The ‘no-menu restaurant’ trend has become pretty popular around the world over the last few years, and Lebanon is no exception. The likes of Scallywags and Kensignton in Monot have had their share of the spotlight, but their 15 minutes of fame have long been over. L’Humeur Du Chef opened its doors in what was a pretty remote zaroub of Mar Mkhayel two years ago. I have to admit, it is quite impressive that this avant-garde chef preceded the trend and courageously picked a location that has now become a major attraction in the Beirut outing scene. Surprisingly though, our not-so-modest friend does not seem to be too pleased. Apparently, customer turnover is not as important to ‘Le chef d’humeurs’ as their ‘level of artsiness’, and the clientele he recently entertains do not really tickle his fancy. Snobbish? Nooo… not at all!
We had a four course menu for 40$ a head (excluding drinks); a salad, starter, main course and dessert. At first, I was disappointed to see that the salad was simply a lettuce ‘flower’ cut in half with a simple dressing, but after experiencing the mix of delicious tastes in the following dishes, it was obvious that the carefully-crafted meal achieved the right balance of nuances along the four courses. Next was what seemed like a Spanish potato and sausage starter with just the right amount of spice. Our main course was a chicken fillet stroganoff with tagliatelle pasta. I’m not big of cream, but this was delicious. How can chicken be so tender and juicy, yet still get that golden shade on top? Luckily he gave me his secret. Finally, the dessert; Mr. Chef served a banana tart with a crème Chantilly filling. Personally, whipped cream is not my favorite dessert ingredient, but the delicious crust definitely made up for it.
To be fair, this review is strongly affected by the fact that my expectations were set pretty high. I was looking forward to watching a chef in action – juggling between preparing starters for one customer and dessert for another. But heating an already-cooked chicken breast and pouring honey over the banana pie probably wouldn’t be classified as ‘live cooking’. Although we did not get to witness his culinary talents in action, we did discover the secret to his recipes… butter butter, and some more butter. I couldn’t take my eyes off of that block of butter on the counter, wondering how close we were getting to a blocked artery. It seemed to shrink quite significantly after every dish, and frankly, I could do with a lot less of it.
In such a restaurant, the chef himself represents a large part of the experience – the service, entertainment and some of the ambiance (especially in our case as we were the only people there that night). I have to admit he has a pretty tough job, maintaining a friendly face and making small talk with oftentimes annoying customers all while ‘preparing’ a delicious meal. With that in mind, such a chef is a performer, one who can not let his ‘mood’ get in the way of his performance. Maybe we caught him on a bad day, but stereotyping other restaurants and bashing fellow competitor chefs is business etiquette 101.
A good-quality meal in a charming venue. A must-try preferably during the weekend.