We were meeting friends for dinner last Saturday night and having planned to go to Coppinger Row we decided to head in early because they don’t take reservations but even at seven o’clock there were no free tables for the next hour and a half so we were forced to change plans. We first tried L’Gueuleton and were informed there would be a two hour wait for a seating and it was only then that I remembered the Dine In Dublin week was on and this was why everywhere was so busy. It’s hard enough normally to get a spot in town without a reservation on a Saturday night so we were actually considering going to L Mulligans in Stoneybatter when we walked by the Lebanese restaurant The Cedar Tree just off Wicklow Street. It had been a couple years since we’d been and now seemed like the perfect time to revisit as we’d been very impressed the last few times we’d eaten there.
Luckily when we arrived we got the last non-reserved table and after being shown to our table and given our menus we discovered we were still in time for the early bird menu which was very reasonably priced at €16.50 for three courses. While the other three decided to go with this option, I chose to order á la carte because I liked the look of a fish starter called samka harra; it proved a wise decision because it was the best dish of the night, a generous portion of diced monkfish in a lightly spiced tomato sauce flavoured with what seemed like allspice but what was most likely cinnamon and cumin as they are traditionally the more prevalent spices in the Middle East. Our choices from the early bird were also good, the best being the sujok which is spicy Lebanese sausage cooked with tomatoes. In fact, the reason I didn’t get it myself was because it’s what I’d had on my two previous times eating here and I wanted to try something different. The other two starters were falafels (with tahini sauce) and hummus, both staples of Lebanese cuisine and as expected well executed if somewhat unexciting.
For my main course I had meshwe billaban, chunks of lamb marinated in ginger then charcoal grilled on skewers and served with yogurt and a yellow pepper sauce not mentioned on the menu. This was solid if unspectactular but a welcome consequence of its simplicity was that the meat had to be of good quality as it was by far the dominant ingredient on the plate. We also ordered mixed kafta, a selection of minced chicken and lamb skewers charcoal grilled too and kibbe saynieh which was a very interesting mixture of minced lamb, walnuts and cracked wheat heavily spiced with cloves and cinnamon amongst others. I thought the kibbeh was very good if a little dry but the accompanying yogurt dip helped to add some moisture anyway.
For dessert in a Lebanese restaurant there’s really only one option for me and it’s baklava (although one of our group made the heretical choice of going for ice-cream and the waiter gave him some on the house to show him what he was missing). There were three different types: one being my favourite pistachio, another almond but thirdly a very nice alternative that didn’t have filo pastry at all and seemed like wheat flavoured with rose water. I won’t even dignify the ice-cream with a description!
For wine we chose a bottle of Chateau Ksara which I’m a big fan of anyway and knew would go well with the red meat heavy selection we’d made. Service was excellent, our waitress had a keen sense of humour so we were able to have a bit of a joke and a laugh and as mentioned, the free baklava to our errant friend was a really nice touch. And with the bill coming to just over €100 for four people it was excellent value as well.