Breads are vital to a typical Lebanese meal. Be it wraps, sandwiches, chawarmas, or manakeesh (Lebanese-style pizzas), you'd find at least two or more types of breads are served on every Lebanese dining table whether for breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper. The country's ardent love affair with breads probably stemmed from the French who used to occupy it during World War 1.
If you're curious to sample a true Lebanese breakfast or lunch, just pop by Al Amar Express outside Fahrenheit 88. Prices for the outlet's breakfast and lunch sets priced between RM19++ to RM25++ each. Portions are ample enough to satisfy two light eaters.
Skewers of Chich Taouk and Kafta are prepared at Al Amar's central kitchen but
are grilled on coals only upon order
are grilled on coals only upon order
Lebanese cuisine which forms the core basis for many Middle Eastern dishes is heavily influenced by the Ottomans and by virtue of the country's location, also bears subtle Mediterranean nuances. That's why Lebanese cooks often include bulgur (wholegrain wheat which has been boiled, sun-dried and cracked into fine, medium and coarse textures), yoghurt, olive oil, cultured milk and home-made cheeses, olives and legumes in cooking.
According to sales & marketing director Ralph Zeidan, Al Amar Express is a casual concept outlet that evolved out of the success of its sister fine-dining restaurant, Al Amar at the Pavilion KL.
"Since opening last November, we've managed to draw quite a crowd especially during the evenings and post-clubbing hours," he said. "In fact, supper is now our busiest period."
Currently, four lunch sets are available daily featuring a choice of Manakeesh, Lebanese Sandwiches, Baguette Sandwiches or Half Roasted Chicken with three types of side dishes.
For our Manakeesh combo, we picked Kafta with Cheese - flavourful minced lamb topped with sliced tomato, pickles and mayo accompanied by Hommos (chickpea mash with sesame seed paste, lemon juice and olive oil), Tabbouleh (fresh parsley and tomato salad with onion, bulgur wheat, spices, olive oil and lemon juice) and a dainty serving of sliced cucumber, tomato, olives and mint.
We had a hard time finishing the crisp flat bread pizza as the briny, tangy and slightly gamey offering turned out to be quite substantial together with the assorted accompaniments.
I like my Rosto Baguette Sandwich - a hearty portion of rustic but soft rectagular bread filled with sliced roast beef and tomato, fresh shredded lettuce, pickles and mayo. The meat was tender and juicy to the bite which went well with the smokiness of the Baba Ghanoush (pureed grilled eggplant dip) and the refreshing Fattoush (tomato, cucumber, lettuce, rocket, radish and mint in a special sumac dressing).
This combo also includes three small pastries (meze) so I chose Spinach Fatayer (triangular fried dough pastries with baby spinach, onion and lemon zest filling), a deep-fried Cheese Roll and Sambousik (fried minced beef puff).
The Half Roasted Chicken should go down well if you are partial to poultry. Spiked with sumac (Middle Eastern spices), the chicken is rotisserie-grilled on premise and served with French fries, pickles, garlic sauce and Lebanese bread. In addition, you'd get two types of side dishes which can be Labneh (a sourish Lebanese cream cheese made from strained yoghurt with olive oil) and Khiar Bel Laban (mint and cucumber salad with yoghurt dressing and garlic).
Wrapping shredded pieces of the roast chicken up in the handkerchief-thin bread laced with the house garlic sauce, Ralph offered the delicious parcels to us. Each bite bestowed an intriguing explosion of flavours and textures on the palate that left us wanting more.
Just as tasty was the Chicken Taouk (unsurprisingly one of the outlet's hottest items). Rolled up in the same light, airy bread, I was delighted and surprised to discover how seamlessly the chunks of marinated chicken breast meat melded with the creamy coleslaw and pungent garlic sauce. French fries and pickles lent unexpected crunch to the overall ensemble.
Flanked by two semi al-fresco seating terraces on each side, Al Amar Express can seat up to 80 diners. One of them is known as the Chicha corner; much favoured by a constant stream of Middle Eastern tourists especially during Happy Hours (3 pm to 8 pm) since they get 25% discount on chicha (also known as shisha - a toweirng hookah pipe used for smoking flavoured tobacco).
Syrupy and studded with pine nuts, Jellab is an enticing date juice drink that you should try. The Laban Ayran, a rich, salty and tangy yoghurt drink similar to Indian lassi, is more of an acquired taste. Coffee aficionados would love the smooth and strong Lebanese coffee that leave one with quite a buzz.
Gotta satisfy your sweet tooth? Fret not. There are Creme Caramel, Cheese Cake and puddings but we were happy to settle for some home-made ice cream. Pistachio tops my list for the cool treat comes speckled with bits of pistachios. The vanilla and chocolate variants are rich and smooth while the strawberry is redolent with real fruit flavour; akin to a fine sorbet.
The Al Amar group also offers outside catering services so if you're looking for exotic Lebanese or Middle Eastern food to tempt guests, give Ralph and his team a call.
Al Amar Express is located on the ground floor of Fahrenheit 88, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. For reservations, call 03 2141 3814. Further information can be obtained from www.al-amar.com or its Facebook page "Al Amar Lebanese Cuisine".