I have always been fascinated by Lebanon. When I was in university, my Lebanese coursemate told me that Beirut is a beautiful city, where you can ski in the snow and swim in the sea all in the same day, less than hour apart. The few Lebanese I'd come into contact with were always friendly, and biblically, Lebanon is renowned for its cedars, which were used in Solomon's temple, and only the best building materials were used for its construction. Ravaged by civil war in the 80s, it basically became one of those places that one would love to visit but never quite dare to do so.
The war is long over, and it's time, I reckon, to have a chicha or two in Beirut. But, you'd be glad to know you do not have to travel so far to sample a taste of Lebanese hospitality and cuisine. I got an invitation from Russell Ang, (obviously not Lebanese), and Ralph Zeidan, to sample Al Amar Express, and I was intrigued, because just days before that, I had walked right past Al Amar Express in Fahrenheit 88 and thought to myself, wow, this place is packed.
It really is a whole different world here at Al Amar. Strategically located on Bintang Walk, it is a melting pot of tourists and locals, giving it a lovely cosmopolitan flavour, ...very 1 World (ala 1 Malaysia), and a very holiday atmosphere prevails. I almost felt like a tourist myself.
If you sat at the Al Fresco area, and looked up at Pavilion, you'd see the OTHER Al Amar, the fine dining one. Cumi of Cumi & Ciki suggested having a flying fox from the Pavilion outlet to the Fahrenheit 88 one. Express, as the name implies, is of course the less fine dining and more casual outlet.
Lebanon, despite being "middle eastern", is not wholly Muslim, so they do produce their own wines and beers. Ralph very kindly offered us samplings of Lebanese booze, which we of course were more than delighted to try.
I was a chicha (pronounced shee sha) virgin, and gagged a few times, but Ciki here is quite the expert, and Cumi showed his exclamation of surprise.
Wow, you suck and blow well, Cumi says to Ciki.
Meanwhile, the resident Chicha expert, Ralph, shows us how the locals do it.
On the saintly side of the table, the non smokers and non (or very little) drinkers, with the single rose.....
The hummus, was to die for. Pureed chick pee, pureed so smoothly you could almost put it as lotion on your face. Absolutely yummy with the Lebanese breads, that is basically Pita.
Warak enab, rice, saltfish, etc wrapped in vine leaves. It would probably be too sour for most Malaysian's palates, which is good, that probably means it's authentic and Al Amar did not tweak it to suit our local palates.
Pomegranates are such pretty little fruit aren't they. A few nibblets here and there light up a dish like jewels on a bride. The Mutabal is mashed aubergine with olive oil, and is also a lovely dip. Actually one could get full on these dips alone, and mind you, it's probably rather healthy. All that olive oil, grilled aubergine, boiled chick peas.
Mixed Pastry Platter - Almost samosa like, the filling, but the pastry was a shortcrusty type rather than filo.
Tabouleh. I love tabouleh, and went through a tabouleh making phase but I found out that the Lebanese one is different in that it does not have cous cous or burghul, which in a way actually makes it lighter. There's a magical synergy between the tang and the mint, it's almost like having a refreshing cocktail in form of a salad.
That is not the eye ball of some prehistoric animal. Labneh, with olive oil and olive in the centre, is a lebanese cream cheese. For a cream cheese, it's rather strong, compared to the usual philadelphia variety, and a lot more tangy.
To accompany our dinner, a bottle of white ..Savignon blanc I think it was, and a Rose. It's very drinkable, and went well with the spread.
Mixed Chawarma - This is one of their most popular dishes, and the chawarma on the grill was already almost sold out. I actually like eating chawarma in doner kebab style. The ubiquitous French fry seems to have infiltrated all cuisines around the world.
The Al Amar burger, accompanied by their special garlic sauce. A generous beef patty, nicely charred but still moist inside. I am not sure, however, apart from the garlic sauce, if this is really Lebanese fare.
Lebanese Pizza - their distinctive cheese gives it a unique flavour. The crusts are on the thin side, which is good.
Makanek - Lebanese Sausage Shoved between the buns...well, okay, I didn't really think much of this dish, as it was a bit dry, and I think the sausages be better off served in a different manner.
Say cheese now.
Falafel, chick pea and sesame paste wrapped in toasted pita. Falafel of course is a signature lebanese dish.
Monkeyboy with the owner of Al Amar, Joseph.
Backgammon is a favourite pastime with the Lebanese apparently. Probably the days before Angry birds.
This is definitely one of the main attractions of this establishment.
Yummy smooth creme caramel, apparently a legacy from the French. France and Lebanon had this "thing", like Britain and Malaysia. Achthalieh. - Pistachios, in a creamy mousse, with a lovely scent of rosewater.
Pistachio ice cream.
It really was a memorable occasion. The hospitality extended was amazing, and the entire ambience was very enjoyable. And wink, one of my favourite selling points about this place is, one of the rare places where you can enjoy middle eastern fare with alcohol. I look forward to trying the other Al Amar fine dining soon!
Ground Floor, Fahrenheit 88
179 Jalan Bukit Bintang
55100 Kuala Lumpur