Finding myself around the corner from Gemmayzeh around lunch time, I decided to treat myself to another home-cooked Lebanese meal. This time Le Chef was my destination, a tiny joint in Gouraud Street that could be overlooked by those silly enough to turn their readjusted noses up at seeing the ancient chairs, plastic tablecloths and very un-modern painted walls. Those not happy to share a table with strangers or look right into a restaurant's kitchen would get up and leave, while women who prefer not to share a toilet (which happens to lead off from the visible kitchen) with men wouldn't set foot in there.
I, on the other hand, am in love with the place. It was my second visit, and I still got the 'welcome' call from Charbel, the owner (son of the original owner - this place has been around for years and is one of Gemmayzeh's original hangouts). I realised today that this 'welcome', said in a very thick Lebanese accent, is repeated a little more often to those who look foreign - the British couple who walked in were 'welcomed' upon entering, upon sitting down, and upon being presented with the menu.
Although I was itching to have the mloukhiye, I'd tried it last time, so it was time to be daring and go with something I'd never tasted before: kibbeh arnabieh, baked kibbeh balls cooked in a tahini and a tangy, orange-like fruit juice (the one in Dad's garden that's usually only used for marmalade). It's an intense flavour, which I wouldn't have been able to enjoy as much without the refreshing, vinegary taste of the fattouche in between, but I'm glad I tried it. Now I know I prefer kibbeh with laban.
In this age-old eating establishment, which looks like it's kinda stuck in the 70s, there are posters advertising trance parties, hip-hop gigs and theatre auditions.
Charbel himself takes his guests' orders and shouts them off to the kitchen as you mention each item. He writes out the invoice by hand and tells you the amount as he hands it to you.