“At InterContinental Abu Dhabi we are constantly bringing together the elegance and sophistication of the modern world with world-class traditional flavours.” Ivor Prestwood
Opening a new venue in Abu Dhabi’s competitive dining market is always risky, you need an edge, something that attracts people to your venue and away from all the capital’s numerous other dining options. I’m pleased to disclose that the InterContinental Abu Dhabi has done just that successfully combining a contemporary venue with traditional cuisine at Byblos Sur Mer, its extremely classy new Lebanese restaurant in a waterfront setting.
Once I had located the venue, which I had no idea was a standalone two-storey establishment off to one side of the hotel with its own entrance, my first experience of Byblos Sur Mer, which translated to English is ‘Byblos by the Seaside’ was an invitation to its ‘Ladies First’ night. This Ladies evening takes place in the upper floor lounge bar area and terrace every Tuesday evening from 8pm. The large Arabic style windows and terrace affords a stunning panorama out across the waterfront, beach, the hotel’s private marina and the skyline beyond. Plush furniture sits alongside traditional Phoenician citadel influenced architecture and accessories in this venue that is reminiscent of a Lebanese mountain house. Hosted by the lovely Reema, the ladies night was a relaxed and laid back evening with an eclectic mix of ladies of all ages and from all walks of life. Delectable signature cocktails made by the in-house mixologist were served accompanied by Arabic style bar snacks and live music floated up from the restaurant’s stage down below.
I was then invited by Reema to join her for an intimate dinner and to be honest I was a little nervous as Middle Eastern cuisine has always scared me a little from past experiences. I have previously struggled with menu choices and found myself eating fries and bread on numerous occasions so tend to avoid this cuisine by choice. I have always liked Halloumi and more recently I have tried it with pomegranate which is so tasty, tasted Labneh rolled in herbs and then I was introduced to Mannakesh with cheese at a recent Lebanese breakfast at a friend’s house which I loved and also discovered a new found like of Sambousek also with cheese, so in summary it seems I love all things Arabic that are dairy related!
No expense has been spared in this exclusive 300-seat dining venue where guests are transported to the coast of Byblos, what a great place for my Middle Eastern culinary education! Reema ordered a wide selection of mezzah and salads for the table to share and I discovered an amazing selection of dishes that I have previously overlooked or dismissed but on this occasion really enjoyed. As the food arrived it was obvious that the attention to detail given to the decor was also applied to the menu as each dish was beautifully presented. We tucked into fresh Tabouleh and Fatouch topped with decorative bread shapes, both of which I have sampled before but new to me was Innabiyeh which was stuffed vine leaves with a tomato and pomegranate dip, Lebanese mountain cheese served with tomato and zaatar called Baladeh which was very tasty. Mouajanet a range of Arabic savouries including kebbeh, the aforementioned sambousek, fatayer and raqaqat paired with an avocado and zaatar labneh.
Aubergine is my favourite vegetable but I dislike it puréed as Moutabal because of the distinctive char-grilled smoky flavour but at Byblos my favourite dish of the night was an eggplant purée called Aljami which was topped with fried eggplant, molasses and walnuts, so divine especially eaten along with some of the warm Arabic breads. Accompanying dishes of chickpea purée, spicy tomato, pepper salsa and pine nuts called Halabi Bil Chatta as well as some Hoummus and the very colourful Laqtin W Chamandar which was beetroot and pumpkin salad with rocca, tahini and sumac dressing were also served, honestly there so much food it was crazy.
I opted out of the mains and carried on eating the mezzah while the other guests indulged in Machawi Mchakaleh (mixed grill) a selection of taouk, beef tikka, kofta and lamb chops and the lamb sausages with oriental spices and lime called Makanek drew gasps of pleasure from the carnivores at the table and the very attractive Mwaradeh of open kebbeh with minced meat with cherries, vegetables and molasses disappeared fast too. I did sample some of the Batata Jabaliyeh which was a dish of moreish spicy coriander and green chili-flavoured fried potatoes.
I have to admit my expectations were low when it came to desserts as I have only previously tried Umm Ali (akin to bread pudding) but I was blown away by the dishes that arrived, the flavours and the array of choice. My fellow diners informed me that Umm Ali is usually a comfort food dessert served in winter and we were in for a treat with lots of clotted cream, turkish delight, fresh fruit and even marshmallows. My sweet tooth (but not so much my waistline) was more than satisfied with the Halawat El Jibin Bil Assal (lashings of Ashta cream, berries, mint and cashew nuts), Aiysh Al Saraya (bread with more ashta cream flavoured with rosewater topped with honey and nuts), Mouhalabiya Bil Karaz (cherry flavoured milk pudding, ashta cream, berries and marshmallows) and a palate cleansing Levant Fawakeh (sliced fresh fruits with mint and lime sorbet) all so good in their own right but definitely not for those watching their weight!
Creative Syrian Chef Raed has fifteen years experience indulgencing his passion for cooking Arabic food. He joined the InterContinental Abu Dhabi back in 2013 and is now heads up the Byblos Sur Mer’s kitchen as well as overseeing all the Arabic food at the hotel. Chef Raed and his team have created a menu encompassing a range of flavours with traditional hot and cold mezzeh, grills and marinades, Lebanese delicacies and desserts as well as freshly baked items from the on site Lebanese baker.
Byblos is a Mediterranean seaside city located in Mount Lebanon, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world founded by the Phoenician civilisation and alongside the extremely well presented food this chic restaurant pays homage to its Lebanese history in the design of building, its interior and cuisine. It has such a charming atmosphere and exudes character with perfect touches such as the stylish teal and gold menus featuring the Phoenician men, luxurious gold decor and sumptuous furniture, gorgeous floor lanterns, elaborate hanging light fixtures, ornamental shisha pipes and a wall dedicated to famous Lebanese entertainers. Throughout dinner the ambiance was set by the live old-world style music courtesy of the singing Oud player.
Byblos Sur Mer is an ideal place for sundowners followed by dinner then maybe some shisha, judging from my experience it’s already attracting the capital’s most refined diners and foodies alike. I really enjoyed the elegance of this restaurant offset against the centuries old culture and cuisine that has been reinvented with a modern twist by Chef Raed. It was so good to sample some new dishes expanding my somewhat bland palate and culinary knowledge at the same time, I am no longer afraid of this cuisine and now have many new dishes to add to most liked list, but as usual don’t take my word for it, book yourself a table and enjoy some of these marvellous dishes for yourself.
Byblos Sur Mer
Location: Intercontinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi
Telephone: 02 666 6888
Byblos Sur Mer is currently open for lunch, sundowners and dinner and the restaurant will also open for breakfast in the coming months. They are offering a six-course Iftar menu priced at AED 250 per person during Ramadan. The Iftar will feature dates and dried apricots to start, appetisers, hot mezzah, grills, dessert and arabic juices including jallab, tout, laban Iran, tamer hindi, souss and Byblos lemonade – download the Ramadan menu here. Read about Byblos Sur Mer in my Ramadan Dining Preview post here.
Friday Brunch is also available every Friday from 12:30 until 18:00. The set menu is AED 348 per person inclusive of soft drinks, water, coffee, tea and features live entertainment with a band and singers.
The Ladies’ First evening at Byblos Sur Mer offers ladies free flowing selected beverages and snacks from 8pm for AED 100 each. Gentlemen are invited to join from 10pm for free flowing selected beverages and canapes for AED 200 each.
I was invited to review this restaurant but all the views are all my own. Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved. First and last photos used courtesy of Byblos Sur Mer.