Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? We did at Café Blanc – the new Lebanese restaurant in Festival City. We’re all for attentive service, but when one’s every move is being meticulously scrutinised by an omnipresent waitress, it can get a little unnerving. As soon as the water level in my glass dropped below halfway, she was there to top it up. If I nibbled on an olive, she was there to collect the stone. And when I nudged a saucer of pickles while reaching for the fattoush, she instantly materialised to nudge it back again.
Maybe she didn’t want us to mess up the table? Every item in front of us was beautifully arranged in super-chic bowls, plates and platters, which matched Café Blanc’s cool and uncluttered interior. The restaurant chain’s modern take on traditional finishes was evident in its calming blue glow, which illuminated a smooth white wall between arabesque blocks of patterned plaster. And the food looked every bit as good – when our obsessive waitress wasn’t repositioning it.
While my dining partner sipped a vibrant and refreshing minted lemonade, I set about deconstructing the artfully presented fattoush. The tightly curled fried bread added bite to the perky lettuce, cucumber and tomato, which was lightly sprinkled in sumac. The warak enab, or stuffed vine leaves, were packed with zesty flavour and the kibbeh krass cracked open to reveal steaming minced lamb with crunchy toasted pine nuts. The shanklish cheese was mixed with onions, diced tomato and parsley, and was excellent with the soft, warm flatbread.
The mixed platter arrived before we could spoil the arrangement of bowls and plates, and our trusty waitress was on hand to make sure it was positioned impeccably. Rolled up in flatbread were three kinds of kebab. One was a skewer of tender barbecued lamb, and then there was a chicken version next to some herby kofta with finely chopped onions. The chicken was a little dry, but the kofta made up for that in bursts of moist and meaty flavour.
Uncharacteristically for our mega-efficient waitress, our plates weren’t cleared away the nanosecond we had finished, and there was a short delay while we waited for our desserts. Mine, the byzance cheesecake, was a striking edifice of soft creamy cheese and crumbly biscuit, with a gum-pink topping that was overbearingly sweet and impossibly gooey. My friend had more luck with the meghleh, which is a traditional Lebanese sweet that’s usually wheeled out when there’s a birth in the family.
Relaxing with a glass of complimentary café bel beyt, we breathed a sigh of relief when a few more diners arrived to keep our hawk-like waitress occupied. But rather like her, when it comes to traditional Lebanese food in a contemporary setting, Café Blanc rarely misses a trick.
The bill (for two)
Mineral water Dhs12
Minted lemonade Dhs18
Warak enab Dhs20
Kebbeh krass Dhs22
Mixed platter Dhs48
Byzance cheesecake Dhs24
Total (including service) Dhs204