Phenicia: honest ingredients, overwhelming flavours, smile-less staff
To arrive to Lebanon, just take a small street branching out from Place de Paris nearby main station area in Lux city and you will arrive at Phoenicia.
A very spacious restaurant that preserves an authentic environment: dimmed lights, dark furniture, Middle Eastern smells, oriental elements, local staff, national music soundtrack, plentifulness of different bites and even domestic wine.
However, take off your pink glasses as the staff is not particularly hospitable. Whether it is the language barrier or individual characters, no one will be smiling to you in abundance, nor acting particularly inspiring and helping you to pick your final dish choices.
However, decisions are there to be made. If you are not sure what to order, one of the most common rules in national restaurants is to go for the most typical dishes depending one the region and cuisine. If the very basic is good, it is for sure a promising start.
Our Lebanese adventure started with different mezze.
We followed the rule and ordered falafel and a bowl of hummus with pillow-looking pita bread.
As a result we weren't much impressed, especially with the falafel. These famous chickpea balls were rather hard in texture and not too flavourful and compelling, while the hummus was done by the books but without a special thrill.
Next to catch our attention was Lambajine balladi: homemade pastry rhomboids filled with minced lamb, pine seeds and seasoned with pomegranate sauce. On this one, the opinions were more than divided. Whoever is into sweet&sour tastes will love this combination, otherwise others may feel like not wanting to finish it.
The best of the starter selection was kebby: bulgur balls filled with meat. Soft but consistent in texture and accompanied by well balanced meat-cereals-spices flavour.
Stay prepared, as nothing at Phoenicia seems like emitting a spark of modern or sophisticated influence. Each of this mezze will come in a very old school kind of serving, where a leaf of green lettuce stands for a universal garnishing and a ultimate decor.
While exploring deeper into what Lebanon has to offer, we stopped at Ouzi: a sheet of brick stuffed with lamb, rice, peas and pine kernel. Looking overcooked by its top coating, this dish came along with several pleasant surprises: the meat was very soft despite being very dark in colour, while the omnipresent strong taste would subtly be cut by the baked pine seeds that would smoothly crack under your teeth.
Next one in our focus was Kebab d’Alep: another very strong-tasting dish done with grilled minced lamb, bulgur and veggies.
Since all the dishes were quite heavily built and very forceful in taste, we needed to clean our palates with some good wine. Surprisingly as it sounds, we came across an excellent white wine originating from Lebanon, from Beeka valley. The elegance, smoothness, equilibrium and moderate richness of this wine had a very different in aroma than all the dishes that followed it. French school and grapes paired with Middle Eastern sun power and unique soil gave birth to an exquisite and autochthonous wine that helped us diminish all the robust flavours after a very heavy dinner.