I am often asked if I get lonely when my husband travels for work as he does so much of the time. And while I do miss him terribly, miss palling around town, eating meals together, just being, I don’t ever think of myself as lonely. Instead I like to use the time he’s away to be completely selfish and take on projects I’ve had in the back of my mind, explore new parts of wherever it is I live, meet new people, write. Then, when he’s back, I get to share all of the exciting new things I’ve learned, produced, and scouted, with him. You’ll likely hear more for me when he’s away!
He’s run off to northern Iraq this week, for an undetermined amount of time, but before he left we had a date night at Baron, a little restaurant in Mar Mikhael that’s the talk of the town. We couldn’t even get a reservation, just had to hope that we’d be one of the first that evening to nab an open seat at the bar overlooking the kitchen (which is even better in my mind). Baron is doing something no other restaurant in Beirut is doing, which is a kind of fresh, seasonal, fusion, menu featuring the ingredients of the region prepared in unexpected ways. While Beirut is known for its food, I have to admit that much of what I’ve had hasn’t blown my socks off (with the exception of Tawlet). The restaurants are still mostly rooted in one cuisine, done in varying degrees of competence, and without any innovation. You want French? Italian? Sushi? They’ve got them all in spades, but no place is really looking at food in the way chefs in New York or London are these days. Chefs in other places I’ve lived are taking the food of their origin and reinventing it with influences from around the world – a true reflection of the many cultures permeating these great cities themselves.
Baron is trying to do just this and the chef even admitted to me that they don’t have any local competition. The dining room is packed every night and there’s a great buzz and energy to the space. At first I got carried away by the idea of the place, which reminded me a lot of my beloved Palomar in London. However, as the meal went on, dish after dish just fell short of the mark. And at these prices, they should be pretty much perfect. A spiralized zucchini salad had far too much dressing, the feta could have been punched up a bit, and I would have loved the crunch of a garlicky breadcrumb or something in there. The 72 hour short ribs were fatty and I didn’t think any better for their 72 hours of preparation than mine after four. Asparagus with a duck egg – it was ok, but a seasonal restaurant serving asparagus in October? The woody texture and blandness reflected this. The duck leg confit was very good, but I found the jalapeno dressing far too acidic. Finally, the baklava dessert was non-descript, so much so that I didn’t eat more than two bites. It wasn’t worth the calories.
Yes, I’ve just ripped the place to shreds but I will go back because I like what the chef is doing, I just think a little more tweaking needs to go into each dish. It does have a similar feel to Palomar or Ottolenghi, with unusual pairings and a heady mix of Asian, Indian, Levantine, and North African flavors, but here they’re not always working. The energy here is great though and I think the intention to bring this kind of cuisine to a city so famous for its food is on the mark.
One of their show-stopping dishes, and one I hear people mention all the time, is their whole roasted head of cauliflower. Many of you asked me for the recipe after I posted a photo on Instagram, so I’ve been working to recreate it, with my own twist. I love the idea of a whole-roasted cauliflower, but at Baron they’ve pimped it out with lots of yummy toppings and a schwarma butter spice rub that infuses it with flavor in the oven. Vegetables have gone so far beyond being just the obligatory mushy green whatever next to the meat main course and this dish highlights their versatility. This would happily serve as a vegetarian main dish or along side some lovely lamb chops or even fish.
Whole Cauliflower, Shwarma Butter, Tahini, Pomegranate, Walnut Salsa, Herbs
schwarma spice mix (enough for 2 cauliflowers)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
large pinch sea salt
65g walnuts, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, grated finely on a microplane
3 tabelspoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt
tahini taratar sauce
1/2 cup tahini sauce
1/2 cup cold water
juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
salt to taste
to put it all together
1 head cauliflower
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
handful of chopped herbs including coriander, mint, and thyme
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Cut off the hard core of the cauliflower and remove any leaves, but make certain to keep all of the florets intact. Submerge the cauliflower in the pot of boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. Carefully remove and place in a baking dish and allow to cool slightly.
Mix together all of the spices for the shwarma spice mix in a jar. Once the cauliflower has cooled slightly rub the softened butter all over it, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannys and the underside. Do the same with the shwarma spice mixture, rubbing it in very well. Place the cauliflower into the preheated oven and cook for at least one hour or until it is tender when pierced with a knife.
While it’s cooking prepare the other ingredients. Simply mix together all of the walnut salsa ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Whisk together all of the tahini taratar sauce ingredients and season to taste with salt and more lemon if you like. Chop the herbs and prepare the pomegranate seeds.
To assemble, remove the cauliflower from the oven and carefully place on a serving platter. First drizzle with the tahini taratar sauce, then add some of the herbs, then the walnut salsa, then the pomegranate seeds, and then finally the remaining herbs.