A love letter to Levantine cuisine…

With the moon of Ramadan looming large in the night sky, our food-thoughts flow like tides towards the sacred ceremony of iftar. The nightly gathering to break-fast is an important ritual in this region, and there is arguably no better way to do it, than with a true Arabian feast.

With that in foremost of mind, we’ve arrived at the dizzyingly high Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers to try out their popular modern Levantine restaurant, Li Beirut.

It’s a balmy evening so our server suggests we take up residence on the elevated terrace, set a floor up from the resort’s infinity pool, and permitting views out across the Corniche’s starlit waterfront.

We make our way through the restaurant’s moodily illuminated interior, and take a seat at the terrace edge.

Our waitress cheerily tells us that she ‘hopes we’re hungry’, the warning siren that lets us know we’re about to experience some traditionally generous Middle Eastern hospitality.

We select hot and cold mezzes, and before they arrive a bowl of garden-fresh salad is served alongside warm bread and olives.

As the starters arrive plate by plate, we begin by picking our way through the chef-recommended Eggplant Experience (Dhs55). It’s aubergine three-ways, with crispy slices of the vegetable served alongside a smoked mutabel, walnut salsa and an eggplant sautee.

It’s a brilliantly conceived piece of kitchen alchemy, and the plate is cleared despite nobody in the What’s On dining party listing aubergine as a particular favourite. The stuffed lamb and marrow vine leaves (Dhs165) are plump with their own distinct Li Beirut aromatic taste-tinkering. The citrus and savoury filling riffs playfully with subtly spiced-rice.

The fattoush salad is a solid sumac-enriched staple (Dhs40), and we collectively share a moment of deep-appreciating for the oozing cheese rokakat.

There is a massive selection of signature Lebanese-style charcoal-fired extravagance on the menu, but already having fed well, and out of curiosity of comparison, we’ve chosen to go hard on the mixed grill (Dhs195).

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We’re greeted with leham meshwi (lamb skewers), kofta, and shish taouk. Being veterans of the mixed-grill game, we feel we’ve earned the right to speak authoritatively on the subject. And here we can confidently reassure you that the dish is priced appropriately.

Seasoning, char, marinade and provenance unite to lift this platter high above the average. It’s very good.

We’re saying farewell to Li Beirut with the Arabic coffee ivory chocolate globe. A dish that collapses into its wild berry foundations under the torrent of molten chocolate that’s poured on top. And after an intense flourish of fork, that too disappears. An appropriately theatrical end to this Arabian night.

Verdict: This restaurant, like the hotel it’s found within, stands tall amongst its Levantine peers in the capital. Certainly one to seek out for anybody seeking to experience a refined taste of Lebanon.  

Rating: B+

Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, W Corniche Road, seatings at 7pm to 11.30pm, closed Mon and Tue. Tel: (02) 811 5666, @libeirut.conradetihadtowers