White walls, tiled floor, rustic ceiling masonry and simple wooden furniture – when you enter Leila's Authentic Lebanese Cuisine, you will only notice small subtle hints about the fact that traditional Near-East food is served here. When you look closer, you will notice them though: oriental-style tiles, intricate lampshades and an Arabic inscription on one of the counters – some lines from the love poem of a famous poet. If you listen closely, you can hear not only the thousand-and-one nights sounds coming from the loudspeakers, but also the Arabic chatter coming from the kitchen.


AuthenticLebanese

Leila is, as promised by its name, an authentic Lebanese restaurant, of which there are not many in the Hungarian capital. "Although there are other places that promise to serve Lebanese food, most don't have a Lebanese owner or chef either," Vanessa states her criticism. The Estonian woman and her Lebanese husband, Ahmad, have been managing this pronouncedly authentic place since this January.

Except for the fresh produce, the Leila imports many of the ingredients for its dishes directly from the Eastern Mediterranean area. Many Lebanese people work at the restaurant, alongside Hungari-ans and other nationalities. For Vanessa and Ahmad it was a must to hire a Lebanese chef, who actually had to be imported first. This was not an easy thing to do: "It took us almost six months to take care of the necessary visa."


Mezze – Tapas from the Far-East

However, it was well worth the effort: "The quality of the dishes we offer is really great," Vanessa says. The large selection of warm and cold mezze are some of the offered house specialties. These small bites can be eaten as a snack, as appetiser, or combined with other main dishes. "This concept is relatively strange for Hungarians," Vanessa recognises. "When they go out to a restau-rant they expect to order one dish, or maybe an appetiser, and that is that. However, a mezze is something like tapas in Spain: You order a selection of dishes and share whatever is on the table." The restaurant manager suggests to order three different mezze and maybe a salad or a side dish per person. "However, that depends on your appetite."

You can find not only vegan and vegetarian delicacies on the menu, such as Batata Harra (spicy fried potato cubes), grilled eggplant cream, Tabboulehand Falafel – in Lebanon they are prepared shaped like small donuts – but also meat specialties, such as roasted chicken liver, meatballs, meat pâtés and grilled lamb chops.

All the dishes are prepared according to the Islamic dietary laws, meaning they are halāl. For this reason, devout Muslims may also enjoy these dishes. "This means that for example the lamb is butchered following the prescribed instructions," Vanessa explains. Leila sources meat for this rea-son exclusively from certified butchers. The restaurant is not exactly halāl, if you look at the drink menu: alcoholic drinks are offered here, such as beer, wine and Lebanese Arak (a clear, unsweet-ened anise shot).


"The best hummus in the city"

Hummus cannot be missing from the menu either, of course. The paste made of chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, oil and spices is a national dish of many Near-East states and has an important rank in Lebanese cuisine as well. Vanessa is not allowed to tell us the exact difference between the recipes of different countries, but she is sure that her hummus is one of the best served in all Budapest: "This depends primarily on using as fresh chickpeas as possible and peeling them during the prepa-ration phase. Many people just leave these little skin pieces when blending the puree, but then the cream won't be as fine as ours."

Most dishes are accompanied by a thin Lebanese flatbread, which is a part of the meal and can be used as cutlery too. As Vanessa shows us, you just take a piece of triangle-shaped bread, fold one corner inside and you are ready to spoon hummus or eggplant cream with it.

Besides the Mezze, Leila's also offers a range of grilled dishes, which will not only cheer up meat fans but are most closely related in terms of size and composition with a traditional meat dish. One especially recommendable dish is the lamb plate.

You should absolutely try the desserts too, which are prepared personally by Vanessa based on recipes from her Lebanese mother-in-law. An absolute must is the surprise of the house, a dessert covered in a thin layer of sweet cheese, filled with fluffy milk cream, seasoned with rose-petal syr-up and garnished with a few pomegranate seeds and pistachios – every bite is like a culinary dream from the thousand-and-one nights.


Evaluation

If you would like to get an authentic introduction into Lebanese cuisine, you will be at the best place at Leila's Authentic Lebanese Cuisine. Besides the variety and quality of the offered dishes, which are not only prepared with knowing hands, but also with original spices from Lebanon, it's mostly the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the restaurant, with international staff and guests, which makes visiting the place a real experience. The patterned Moroccan plates, on which the dishes are served, are also a real highlight. They manage to make the table already ornamented by the many different dishes even more colourful.

During the early afternoon even the guests who just walk by have good chances of finding a free table at Leila's, but in the evenings the place is almost always full. Especially, if you would like to get a table to dinner with friends oriental-style during the weekend, you should make your reservation at least two-three days before, or even earlier.


Leila's Authentic Lebanese Cuisine
Budapest, District VI, 6 Paulay Ede Street
Open: From Tuesdays to Sundays 12.00 to 22.00
Reservations at +36-30-245-3393
See: http://leilascuisine.com

Prices:
Cold Mezze: HUF 1050 - 1800
Warm Mezze: HUF 1100 - 2050
Grilled dishes: HUF 1850 - 5200
Desserts: HUF 950 - 1500


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