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Ivy Reviews: Prune French Bistro

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I just returned from a much needed 9 day stint in Europe, namely Paris and I can honestly say that I like (dine-in) French food in Lebanon more than French food in France and yes I’m generalizing.

The bar was set pretty high during a pre-trip dinner at Prune with friends, a relatively new French Bistro that set up shop in Mar Mikhael. You can call Prune cozy or you can call it tiny, both French characteristics, perhaps intended. So reservations don’t come easy and even when they do, don’t expect leg space. Nevertheless, it adds to the charm of this busy joint even on a Monday night. I didn’t know what to expect as I didn’t do much research on Prune online but I enjoyed the mystery of it all.

We started things off with a ruby red bottle of Domaines des Tourelles, one of my favorite Lebanese wines, fruity and subtle a perfect companion for red meat.

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The menu features many classic dishes one would expect a French joint to serve and every now and then the star prune makes an appearance on the menu such as the Chevre, prunes en compote, the Foie gras et chutney de Prune and the Poulet aux Prunes.

We settled for the Salade King Crab fenouil, a generous serving of succulent and fresh-as-can-be shredded crab, none of that fish imitation rubbish you’d usually expect, on a bed of crisp fenouil soaked in a delectable olive oil, lemon and what felt like paprika or sumac dressing. It was by far the best crab salad I’ve had since moving to Lebanon. And though it will set you back 38,000 LL,  worth every lira.

Prune Bistro King Crab salad

Next, we shared the Calamars et pouples grilles. I like it when calamari tastes and feels like chicken and this one did, though my friend found it a tad over-spiced. It came with a side of more fenouil and parsley.

Prune Bistro Calamari

The waiter lured us into a breaded oven cooked Australian fillet, part of Prune’s daily special, but apologized profusely minutes later when he was informed by the chef that there were none left. I was glad that happened or else I wouldn’t have had Prune’s Award Winning Steak Frites (38,000LL), yes, I’m giving them an award for that dish, because this is not some marble piece of faux filet or bavette steak, this steak felt, tasted and fell apart like a prime filet mignon coupled with a creamy sauce unlike anything I’ve had before. It’s one of those things that you’ll remember each time you have a craving for a great steak in Beirut.

Steak Frites Prune Bistro

My friend had the signature Poulet aux Prunes (36,000), a very generous portion of chicken breast in a hearty comforting sauce with prunes. This dish was a perfect companion on a cold winter night though in my opinion it was missing a much needed side of carbs such as a soothing fluffy portion of mashed potatoes that I think would go wonderfully with it.

Poulet Prune Bistro

I’m ashamed to say we didn’t have any dessert, it was late in the evening and Pain Perdu isn’t exactly good for the thighs before bed, Anthony from No Garlic No Onions describes it as one of the best he’s had in Lebanon to date. I’ll definitely be heading back to try out a selection of Prune’s desserts.

Prune is about that true gastronomic experience, giving you that lovely Parisian bistro feel but with fantastic food and great service. It’s about time something of this caliber showed up.

The Prices: Dinner for 4 with bottle of wine $200

The Verdict: One of the best (if not the best) French Bistros in town

More Restaurant review HERE

 

 

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Ivy Reviews: Sydney’s at Le Vendôme Beirut

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Perched atop of Le Vendôme’s glassed rooftop is Sydney’s, one of Beirut’s longstanding hotspots following a recent refurbishment .

Home to stunning unrivaled views overlooking Beirut’s glistening Manara strip, this upscale yet warm spot caters to all tastes; private luxurious lounge areas for the Cuban cigar aficionados, a grandiose oak bar complete with a rare selection of cognacs and malt whiskies and a collection of the sassiest cocktails in the city for someone like me. Sydney’s has also managed to attract almost every foodie in town and rightfully so, all thanks to its diverse international menu featuring some universal favorites, from tacos to tenderloins .

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Last Wednesday my man and I were treated an unforgettable four course meal that courted our taste buds and challenged our intake capacity.

The Drinks

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We kicked things off with two of Sydney’s 7 Wonder Cocktails. My man who’s a big fan of mojitos had the fabulously refreshing Apple Mojito made with Zapaca rum and apple sour liqueur while I went with an obvious choice, the Earl Grey Fizz a genius mix of homemade tea syrup and Yellow Label Veuve Cliquot, both spot-on.

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We nibbled on some complimentary Edamame and Grissini as we sipped on our drinks.

The Food

For starters we shared Sydney’s Burrata served with juicy Heirloom tomatoes and basil, it was just right, the outer shell was a nice firm Mozzarella with a soft rich and creamy textured interior.

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We also had the lovely Lentil salad with some string beans and asparagus in a balsamic dressing and the Fresh Artichokes and String Bean salad, a combination we both never had before, it was an interesting first, with the grilled cauliflower and fried white onion rings though I wasn’t a big fan of the chestnuts.

Next we had two signature dishes that put Sydney’s on the map, the first being the succulent Raviolis de cèpes, with grilled wild pleurotes in a delectably rich mushroom sauce.

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It paved the way for the best, yes the BEST authentic club sandwich in the city. Layers of juicy sliced chicken, crisp bacon, hard boiled eggs with a secret basil mayonnaise sauce in 3 pairs of toasted cereal bread and a side of Parmesan fries.

photo 1As for mains we shared the Beef Tenderloin fit for a king and grilled to absolute perfection, seared on the outside and just perfectly pink and supple on the inside with a side of fresh vegetables and an exquisite sauce.

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We also split the Pan-fried Salmon with coucous and white organic quinoa salad served with a dollop of pesto sauce. The salmon was lovely but all in all this entire dish was slightly plain and dry for my liking, I tend to enjoy this particular fish drenched in sweeter sauces.

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The Dessert

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Dessert presented a dilemma; we couldn’t get ourselves to eat a sight so pretty. So for a while we just stared. I finally gathered the courage to dip my spoon and crack into the Strawberry Comfit Crème Brûlée Tartlet that tasted it exactly how it looked. Decadent.

If you love caramelized pineapples and real vanilla ice cream don’t miss out on the The Pinapple Feuillette.

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And finally Sydney’s innovative take on the Baba au Rhum, two cute little babas generously soaked in none other than Cointreau and served with fluffy whipped cream.

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The Service

Impeccable. Customer is still king at Sydney’s. Yes, most five star establishments are renowned for their grade A service but let’s just say Le Vendome goes that extra mile; attentive staff, well-rounded waiters who tend to your every need without making you even feel they’re there and a whole hearted smile from just about everyone.

The Prices

Now here’s the part that will surprise you. The prices are reasonable to the extent where an appetizer costs roughly the same as it would in any mid-range restaurant in Beirut such as Casper and Gambini or Metropole, except this is one of Lebanon’s most exclusive 5 star hotels. Nothing that would break bank. The lentil salad or quinoa for example goes from (23,000 to 28,000LL) while pasta or risotto costs between (28,000 and 36,000) and the salmon is 49,000. A meal for two with appetizers and drinks can cost anywhere from 60$ to $75 per person.

The Verdict

Lives up to it’s hype and exceeds exceptions. I’m looking forward to trying out their popular brunch as well.

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Ivy Reviews: Métropole Brasserie

Métropole Brasserie located in Downtown Beirut (right by Porsche) is supposed to be somewhat of an upscale restaurant and so naturally you would expect grade A service especially when the head waiter insists on playing the role of a Parisian chef de rang. And so yes, when you’re greeted with that sort of ambiance/attitude naturally your expectations are somewhat high.

We were a table of 11 celebrating a friend’s birthday, and things seemed to be going smoothly as we started out with a classic selection of  appetizers you would usually find in a French Bistro and they were delicious.

The juicy sautéed calamari with parsley and garlic was cooked just right, not a hint of seafood almost like I was having  tender chicken.

calamari Metropole

For salmon lovers I recommend this fresh Salmon Tartar garnished with sliced radish and purslane.

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The Lentil Salad was my least favorite as it was dry (barely any dressing) and slightly boring, I would have much rather they added at least one other ingredient like Arugula or some raisins.

Lentil Salade Metropole

I particularly enjoyed chèvre salad, as I don’t usually enjoy goat cheese but this one was not pungent and the cheese was perfectly toasted on the bread centered with crisp red lettuce leafs.

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The Mozzarella and tomato salad was refreshing garnished with fresh basil, and sprinkled with olive oil and a side of ripe sliced avocado, though I feel they could be slightly more generous with the cheese.

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And finally the Lobster Quinoa salad was a real treat and though I never had cold lobster I actually enjoyed this one very much as it was cooked to perfection and the quinoa added just the right amount of crunch to the combination.

photo 3As for the main dishes three of us had the  Filet Mignon which you can’t usually go wrong with it came with a side of buttered green beans. Now here is when things began to go wrong, this filet was supposed to come with a side of fries that didn’t arrive with the dish, we had  to remind the waiters twice who also ended up forgetting to present us with the sauce until we were halfway through our meal.

Filet Metropole

My man had the burger which although was presented so nicely, truly disappointed. It felt like one of those you could easily make at home as the patty was way too thin, tasted too processed like it was pre-prepared and frozen, none of that soft and tender minced meat texture you would  would expect from a top-notch French joint with a measly slice of cheese and a thick uneven slice of tomato. I definitely wouldn’t recommend anything about this burger.

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My friend had the Beef Stroganoff with a sauce that both resembled paprika-colored watery sauce and tasted like nothing really. None of that thick creamy goodness you would expect from a Stroganoff and hardly any mushrooms.

Stroganoff Metropole

The service was mediocre to say the least. Staff seemed disheveled with their tasks and it took waiters an exceptionally long time to get something as simple as a soft drink or even extra cutlery.  By the end of the meal we began to feel frustrated with the service and complained. The head waiter/ manager paid us a visit and told him about our experience.

He didn’t apologize but rather explained to us that “this usually doesn’t happen” and that he “will look into it”  but he didn’t seem very sympathetic either. We were clearly dissatisfied with his response and began discussing our dismay in an obvious manner at this point. But it was only after we ordered the bill that he finally greeted us at the door and apologized. To be frank, it was a little too late he had already lost us.

You can have the best food in town, but with poor service and even some attitude it’s pretty hard for customers to focus on anything else, and in a depreciating economy like ours, you would like to think that businesses would strive harder to retain customers. Apparently not at Métropole.

View all Restaurant Reviews HERE

Ivy Reviews: BarTartine

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BarTartine. Even if you haven’t been yet, you’ve most likely come across the name by now. This latest hotspot has built quite the hype for itself and understandably so, since it’s managed to snatch one of THE prime locations in town. Think Mar Mikhael, an isolated beautiful outdoor court yard and a smoking terrace. (shared with SUD)

From the folks who brought you Zaatar w Zeit comes BarTartine, a casual restaurant, with laid-back and no fuss items on the menu such as soups, salads, and freshly baked sandwiches, thanks to its own little bakery located right down the steps on the main road below.

We were lucky enough to get a table outside on a busy Saturday lunch hour as management informed us we couldn’t reserve in advance by phone. Staff were quite helpful and well-informed about the menu. We had burned our fair share of calories that day and so it felt well-deserved to stalk up on the appetizers. I was a little disappointed that soups weren’t being served just yet (November) since I’d usually order a soup in Europe mid-July with no problem.

Luckily I got the chance to sink my choppers in two of the most amazing hearty Quiches I’ve had in Lebanon so far. The first was a chèvre (goat cheese) quiche with roasted cherry tomatoes on a fresh warm flaky buttery pastry that took it to the next level and though I’m not usually a fan of the pungent goat cheese, this one was one of the creamiest and smoothest experiences with this cheese I’ve experienced to date. Delightful.

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The second Quiche served that day was one very similar to the Quiche Lorraine, closed-topped with a ham and cheese in a creamy béchamel sauce. The glutton inside me just wished they were a tad bigger especially for sharing; one bite will not be enough, trust me.

IMG_0240Next we had another one of my latest obsessions, the Ricotta Croquettes, they put mozzarella sticks to shame, served with a fantastic fresh marinara sauce. These should be renamed Bites of Heaven.

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Finally as part of my everlasting quest for the best burger, I decided to go with the Lean and Mean Burger topped with Camembert cheese and caramelized onions in a homebaked bun. Though I loved the concept and the effort put into it, I didn’t love the actual burger, the main reason being the patty.

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The beef was cooler than I prefer and tasted like the kind you would have at a local Lebanese cafeteria, regardless of the sophisticated Camembert or onions, which most of the time dominated the taste of the meat, and we all know a successful patty would never allow that to happen. But when I actually could taste the patty it reminded me of a soggy kafta trying to be a burger, I’m not quite sure if it was due the spice mix (or lack of) used but it just didn’t make it in my book of burgers. It was also not solid enough to hold itself together along with the bun, which although was uber fluffy and fresh, couldn’t keep up with all the ingredients and fell apart half way through, obliging me to eat the rest of it using cutlery. And though it wasn’t a bad burger per se, for (around $19) 28,000 LL and with class act burgers popping up all over town, there is no room for mediocre burgers in this city. So no it’s not one of their fortes. But the fries and sweet coleslaw were fantastic!

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Though I won’t be visiting BarTartine for the burger again, I will definitely be paying this joint a visit to taste and review the rest of their baked items, including the pizza and baked desserts.

Price: 2 course meal for two with soft drinks should cost around $55-$70

What’s you favorite item at BarTartine?

More Reviews HERE

Cooking With Maggi at The Beirut Cooking Festival

cooking with maggi arabia

As some of the people who’ve been following this blog early on know, not only am I a major foodie, I’m actually also obsessed with cooking.  Yes I’m a woman of many talents.

And although slaving over a hot oven may not sound like the sexiest thing in the world it is actually one of my most loved pastimes.

So when Maggi Arabia invited me to cook this week at the Beirut Cooking Festival I was over the moon. On Friday November 8 and 9 from 12-2pm. I’ll be over at the Maggi stand whipping up a storm at the live cooking station. I’m not going to tell you what’s on the menu at the Cooking Festival just yet but I will share a quick and easy one I prepared in my own kitchen.

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This is one of my favorite dishes called Chicken Parmigiana that I used to prepare during the cold winter days in Toronto, comfort food at its best. The dish is essentially comprised of breaded baked chicken breast that you can prepare from scratch with breadcrumbs or ready-made ones that you can get from your local grocery store. But the secret lies in the sauce.  I usually use a box of strained tomatoes and then add in a couple of pureed fresh ones. I cook it over the stove with some olive oil, sautéed garlic and onions with a dash of honey and oregano and then add in two cubes of Maggi Chicken Stock, this is what will transform the otherwise bland sauce and give it a real hearty kick.

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When the breaded chicken is cooked, I’ll just pour the tomato sauce over them in a shallow casserole and top it off with a very generous portion of Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese, finally I’ll throw it back into the over again until the cheese gets golden.

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Garnish with some oregano and enjoy!

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See you at the Beirut Cooking Festival!

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Ivy Reviews: SUD

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Beirut’s been buzzing about two new hot spots conveniently situated on Mar Mikhael’s main road, BarTartine and SUD. They’re actually separate entities but share the same hidden gem of a terrace in an open court-style alley complete with small trees and beautiful stone walls. Sud also boasts a rooftop cocktail lounge.

Although it’s been open for a few months Sud’s reputation precedes it, hosting a full house during peak hours and an almost always packed guest list.

The menu is namely Mediterranean with a varied list of French, Italian and Catalan cuisine. We booked a table for four and headed down on a Saturday for lunch. I was drawn by the beautiful modern décor ,stainless steel lamps, open-style kitchen layout, bar and loved the entire look and feel of the place.

However, the staff still looked like they were adjusting to keep up with the constant traffic. An empty beer bottle seemed to have found its way right under my friend’s chair as we were seated on a table. We handed it to an apologetic waiter and then asked him to point us to the Catalan items on the menu. He sported a blank face and we knew we’d have to explore our own way.

We started things off with two Antipastos which I recommend, whole mushrooms marinated in a sweet balsamic sauce with toasted baguettes, and eggplant and black olive molasses also served on miniature toasted baguette.

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We also had the Crevette Ter Mer tapa , shrimps and some fantastic little pieces of chorizo (sausage) with fresh herbs.

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Next, the grilled calamari salad with artichoke hearts, porcini mushrooms, chick peas spring onions and cherry tomatoes and black olives drizzled with a lemon dressing. Although I’m a fan of grilled calamari I didn’t particularly enjoy the mix of ingredients in this dish nor did I like that the calamari tasted more boiled than grilled, as it was on the softer side of things and sported no grill marks or taste. It was missing a kick to it that just didn’t come.

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My friend went for the burger that came in a fresh bun and medium-sized patty. The meat seemed freshly ground as the soft patty fell apart with every bite however I didn’t particularly enjoy the spice mix used and the very thin cheese that seemed processed as it sat unmoved and un-melted. It was good but didn’t move me the way a gourmet burger should.

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My other friend went for the Risotto-style saffron paella which was absolutely delicious both visually and sensory with its scrumptious shrimp and fresh mussels. This dish is a definitive must-have for anyone who’s a fan of this traditional Valencian dish.

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My man went for the Salt Baked Sea Bass, which came in its full fish form in a hard crust cover that exposed a soft white flesh when cracked. It came with a side of sautéed potatoes. It was good but bland and slightly over-cooked for my taste.

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I had the Linguine Aux Crevette , a pasta dish of sautéed shrimps, shredded courgettes, green beans, cherry tomatoes, pepercino in a tomato sauce. And again it was good, it hit the spot, but it was missing something more, a flavor that would set this place apart from the rest and mark it’s gastronomic stamp on the scene, but again it failed to deliver.

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However, whatever flavors Sud lacked in the savory department, it made up in its dessert menu. The delectable glazed Pain Perdu left me in a trance topped with a heavenly scoop of vanilla ice cream from the ice cream connoisseurs over at  Oslo.

IMG_6015The soft Profiteroles drizzled with warm milk-chocolate sauce were mouth-watering and the ice cream really impressed.

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We washed the meal down with some a foamy rich cappuccino.

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I found that Sud’s prices are very reasonable compared to the other restaurants in town with appetizers ranging from $5 to $15 and main dishes ranging from $18-$30 so a meal for four with soft drinks without dessert would total to around $120.

I will definitely be back for to Sud’s rooftop soon for some of those promising cocktails. Have you been?

More Reviews:

Frosty Palace

The Roof

Couqley

La Petite Maison Dubai

P.F. Chang’s

The Grill Room

é Café

Mir Amin Palace Terrace

Punta Del Este

Frosty Palace: Ivy’s Search For The Best Burger In Beirut Returns

frosty placace two Burgers make me happy. As many of you know I’ve been searching for Lebanon’s best burger since 2010 long before the burger craze swept Lebanon.

And yes, for a while I realized that this little pastime of mine wasn’t doing justice to my waistline. So I gave it a rest. But old habits die hard and now I’m back to my fiendish ways.

I’m not the first to discover or write a raving good review about Frosty Palace. It’s been rated as one of Lebanon’s best burgers. I’m here to confirm that truth. I was there and I saw it too. The rumors don’t lie. That is one brave burger. Its warm fresh buttered bun grabs the little beast inside it with all its gloriousness and almost voluntarily takes the plunge into your mouth.

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But before we all climax together let me tell you about this little treasure nestled away in Mar Mikhael’s inner streets. It’s named after the malt shop in the hit musical Grease, except instead of running into Sandy and Danny, the place looks like Audrey Hepburn would be seated at the bar. The décor is delightfully chic and simple. The huge crystal chandelier brings that paradoxical touch of glamour to the setting. Brilliant.

The place is teeny tiny, in a very intimate way. The menu is minimal. My man and I didn’t think twice before ordering the burger on the menu, fine freshly ground Australian beef. Jackpot. Our waiter announced that the mayonnaise and tomato relish (ketchup) were homemade. That got our attention.

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We both prefer our burgers the classic way nothing too complicated, so we added some cheddar cheese and ordered them with a side of fries.

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As soon as the waiter brought the little beauty out we knew. It sat alone on the plate, but it commanded the table. The patty was at that perfect level of thickness, more on the chunky side of things, just the way I like it. It rest on a bed of lettuce, tomato and some pickles and topped with some of that golden cheddar.

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And though I like a generous portion of cheese on my burger which didn’t seem evident, it didn’t matter at that point. Because there was something in the beef that put an end to all those doubts as soon as I locked my fangs into it. It was like finding a long lost love after years of abstinence. I looked over at my man, who had already fallen under its spell and into a coma. Nothing could take him out of it, not even my giant glare signaling him to take it down a notch. Everyone could hear his moans and I was worried they wouldn’t believe this was really about the burger. We wolfed them down in less than ten. We contemplated seconds, but quickly dismissed the urge.

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At that point we had completely forgotten about the wide chunky fries.  They had just the right amount of crisp in the bite and softness in the core.  We dipped them in the homemade ketchup and mayo until we scrapped our plates clean.

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For dessert I went for the brownie with pecan nuts and caramel topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The brownie was nothing special, but the ice cream was delectable. I plan on going especially for a shake next time I’m in the neighborhood.

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So go ahead, treat yourself to a gourmet burger this weekend, but prepare to splurge, a meal for two (burger fries and a soft drink will cost you around 25-30$ per person. It may not be a filet but trust me, this is not your average burger.

What’s your favorite burger in Beirut?

Check out more Burger Reviews in Beirut below

Albergo’s Rooftop

Classic Burger Joint

Casper and Gambini’s.

Cello

Burger Nation (closed shop)

Fuddruckers (closed shop)

Ivy’s Homemade Burger

 

 

 

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Amethyste Lounge’s Annual Pool Party

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Last Saturday night I attended Amethyste Lounge annual pool party at the Intercontinental Phoenicia.

Though I’ve been to this usually laid-back venue with its roman pillars draped in ethereal voiles amidst a magnificent pool for dinner and drinks last year, the place transformed into what felt like the Carnaval in Rio that night.

People were decked out in their most floral designer summer gear and over-sized colorful straw hats as they sipped on champagne and cocktails. Live performances played in the background while people feasted on the BBQ stations as the hotel’s five star chefs prepared a mouth-watering selection international cuisine including shawarma, Chinese food, Sushi and mini-burgers.

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It was the perfect inauguration to a very eventful series of Beirut-y summer nights ahead of us.

Whether you enjoy tanning with a great cocktail in hand or a light dinner with drinks, check out this seasonal exotic hotspot.