Lebanon has long been near the top of the list of my food destinations to hit and also features disproportionately on the cookbook shelves, especially for a country of 4 just million people. That’s right, half the population of Hong Kong. To date, the cuisine of the Levant hasn’t really been done justice in the fragrant harbour, so the folks from Black Sheep Restaurants have found another gap in the market for La Maison Libanaise.
It’s taken over the spot where Life Café used to be. Dearly missed by a fair few, it was probably too healthy to ever get me too teary-eyed, but it’s always a shame when a comparative stayer on the restaurant scene has to move on due to price pressures. The huge side wall of the building has been covered in a rather fetching mural, while inside features a kitchen and takeaway on the ground floor, a smallish dining room on the first and a yet to open terrace with dining on the top floor.
Dinner was on the first floor, ‘Le Salon’ – as the restaurant name suggests, the idea is that the building reflects a Lebanese home. There are some lovely floor tiles under uncomfortable chairs – albeit in Lebanese green – and a wall of wine, mainly from Lebanon’s Bekka Valley. It’s quaint, just not a show-stopper like some other Black Sheep venues such as Carbone or La Vache! Likewise, the music didn’t really register as it did with such impact at other Black Sheep venues – but it’s very early days – we ate during the soft opening – so things may yet change.
Fittingly given its former incarnation, La Maison Libanaise is a vegetarian’s dream given the mezze and creative ways with vegetables. I’ve bored on at length about the perfect Baba Ganoush recipe, here it was decent ($48) if a touch over-salted. You could tell the aubergines had felt the lick of flames, while the house-made bread was light and the perfect accompaniment.
Pan-fried haloumi ($78) was topped with a honey glaze and dates, a great way to accentuate the contrast between salt and sweet. Fried cheese has hardly, if ever, failed to please, and here was no exception.
Spicy harissa roasted cauliflower ($58) bought a generous golden-orange head with just the right amount of heat coming through. While the KFC at Yardbird still reigns supreme in the Hong Kong Brassica oleracea championship, this bowl wasn’t far behind.
Two rather thin skewers of Shish Taouk chicken ($98) were dressed with saffron, chilli and mint. There was again a great char and smoke on the meat, even if the saffron didn’t come through the 24 hour marinade. Charred lime sparked it however and it made a happy marriage with more of their bread.
The final dish of almond falafel was disappointing, given expectations for such an iconic Levantine dish. The tahini yoghurt and pickled salad were good on the side, but needed to be more generous to counteract the brittle and dry falafel. Everyone likes a bit of crunch, but this felt like it had spent too long in the fryer.
A not hugely memorable bottle of Clos St Thomas from the Bekaa Valley was $348, while dinner overall came in at $789. Service was of course, in common with other Black Sheep restaurants, excellent. Given the group’s reputation – as well as the fact this was only week two of soft opening – things will doubtless be fine tuned further over the coming months. It’s also the sort of menu sure to expand in range, making it worth another visit for the labneh, sea bream, kibbeh and other options available. Head chef James Harrison certainly has serious props as a former apprentice of Michelin-starred Aussie chef Greg Malouf, known, apparently, as ‘The Godfather of Lebanese Cuisine’.
Open daily, ground floor: 11am – 11pm First floor: 11am – 3pm, 6 – 11pm