Low-slung couches bordered by bead curtains and antique Shisha pipes give Lebanese-eatery Beirut a Thousand and One Nights feel. Michael Sloan talks food with owner Mohammed Abbouchi. Photography by Dylan Walker.
As the smell of grilled lamb wafts from the kitchen and office workers duck in for a lunchtime meal downstairs, the upstairs of Beirut is a distinctly fruit-flavoured oasis of calm.
With strawberry, watermelon and orange shisha available, restaurant owner Mohammed Abbouchi has designed the lounge with relaxation and breezes from the nearby riverside in mind.
“Our coffee shop in Lebanon was all in this style,” he explains. “It was my dream to one day open my own place here, serving food from Lebanon and Tripoli, and I did it.”
Abbouchi relocated to Phnom Penh from Tripoli three and a half years ago and worked as the head chef of a string of Lebanese restaurants – including Le Liban and Shwarma – before opening Beruit in January. His experience in the kitchen was crucial in perfecting the dozens of traditional Lebanese recipes served in the new eatery.
“We’ve been full since we opened. So far, our most popular dish is a hummus wrap. We are selling maybe 99 a day. All the ingredients are imported from Lebanon, the spices and the pepper,” he says.
Prices at Beirut range from $3 for wraps, to between $5 and $15 for Lebanese staples such as Batata Hara – grilled spiced potatoes marinated in lemon and garlic.
New items are being added to the menu all the time, explains Abbouchi, with the list soon to include Laban Immo – a dish of lamb and rice topped with fresh yoghurt.
Stationed at front of house is Abbouchi’s girlfriend and business partner Dora Molnar. The pair met when he cooked for at a restaurant and she leapt at the chance to join him in his new venture.
“I love to see peoples face after they eat here. I really love his food. But when a stranger says that to him it reminds me that it is truly good,” she says.
With plans to start a breakfast menu and create a franchise of Beirut-branded lamb shwarma carts spread out around the city, Abbouchi is in his element and hopes Beirut’s early success will last.
“I’m going to build my future in Cambodia. For a while or forever I don’t know, but I’m going to build it,” he said.