The neo-baroque palaces mirror each other on opposite sides of Kossuth Lajos út, between Elizabeth Bridge and Ferenciek tere. While Klotild I awaits similar renovation, inside its twin Mellow Mood Group operates the five-star Buddha-Bar Hotel Budapest Klotild Palace and Buddha-Bar Restaurant and Lounge, which are franchises, and, since last November 20, the Baalbek Lebanese Restaurant.

It is for the latter that The Budapest Times is paying a visit, and we are slightly shamefaced to say that we have never been inside the Klotild before. It is almost as eye-popping inside as out, and we are impressed by the opulent decor, including one of the mightiest Buddhas this side of Bangkok or Burma. Although the Baalbek is so new, it has already announced itself by being named as one of hvg magazine’s top ten opening restaurants for 2015.

Also (whisper if quietly because it won’t be announced until the end of this month) Baalbek is going to be in Dining Guide’s top 100 restaurants (out of a thousand, so not bad for a newcomer).

Baalbek? This is a Lebanese town on a hilltop in the Bekaa Valley, the most spectacular ancient archaelogical site in Lebanon, known in Roman and Greek antiquity as Heliopolis, or City of the Sun. One of its sights is the remaining six columns and their entablature, the remaining ruins of the Temple of Jupiter, and this is the restaurant’s logo.

A second inspiration for the name Baalbek came from famed Hungarian painter Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853-1919), whose painting of the town has this title and is held by the Csontváry Museum, founded in his honour in Pécs. A smaller reproduction hangs in the restaurant, where the name “Baalbek” is spelt out in Arabic on the wall to reinforce the Middle Eastern feeling.

Baalbek, then – the restaurant – calls itself Hungary’s first authentic Lebanese

restaurant, offering traditional Levantine cuisine. Manager Mostafa Osman, an Egyptian, assures us that they are getting it right, or why else would diners from Budapest’s 5000-6000 Arabic community be making repeat visits?
For one, all dishes are prepared halal, in other words according to Islamic law, and meat comes from the handful of specialist butchers who follow this practice in Budapest.

Osman and executive chef Osama Kutaini, a Syrian, explain that it is very rare to eat alone in Arabic culture and the tradition persists of eating as a family, not starting until everyone has arrived, even if Uncle Abdul is running very late. Then they take perhaps two or three hours to eat, chat – usually in excitable fashion – and smoke. Starters and mains are generally served together, rather than in courses, and everyone shares. Baalbek can comply.

Kutaini’s sous chef is also Syrian and about

three-quarters of the Baalbek’s kitchen staff are Middle Eastern, so they are surely justified in their claim that they really know the Levantine cuisine inside out, and they put their heart in it. The Levant generally refers to the eastern Mediterranean and such countries as Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.
The Budapest Times arrives at Baalbek to a welcome drink: Arabic black tea with mint and honey. Mezze – or appetisers – is an important part of the process and Baalbek is suitably big on them. There is a Mezze Selection of six dishes or individual choices of eight cold and five hot mezze. We opt for the selection of six, a tasty assortment of Hummus Chickpea Purée, Moutabel Eggplant Cream, Tabbouleh Parsley Salad, Eggplant Moussaka, Chicken Liver with Coriander and Pomegrante, and Falafel Deep-fried Chickpea Balls. Oh, and there is Arabic home-made bread.

A surprise here is the presentation of a mezze before the mezze – a starter before the starter – of carrot, pickled cucumber, red cabbage, lettuce, radish, green and pickled paprika, and green olives.

Already filling up somewhat, we plunge recklessly into a main, the Charcoal-grilled Sea Bream with Mixed Greens, a whole soft fish of luscious white flesh that, by the time we manage to get through it all, seems not to be less but to have grown to the proportions of some monster from the deep.

Next time we may try Harira, a spicy lamb soup, or perhaps Sharhat Motafieh, a beef medallion with seasonal vegetables, garlic and lemon sauce. Next time.
By now a second small table has been added to ours, to accommodate the accumulating drinks, dishes, plates and platters. Anyone with a modicum of restraint would not dare to go on to dessert but who could resist at least trying Um Ali, a milkloaf pudding with nuts, raisins and coconut, or Mouhalabieh, a Lebanese Milk Pudding?
Afterwards, to let all the food go down, we adjourn with a Lebanese red wine to the adjacent winter terrace to watch the people go by on Kígyó utca (Snake Street). Here in the warmth sit the shisha smokers with their water pipes, sucking down a choice of five tobaccos: double apple, mint, grape, lemon mint or grape mint.
Sometimes one is just spoiled for choice.

Baalbek Lebanese Restaurant

Váci utca 34, H-1052 Budapest
Open daily noon-11pm
Phone: (+36-1) 799-7303
baalbek@buddhabarhotel.hu
www. buddhabarhotel.hu

Prices
Daily special from 12.30pm HUF 2700
Starter selection HUF 3900
Individual starters HUF 1200-1900
Soup HUF 1300-1700
Mains HUF 2800-6800

Desserts HUF 1200

Executive chef
Osama Kutaini
Executive chef Osama Kutaini
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