, and may we add extremely tasty, olive oil over the herbal mixes, then simply dip in your pieces of Kaak and enjoy. With a side drink of refreshing Sharab, a cool rose water and pomegranate-infused concoction, your troubles will effortlessly vanish into thin air.
Starting off with the traditional mezza, I was surprised to see certain dishes I could only find in the heart of my hometown in Lebanon, such included the hummus paste with figs and walnuts, or for mhamara fans, hummus with spicy mhamara. Lebanese fatteh is also served in many forms, and my absolute favorite, Fattet batenjan lahmeh (a meat and roasted eggplant fatteh) was my starter treat. Pastries, also called Rkakat, are baked and grilled to perfection, and filled with meat or Halloumi cheese. Ras Asfour is the must-try dish, and could be consumed as a full meal on its own! Small, succulent pieces of beef braised in a pomegranate and lemon sauce, accented with pine nuts and cherry tomatoes. Also cooked in an addictive lemon-based sauce are the Makanek, better known as the much-loved, and spiced, Lebanese sausage. Another delicacy to fully devour without guilt includes the grilled Kebbeh, or meat and barley patty. Usually, these addictive rounded patties, or as we, the people of the Levantine, like to call them Krass, are fried, yet at zahr el-laymoun, the processes are simplified to deliver a lighter and fresher taste. From plain, spiced, or an adventurous Labneh and mint stuffing, the expertly-seasoned and grilled Kebbeh was an indulgence I had missed out on after months of fasting (ie. Dieting). Batata Harra, or hot potatoes, a surprisingly delicious dish is served grilled, as nothing is actually fried at zahr el-laymoun. Instead of the usual service of frying the potato cubes then immersing them in olive oil and spices, the broiled cubes are spiced in kind, and then grilled until the edges are expertly crisped.
When it comes to the main course, it is usually the Lebanese custom to choose a mixed grill platter, or better yet, start combining the divinely-flavored dips and mezzeh with the grilled meats! Also in tune with the rustic nature of the cuisine at zahr el-laymoun, oily fries are replaced with a display of grilled corn on the cob, peppers, and grilled potatoes. Offered grilled a la Provencal or fragrant rosemary, mashed, or even baked with Labneh and garlic, the disappearance of fries from our mixed grill platter is, first of all, unnoticed, and second of all, appreciated!
Where Lebanese country grills are concerned, the scenic setting where mountainous cedar forests meet a Mediterranean blue sea is no longer a visual experience, yet inspires a new culinary palate for incorporating natural, earthy ingredients. Your typical experience of chicken Shish Taouk is forever changed when the herbal addition of thyme is infused in its flavors. Grilled meat cutlets are tenderized with spices to give an added kick, the minced meat Kafta is enriched with roasted pistachios and the lamb cutlets are slowly grilled to juicy perfection with an herbal marinade.
Our desserts swiftly followed, and that’s when the beauty of local flavors shone through. Along with a pot of expertly brewed Turkish coffee, we initially sampled the honey, fig and anise cake with a cream cheese and honey dip, followed by the rose water-infused mhallabieh pudding; I was instantly transfixed with a taste of simpler times, and simpler desserts. Tart el Khalil, also a rare delicacy hard to find in Kuwait, is a baked tart stuffed with carrot jam, fresh cream, and roasted nuts. Inspired by the local ingredients of Lebanon, Tart el Khalil is a rare indulgence! Finally, we also enjoyed the Mini biscuit cake; a mixture of Lebanese chocolate and praline biscuits, all compressed together to deliver the rich, unforgettable texture of biscuit meets chocolate.
For a quick and simple fix, or if you’re greedy like us and didn’t get enough of zahr el-laymoun, order any of their specialties in the form of a sandwich! From vegetarian options like seasoned Labneh with dried and fresh mint, cucumber, black olives and olive oil or any of the grilled specialties on offer, and even a hearty shawerma is available if you’re on the go! Because we couldn’t get enough of them the first time around, we ordered a batch of Makanek Sandwiches, all prepped to satisfy even the most decisive Lebanese palates, with a hummus paste, roasted tomato, pickles, mint leaves and lemon juice.
zahr el-laymoun is located in Phase I of The Avenues and 360 Mall, for more information, please call The Avenues location at 2259 7422 and the 360 Mall branch at 2530 9511.