Merou Seafood: a delicious surprise
The restaurant itself could use some design changes to draw people in the door. A giant octopus hangs from the ceiling and turquoise placemats add a splash of color. But it isn’t enough to counteract the white walls and light wood. Once once you try the food though, you’ll realize you’ve been missing out on a really good spot. The quality should come as no surprise. Merou’s Sassine location was more or less a distribution center for other seafood restaurants until Khoueiry decided to rebrand after launching Lebanon’s first oyster bar, Mothershucker. And good thing he did.
The staff at Merou’s new location is friendly and always smiling. The service is fast, and the restaurant is clean. Khoueiry sources his fish from only two locations: way down south in Naqoura or way up north around Tripoli. These are the only parts of the sea close to Lebanon that haven’t been polluted: clean water equals clean fish.
Mouthwatering raw fish
When you first sit down, you’re treated to a small portion of Harra Traboulsiyyeh, which can be ordered as a main plate as well. The dish is a combination of red, green and spicy peppers blended with tomato, coriander and chunks of sea bass all mixed in a tahini based sauce.
Before moving on to the many appetizing mezzes Merou has on offer, start with a choice from their diverse selection of mouthwatering raw fish. We tried the catch of the day, which was sea bream, and a yellowtail ceviche, marinated to perfection with lemon and lime juice, red pepper, red onion and coriander (Pro tip: make sure you keep the dressing on your plate to use as dipping sauce later on). But the showstopper was Merou’s signature salmon beetroot sashimi. The presentation of the plate, unlike others at the restaurant, was as pleasing to the eye as the taste was to the palate. The raw salmon is marinated in beetroot, creating a brilliant color, and then served on top of crispy beetroot bites and garnished with lemon zest. The effect is so delicious, you may find yourself asking for seconds.
We also tried a salad of fresh crab served on top of freshly cut watercress, purslane, small cubes of boiled potato and cherry tomatoes that comes dressed with just enough lemon juice and olive oil to give it a kick. Merou doesn’t skimp on the fresh crab, either. Like other dishes at the restaurant, the serving size is generous and there’s plenty to share.
The spicy shrimp salad was also a good choice, although the sesame dressing needed some more heat to really be considered spicy. The grilled shrimp mixed with tobiko and crunchy beetroot bits were anyway delectable. And the frog legs sauteed in a buttery lemon sauce with just enough garlic and coriander were also finger-licking good.
Simple and oh-so-delicious
Despite the overall quality of the meal, there were a couple dishes we’d advise you to avoid, including the fish kibbe and fried bizri. The fish kibbe just wasn’t on par with the rest of the food we were served, and the bizri came from a frozen batch that Merou keeps to satisfy customers with year-round cravings. The taste wasn’t the same as fresh bizri, and they were too oily, drowning out the flavor of the fish and cancelling the crunchy texture. We returned our plate to the kitchen. The lobster bisque, served with brussel sprouts, was smooth and creamy, but nothing extraordinary, and the chargrilled calamari was good, but could have been softer.
The dish that made the few missteps more than worth it was the truffled octopus and hummus. It was simple and oh-so-delicious: sauteed octopus cut into small pieces, sprinkled over hummus with a few pine nuts and a parika-based dressing with a touch of truffle oil–not too much to overwhelm, but just enough to compliment the other wonderful flavors.
Another dish, grilled octopus leg, was also perfectly marinated and served with purslane and a lemon mustard sauce. The shrimp provencal, sauteed in a lemony butter sauce, deep fried battered shrimp, crunchy, breaded calamari and fried mallifa (small barracuda) also all held their own.
There were so many dishes to choose from and so many flavors to try. But the grilled fish couldn’t be missed. We had brak (red snapper) that was fresh and impeccably white. All it needed was a few drops of lemon and olive oil. We also tried delicious shrimp imported from Iran and baked in the oven.
The best is kept for last
By the end of the meal we were so full we couldn’t eat anymore let alone move from our chairs. But the dessert menu was too mouthwatering to resist. First up was tamriyeh rolls–a first for me. They were a bit hard, but still delicious: crispy and filled with semolina with a hint of orange blossom water and dusted with powdered sugar. Next were the halawi rolls coated with chocolate ganache, and mhajrieh (my first time trying it), which was a hybrid between mhallabiyeh and jazriyeh. There was also a delicate milk flan lightly flavored with orange water and topped with sweetened carrots and almonds. But it’s true when they say that the best is kept for last: the dessert of the week was achta bi achta. I won’t say anything other than you have to go try it for yourself. Like many of the dishes we had, it was so good that we ordered seconds, and it was one of the best Arabic desserts I’ve ever tried.
Merou Seafood has only been open for a few months, and the experience is delectable. But understandably, the restaurant has some fine tuning to do. The drinking glasses could be changed. Their rims are oddly thick and sharp-edged. The restaurant also ran out of cold water after serving four or five tables. But most importantly, the presentation in the fish in the display fridge needs to be improved and expanded to fit more seafood–after all it’s the first thing customers see when they walk in the door.
Also, the prices of the fresh fish are not written anywhere. There’s no tag next to the fish or blackboard in the restaurant to help you keep track. Merou isn’t cheap, but it also isn’t as expensive as most other fish restaurants in Beirut. We paid $60 for a multitude of dishes, including seconds of several. It’s an acceptable price, especially considering the quality of the food. It would be in the restaurant’s benefit to display its prices.
I hope those changes can be made before our next visit because we have many more plates we still want to try: raw local scallops, shrimp tabbouleh, the octopus experience (sliced table side), lobster bruschetta served on sammoun bread, oysters, siyyadiyyeh... Oh, and Merou is also apparently famous for its grilled eggplant, which we somehow missed. Needless to say, we’ll be back.
Location: Armenia Street, Mar Mikhael
Sound: Max Level = 105.5 dB, TWA = 67.0 dB
Air Quality: 74/100 (moderate), VOC 0.4 ppm, Humidity 42%, Temp +21°C
Rating: Very Good
We like: Truffled Octopus and Hummus, Grilled Octopus Leg, Fresh Crab Salad, Salmon Beetroot Sashimi, Grilled Sea Bass (Brak), Shrimps Provençale, Yellowtail Ceviche, ALL the desserts
Not so much: Fish Kibbé, Fried Bizri
Our suggestion: Be hungry. Be very hungry. Go as a big group and order everything that I have mentioned: You won’t regret it one bit, and leave room for dessert. It tops it all.
Cordon COURTINE is the pen name of our undercover food critic
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