What an immersive Levantine gastronomical experience at UMMI Beirut; each dish is curated and related by our Lebanese gourmand host. Ummi means “my mother” in Arabic, an ode to the central role of the matriarch in Lebanese family life. This restaurant is helmed by Michelin-starred Lebanese-Australian chef Greg Malouf and his protégé Ali Assaf.
Chef Malouf’s creations capture the essence of Lebanese cuisine, using plenty of spices such as sumac, Aleppo pepper, pomegranate molasses, and rose water. But he presents them with a contemporary flair that doesn't stray from their roots, reflecting the country's history, culture, and diverse influences of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Ottoman cuisines.
The evening was anchored on communal dining, honouring the tradition of sharing many dishes among friends and family, opening with a repertoire of cold and hot mezzes that could have easily fed a large family, served with plenty of pita bread. The Silky Hummus with Spiced Lamb and Pine Nuts is a must-order. It’s an addictive mousse-like concoction of organic chickpeas puréed with tahini, salt, and lemon and topped with tender shredded sautéed lamb. Not far behind is the equally indulgent Eggplant Fatteh, a nuanced layer of melt-in-your-mouth fried eggplants tossed in warm yoghurt-tahini sauce, soft chickpeas, crispy cracked wheat, sweet pine nuts and vibrant pops of pomegranate for a splash of colour.
Being partial to pies, the winning dish for me is the irresistible Musakhan. It’s a crisp and flaky ghee-brushed filo pastry ensconcing succulent shredded marinated chicken slow-cooked with diced onions, sumac, olive oil and toasted pine nuts. Coming close behind is the Skewered Prime Wagyu Beef, which has juicy and flavoursome cubes of beef rump, onions, tomatoes, and chilli grilled on coals.
The lavish and stomach-busting feast ended on a high note with one of my favourite Middle Eastern desserts, the Apricot Kunefe. It’s a sinful morsel with layers of Lebanese cheese and apricot confit, baked to crispy perfection. The most interesting takeaway of the evening is trying Café Blanc (white coffee), a popular Lebanese no-caffeine non-alcoholic digestive. It contains a mixture of hot water and orange blossom water — a fragrant distillate of orange flowers — zested up by a slice of lemon. It does relieve the heaviness of the hearty dinner.
Judging by the packed restaurant on a weekday, UMMI Beirut has firmly planted its flag as the place for refined and authentic Lebanese cuisine. This is no mean feat in today’s viciously competitive fine dining space and is intuitively carved out by its co-founder Sara Fenianos after living in Singapore for six years.
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