Restaurant review: Maison Libanaise, an all-day Lebanese canteen in Soho, Hong Kong
Some wonderful specials for spring at this Soho favourite
Soho is an area that’s packed with restaurants, but Maison Libanaise still manages to stand out. In terms of looks, it’s painted a terracotta-like red on the outside and one side of the building has a large colourful mural. In terms of location, it’s located alongside the famous Mid-Levels escalators which means the place is always buzzing. And in terms of layout, it’s a fun catch-all place with a takeaway spot on the ground floor, a more formal dining room on the second floor, and a gorgeous terrace with string lights and picnic benches on the rooftop which is just as good for a romantic date as it is for a big group dinner.
Executive Chef Jad Youssef was raised in Beirut where his dad owned a traditional pastry shop, and more recently lived in London. There he opened casual restaurant Yalla Yalla and his Sawda Djej (chicken liver mezze) dish was named one of the ‘Best 100 Dishes in London’ in 2012 by Time Out London. What does he have for us now that he’s in Hong Kong?
The purpose of our visit was to sample some of Chef Jad’s new dishes for Spring. Many of these will be specials so prices and the roster are TBC. This might make it a little difficult to plan but whenever you go, whatever you try, the food is sure to be delicious.
I might be in the minority here but I always thought my previous visits to Maison Libanaise left something to be desired. The sauces weren’t strong enough, the dips weren’t rich enough, the meats weren’t tender enough, etc. Everything was fine but the dishes didn’t have that something that called on my cravings and lured me back. This time, though it’s only been a week since I went to try the new dishes, I’m already thinking about my next visit, which should be around Easter if not before because I want to eat that lamb again. But more on that later.
We started with some mezze to share.
The Hummus bil Lahme with spice lamb confit was creamy and delicious and the hot, doughy pita was the perfect in taste and texture.
When the Kibbe, a lamb tartare with spiced bulghur, basil, and roasted pine nuts came out, many at our table eyed it warily. The meat looked so...raw! But one bite and we all understood why this is such a staple in Lebanon. The taste is fresh yet hearty and not at all gamey, and has a slightly gritty breadcrumb-like texture thanks to the bulghur. Definitely a conversation starting dish.
I tried eating the quails with a fork and knife but then just used my hands. Juicy meat with a pomegranate molasses glaze. Dish speaks for itself.
Now for the aforementioned lamb. This whole roasted lamb shoulder came in the largest bowl (just look at the individual plates for scale) and absolutely fell apart. The meat wasn’t overly fatty but it was juicy and flavourful, and the juices saturated the freekeh grain base which contained large chunks of roasted figs, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds. Holy moly was this delicious. I had some for leftovers the next day and poured some of their garlic sauce on it (a stronger garlic sauce than before hooray!) and it was just as good. We were told this is a popular dish around Easter so that’s when the restaurant plans to offer it. Get your reservations in now.
Our meal ended with a plate of assorted baklava which was nutty, floral, buttery, crunchy and brought in from some magical bakery in Lebanon.
I really loved my meal at Maison Libanaise. The flavours were fresh and strong, and the dishes were inventive and complex. Can’t wait to return and see what Chef Jad and the rest of the Maison Libanaise team come up with next.
10 Shelley St, Central, 2111 2284
*By invitation for Foodie