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With love, from Lebanon


HOW WOULD you feel when you're told the bread you are chewing or the pastry you are savouring go back to pre-Biblical days? One is simply overwhelmed Moutabal or babaghanoush — ground roasted brinjal with tahini (sesame seed paste), limejuice and olive oil with khubbouz bread... it's a tribute to Lebanese cuisine.

Cedars on the Gandhi Mandapam Road, Kotturpuram (phone: 55855111/ 24472323), was crowded even on a Tuesday night and one had to wait for 40 minutes. With pretty interiors and smiling hostess, the packaging is slick.

Cedars' moutabal (Rs.80) was all sleek and smooth, with a hint of sesame bitterness. Noticing kibbeh (Rs.60) on the hot appetisers' list, we didn't stay with the mezze, style of eating that is typical to the Lebanese where a series of small dishes of varied tastes and textures make a meal. Mezze can be a simple snack or a whole meal, something like the Italian antipasto.

Kibbeh, Lebanese national dish, has many avatars, like our biriyani. One of them is even raw, kibbeh nayeh. It was difficult not to enjoy the earthy, robust taste of kibbeh meklieh or the fried variety, on our plate. But the crushed onion-garlic mix served did not make a good substitute for the traditional yogurt dip.

Our entrees were sche-kaf (Rs.150), mankouchet jaibne wou zaatr (Rs.165) and specialite de chef (Rs.220), the last one from the French section that had prawns and rice with coconut and almonds. The two native dishes were bread-based. The first had tomato-garlic coating, which was quite nice with meat, fries and vegetables. The second one was more like a local pizza with zahtar and sesame seasoning topped with onions, tomato and fresh mint. This one was lovely.

Lebanese food is a fusion of French and Middle Eastern cuisines. At Cedars, the Lebanese section is more alive and breathing than the exclusively French. The prawns were nice because they were fresh and done with the barest of fuss. But the sauce and rice were a blot on them, to put it mildly. One is ready to pay for the exotic, but charging Rs.30 for a glass of lime juice is difficult to digest. Jaleb (Rs.50) is just flavoured sugar syrup with a few raisins in it. Cedars can do better by getting the pricing right, which goes haywire with the desserts. Ashta (Rs.120) is what doctors and grandmothers would prescribe when you have an upset tummy or an ulcer. It was so totally bland that it could soothe the most violent of intestinal tract. Gateau au chocolat (Rs.120) supported the earlier surmise that French is not the forte here. There is no way pouring a dollop of chocolate sauce over a piece of dried out chocolate cake by the side of some strawberry sauce make a gateau.

MARIEN MATHEW

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