My friend Nouhad invited the kid and I to lunch in the SoHo area of Hong Kong and since Nouhad is Lebanese Australian, she wanted to take us to this small Lebanese restaurant she liked to go to.
My son and I arrived a few minutes early and after we were seated I noticed a man (presumably the owner) behind the counter staring at me. He smiled and I smiled back thinking he was being friendly. However, he seemed somewhat familiar and I couldn’t help stealing stares back when he wasn’t looking trying to place him.
It wasn’t until the menus were given to me by our server that everything fell into place! The restaurant is named Assaf and I immediately realized that name and of course, the man behind the counter. I first met him about 18 years ago when he arrived in Hong Kong to manage Beirut, the first Lebanese restaurant in the territory.
When Nouhad arrived, he walked over and I say “you are Joseph Assaf, no?” and his response “yes, I thought I knew you! I recognized you the minute you walked in, that’s why I was looking at you” — and I thought he was checking me out — KIDDING!!
We began with an array of the usual appetizers. Hummus is lovely, and I immediately sat back to think about how I am having a Middle Eastern meal in Hong Kong, and it is authentic in taste and presentation. This is the beauty that is Hong Kong. You are in the heart of Asia, yet, the availability of cuisines is astonishing — except for good Mexican food!
Babaghanoush is always my favorite and it is nicely textured here albeit, I couldn’t taste much of the “grilled” or “roasted” part of the eggplant.
We ordered Tabbouleh which is a light and refreshing way to contrast the creamy and heavy dips. The dressing was okay, but strangely there was no bulgur wheat in the salad.
Haloumi is something I’ve made at home. It is readily available at the Middle Eastern grocery stores and so easy to prepare. For Hong Kong, I guess haloumi can be an exotic, luxurious item and therefore, privy only to restaurants. We ended up getting two orders of the haloumi.
I love falafels and these did not have the green hue I was accustomed to. Still, they were crunchy on the outside and nicely crumbly on the inside.
We got a plate of garlic spread, chili sauce and yogurt sauce and had to refill the garlic spread a few times because it was just too good to resist.
I ordered the kofta for the kid since he can’t live on vegetarian food alone and the one here is seasoned beautifully. I remember the first time I ate Lebanese food in Hong Kong and how everything was served with French fries. Seems like it still remains true.
Joseph was kind enough to send along a plate of chicken which was flavorful and the kid loved it so much he abandoned the kofta.
We also received an array of lovely desserts including baklava and halva. I usually dislike halva because it can be overly sweet and very chalky in consistency. The one here was delightful, very crumbly and only a little bit sweet with hints of rosewater. Joseph tells us he gets this imported from Lebanon from a special place.
I was happy to break up my Chinese meals with a Lebanese one and especially so when I got to see a familiar face. When we were leaving, Joseph and I said our goodbyes and hope our paths will cross again soon.
37 Lyndhurst Terrace
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