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.


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Many of the Baalbek 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, in the Klotild Palace that also houses the Buddha-Bar Hotel, 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 nine hot mezze. We opt for the selection of six, a tasty assortment of „Hummus” Chickpea Purée, „Moutabel” Arabic Eggplant Cream with Tahini, „Tabbouleh” Parsley Salad, „Rahib” Grilled Eggplant with Vegetables, „Makanek” Spicy Lamb Sausage, and „Falafel” Deep-fried Chickpea Balls. Oh, and there is Arabic home-made bread.


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Among the individual mezze are Grilled Halloumi Cheese, which is made from both goat’s and sheep’s milk and which we last encountered in Cyprus, Shrimp Harrah, which is spicy, „Labneh” Yoghurt Cream Cheese with Mint

and Meat Sambousek, in which the meat comes in filo pastry.

Already filling up somewhat, we plunge recklessly into the main, one person selecting the Grilled Baby Chicken that is garnished with garlic and lemon, and the other choosing „Samke Harrah”, a sea bream fillet with rice and spicy vegetable sauce.


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Next time we may try „Harira”, a spicy lamb soup, or perhaps „Sharhat Motafieh”, a beef medallion with seasonal vegetables, garlic and mushroom sauce. Next time.
By now our two small tables are accommodating the accumulating drinks and 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
info@baalbek.hu
www.baalbek.hu

Prices


Lunch offer HUF 3700
Mezze selection HUF 5800
Individual starters HUF 1700-3100
Soup HUF 1800-1900
Mains HUF 3100-6200
Desserts HUF 1500-1800

Plus 12% service charge

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