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“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
I was watching the news and the skirmish in Ukraine came up. now before you go glassy-eyed and lose interest, this is a story of hope and happiness…bear with me.
I was in Beirut a few years back and was walking back to my hotel, Four Seasons at Zeitouna Bay, after a particularly challenging meeting.
I walked from Pigeon Rocks and when I reached Hamra so I felt peckish, So I stumbled upon the Barber Schwarma restaurant, what set this joint apart from the many other shawarma restaurants in Rue du Picadilly was the line of people waiting to get served.
Any restaurant with a line of people must be worth checking out, so I joined the back of the line, I did not have to wait long and It was my turn, The elephant leg-sized shawarma glistened while being roasted on a vertical wood-fired spit and as the outer layer was caramelised and cooked the expert shawarma walla would slice off paper-thin layers of meat using a scimitar type knife and place them in fresh pitta and chuck in some onion and parsley and for the avant grade some chips, he would roll them up and present it the customer.
I ordered a lamb and chicken shawarma, I promptly received my order and settled down to eat.
I noticed a picture of Anthony Bourdain, curious I asked the portly gentlemen in chef’s whites sitting at the next table, why they had a picture of him, apparently he had visited the restaurant some years back when he filmed parts unknown.
The portly chef, I found out was the legendary Abu Waseem, one of the few master shawarma chefs left in Lebanon, the rest have been poached to work in UAE, Qatar and Saudi.
He explained that this is the only restaurant which never closed during the Lebanese civil war, The restaurant was on the no man’s strip of land on the edge of the three warring factions, so what the hungry soldiers used to do was send children to the restaurant to collect the Shawarma sandwiches. So they used to have Hizbollah children standing in line with Marionite Christain children and Druze kids all waiting to take shawarma back to the fighters, some say the friendships struck up in the Shawarma line eventually brought the end to the Civil War.
So the love of food does indeed transcend religion, culture and enmity and should give us hope in such turbulent times.
This week I was with my friend Shai Foodwala, who hails a few kilometres south of Beirut and on the other side of the southern border.
Roya describes itself as a contemporary Middle Eastern and Levant Kitchen.
We kicked off the proceedings with the Dipping platter, Hummus, Baba Ganoush, Mouhamara & garlic Labneh served with a freshly baked Persian ‘barbai’ bagel.
This was lovely and fresh and packed with flavour, although small in size the dips were excellent, the Barbai bagel was phenomenal, the crust was crispy while inside it was soft and pillowy.
Next up was the spinach falafels, the falafels were expertly made, with a deep crust and soft ground chickpea and the spinach centre was defiantly tasty, The falafels were topped with hummus and garlic mayo, a thumbs up from me.
The Shawarma Croquetes, were another matter, it was promised as, Lamb neck shawarma and fried onion-filled croquettes, with saffron and potato sauce. It sounds nice but when we tried it it was another story, the inside of the Croquettes had a slimy texture, and it was very off-putting If I could only “un-eat” it.
The Mixed Grill consisted of 2 skewers of Koubideh kebab, Joojeh chicken kebab, and kebab torsh.
The Koubideh Kebab was decent, but not the best I have heated, they were small and lacked the succulent fatty texture with saffron flavour notes, I have had better.
The Joojeh Chicken was succulent and well marinated, definitely above average Joojeh, usually, Joojeh is a bit too try, but this was good.
The Kebab Torsh was the star, the lamb was marinaded in pomegranate molasses and lemon and allowed to sit, after grilling you get this magical sweet yet umami-rich sourness. delish.
Royàs heart is in the right place, it’s young and contemporary, yet not letting the form overtake the function. The ingredients and menu were innovative and fun, the presentation was eye-catching.
The price point was however quite expensive, approx £50 per head,
We enjoyed Royà
The Service was friendly and to the point.
The Star of the Meal?
The Star of the meal was the Kebab Torsh, well marinaded, delicious and excellent execution.
The miss of the Meal?
The Shawarma Croquettes were the miss of the meal, they tasted slimy and grey, did not like the cloying feeling in the mouth.
Royà is simply put good, It has some amazing peers in the Contemporary Middle Eastern/Persian scene, particularly like Berenjak in London and Orfali Bros in Dubai, It has a way to go before it reaches those hallowed heights.
The Lamb and Chicken are halal.
Alcohol is served on the Premises
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Alfie Foodwala visits all restaurants anonymously and pays for the bill like any other customer, Alfie Foodwala does not accept free meals in return for reviews.