Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - The "Lebanese and Indian cuisine" offered at Al Saray, a new restaurant off Petchaburi Road, sounds like a fresh concept in fusion food, but there are in fact two menus. It's up to you to do the fusing, and what fun it is.
A chef from Lebanon and another from India selected their respective homelands' best dishes for Al Saray. "We don't do fusion food," says the former, Mohammad Farran from Beirut.
"All of the recipes we use, both Lebanese and Indian, are authentic and traditionally prepared. We wish to serve our own countrymen the foods they miss living abroad, as well as Thais who want to try foreign food that's cooked in conventional ways."
The chef is absolutely from Lebanon and so are most of the ingredients he utilises. Al Saray proffers fine dining, so only premium meat is used, along with organic vegetables from local farms.
"Lebanese cuisine uses fresh ingredients, unlike Indian cuisine, which uses dried herbs that we can mostly find in Thailand," Farran explains.
"I am very specific about my spices, and since Lebanese food is not so popular here yet, we really need to bring over spices and herbs from Lebanon to make sure we get the same taste we have at home."
Still, there's no "food nationalism" at Al Saray, and diners are encouraged to mix Lebanese with Indian.
It's best to start with Lebanese mezza - appetisers that come in many varied tastes and textures, both hot and cold.
Get one of the hummus dips that go so well with Lebanese bread, and then choose among walnut muhamara (grilled red capsicum paste with crushed walnut), the all-time favourite baba ganouj and the mutable batenjan, which is simply grilled eggplant with lemon juice and fresh pomegranate.
While most of the refreshing dips are delightfully mild, some are rather spicy. Make sure to sprinkle on olive oil to bring out the flavour and add a creamy texture to the dips.
If you want greens, get a bowl of fettouch - mixed veggies with sumac, lemon dressing and pomegranate molasses. For herbs with a stronger smell, try the surprisingly refreshing taboule, for which parsley is finely chopped and served with tomatoes, mint leaves and splashes of lemon juice and olive oil.
Another must-try is the homemade shanklishe cheese. The slightly salty and milky cheese is mixed with spices and herbs, then dried and aged, and served with fresh diced tomato.
For the main course, the Lebanese kitchen offers mainly marinated grilled meats, skewers and kebabs. If you'd like more variety, switch to the Indian men, which covers all the most famous dishes.
Recommended is the biryani with either chicken or lamb. The rice is cooked just right, not soggy, with enough sauce from the meat to keep the rice soft and flavourful. The bowl is big enough for two people.
And there are yummy curries, too. The most popular are the creamy and tasty butter chicken and the rich lamb jogan josh boneless lamb curry in brown onion gravy.
Vegetarians shouldn't miss the dal makani, for which various types of peas are cooked overnight with tomato and cream.
You can get sweets from both kitchens, including classic Indian gulab jamun, which is fried cottage-cheese dough in a milk reduction, and the Lebanese roz bil halib, a cold rice pudding with rose water.