Place: On Fort Street in Auckland's CBD, a little further down than you'd most likely expect, is a newly-opened restaurant serving up a modern take on Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine. Beirut is open for breakfast and lunch throughout the week, but we went along for dinner and quickly found ourselves in the midst of a lush feast.
People: There's been a lot of talk about this opening, not least because co-owner Nick McCaw already has a string popular businesses, including the likes of Mexico and Orleans. Executive chef Javier Carmona (formerly of Mexico) and head chef Jacopo Crosti (formerly of Indian-inspired restaurant Cassia) make for an incredible team with a world of experience under their belts; it's no surprise that together they've created not just a stand-out menu, but all-round experience.
On the menu: As soon as we started perusing the dishes on offer it was clear we had some tough choices to make – everything sounded delightful. Thankfully, each dish is designed to be shared and and has been created with the whole menu in mind, making it easy to try a little (or a lot) of whichever tempts you most. For drinks, we couldn't go past the selection of syrupy Shrubs – I chose the Raspberry while my friend went for the Honey Dew Melon. Both came with lashings of mint leaves and were fresh and sweet to sip on.
Taking some helpful advice from our waitress, we started with the Afghan Bread with Black Courgette Hummus and the creamy Smoked Yoghurt Labna, both of which were fun to pull apart and dip, as well as being very moreish. The waitress also described the watermelon, beetroot, orange blossom and cucumber Fattoush as cleansing and fresh and, of course, she was right – it was absolutely lovely, so crisp and tasty.
My favourite of the night was the Kingfish Kibbeh Nayeh: raw fish with while and yellow turmeric, citrus, honey and pink peppercorn. My friend almost ordered the intriguing Venison Kibbeh Nayeh (with barberries, rhubarb, lavender, chocolate and nigella), but opted instead for the Portobello mushroom with haloumi, Jerusalem artichoke, chickpea and white garlic chive. This turned out to be her favourite, although this could all change with another visit – every dish seemed capable of winning us over.
For dessert we shared the buttermilk ice cream with Turkish delight ice, candied walnuts, plum and sticks of meringue. It was almost too gorgeous too eat, but in went our spoons anyway. After such a generous meal we were glad to finish off the night with something light and delicate. Still, it was more than enough to satisfy our craving for something sweet.
Decor: Beirut has a distinctly rustic feel; the furniture and fittings are heavy and every element feels bold and purposeful. The interior is all solid dark wood, linen curtains drape down from the high ceilings and disco-like light fixtures add a glint of glamour. The food is served on a mix of wooden platters, handmade ceramics and shiny metal plates, adding to the range of complimentary textures throughout the restaurant.
Go tomorrow: Go early for a decadent breakfast and coffee, or in the evening for a feast that's best shared with friends. Just make sure you leave room for one of their incredible desserts.
85 Fort Street, Auckland