Category Archives: Reviews

Four Seasons Hotel – Beirut

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I was in Beirut over the weekend and on this trip I ended up staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Downtown Beirut. The hotel is located in what I think is one of the nicest looking towers in Beirut, right in front of the very popular Zaituna Bay and so I was really looking forward to staying there.

Right from the moment I stepped out of my rental I knew I was going to be enjoying my stay at the hotel. The customer service at the hotel was just better then any other I had previously stayed in before and I’ve stayed at many. The feeling I kept getting is that every single employee wanted to help make your stay better, and by every single employee I don’t mean just the reception staff or managers, I mean everyone from the valet guys, to the housekeepers to the waiters. I think its the words they use but you just get this feeling that you can ask them for whatever you want and they’d love to do it and that made me super comfortable in asking them for stuff which I tend not to do.

Other than the excellent service my room was also very comfortable. I had overpacked on this trip but there was more than enough closest space and drawers to accomodate all my stuff. The room wasn’t that big but the bathroom was with a large sink area, tub, shower room, toilet room and a makeup table. The room had a balcony that was big enough to fit a table and two chairs and finally there was free wifi in the room and the whole hotel. My favorite part of the hotel though would have to be the roof. During the day the roof is a cool place to swim and tan but at night it’s an open air lounge overlooking the Mediterranean sea and Beirut.

I do have two minor complaints though. The first issue the hotel really can’t do much about but the view from my room could have been better if there wasn’t a large sand lot right outside. I live in Kuwait so I would rather not see sand lots when I travel. Even though the hotel is right in front of Zaituna Bay, my room was more on the side and I could only see the marina if I was on the balcony looking left which was disappointing. The other issue I had was with their breakfast. It’s not a breakfast buffet and one of the things I look forward to the most in hotels is their breakfast buffets. At the Four Seasons they have a dried fruit, fresh fruit and cereal buffet but if you want any hot dishes you have to order them. The advantage obviously is your breakfast is made for you and so is fresh, but the disadvantage is it takes time to make and you also can’t just fill up your plate with whatever looks good like you would do at a regular buffet.

In the end though I had a really good time at the hotel. I generally don’t tend to spend much time at hotels but on this trip I was having all my friends come over so we could just chill out on the roof. The incredibly friendly service and the lounge on the roof made me really love my stay. I’d most likely stay there again once I’m done reviewing other hotels in Beirut. Here is the link to their [Website]

Quick Review: Samsung Galaxy S4

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Samsung Lebanon were kind enough to lend me the new Samsung Galaxy S4 to try it out for a couple of weeks and return it. Even though I only got it on Monday, I’ve been experimenting on my friend’s S4 for the last week or so and have few things to say about this latest addition to the Samsung’s popular S series.

First of all, let me just say that even though I’ve been an iPhone user for years, I decided to switch to Android and have been using the Samsung Note2 since Christmas without any regret (except for the camera maybe). The Samsung Galaxy S is getting more popular by the year and the S3 has been rivaled only by the iPhone last year, so there were very high expectations set for the new S4.

Design, Build & Screen

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The Samsung S4 is an improved version of the S3 whereas it fits a larger screen in a smaller, lighter and slimmer body. The handset feels almost as light as the iPhone 5, and doesn’t feel cheap at all. On the contrary, the S4 feels like a classy and sexy phone. What I don’t like though about Samsungs in general is the back cover as I feel I am going to break it every time I want to take it out. It seems we still have to wait a bit for them to switch to unibody.

The screen is one of the phone’s most impressive features as it is a 5-inch Full HD with quite an impressive resolution (1080 x 1920). I think it’s the best screen resolution and quality currently in the market. Added to that, the screen is so sensitive that you can swipe around it while wearing gloves.

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The three sensors and front-facing camera dots look randomly placed

Features

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When I first saw the Samsung S4 TV commercials, I was excited to try out the Air Gesture and Air View features as they looked pretty cool, as well as the eye-tracking tool but I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t use them that often. It’s fun to try them out the first few weeks and impress your friends but that’s about it. I tried using the eye tracking tool when reading an article online but it’s not as practical as it seems. In fact, you might look stupid moving your head to interact with a screen but then again that’s a software that will take some time to perfect so there’s no harm in having fun with it until then.

Here are some of the new features in the S4:
Group Play, Story Album, S Translator, Optical Reader, Samsung Smart Scroll, Samsung Smart Pause, Air Gesture, Air View, Samsung Hub, ChatON, Samsung WatchON, S Travel (Trip Advisor), S Voice Drive, S Health, Samsung Adapt Display, Samsung Adapt Sound, Auto adjust touch sensitivity (Glove friendly), Safety Assistance, Samsung Link, Screen Mirroring, Samsung KNOX (B2B only).

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You can search with the camera on Google which is pretty cool

As far as the quick access menu is concerned, there are over 20 different shortcuts which I think is a bit too much.

Camera
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Even though I am using the Note2 currently, I still prefer my iPhone 4’s camera. The S4 camera is a major improvement from the previous one and is 13 MP with Auto Focus, Flash and Zero Shutter Lag. I noticed some lag when taking pictures sometimes but I haven’t had the chance to experiment it properly and will do so in the upcoming days. I will also try to compare the S4 camera with the iPhone 5 and Lumia 920 cameras.

PS: I will be posting pictures taken with the S4 on my Instagram for those interested (Follow me @LeNajib).

All in all, the S4 is an enhanced version of the popular Samsung S3, with a larger screen, better quality and higher resolutions, a more powerful camera and tons of new features. It’s currently the best Android and Smartphone in the market in terms of performance and specs. The Galaxy S4 is being sold at 850$ in Lebanon (with CTC warranty card) which I believe is overpriced.

I personally wouldn’t buy it because I am addicted to my Note2’s huge screen and looking forward to the Note3.

2013 Volvo V40 T5 Review

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I know I promised to post the review a couple of weeks ago but things have been hectic lately and I couldn’t finalize it until tonight. It’s my first car review and it’s not as easy as I thought it would be specially when you only have one weekend to test drive.

I’ve never driven a Volvo before and the last Volvo I remember being in was a 1983 model that my friend had during my AUB years. I knew that Volvos were traditionally reputed for putting safety above style, but this perception started to change around 10 years ago with the introduction of the C,V and S series (My favorite was the S40).

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Style
Having said that, the new Volvo V40 is all about style and is one of the sexiest cars I’ve seen this year in its category that includes the Audi A3, the BMW 1 Series and the newest Mercedes A-Class. It’s been almost 20 years that Volvo hasn’t designed a five-door hatchback and I must say they’ve outdone themselves, specially with the V40 R-Design model which I looked up online but unfortunately wasn’t available at the dealership.

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The car looks great from the inside, the leather seats are very comfortable with plenty of adjustability in the driving position. Don’t expect the same comfort though if you go for the sports seats that usually come with the T5 R-Design. The steering wheel looks nice with buttons to control the radio stations and the volume on the right and the menu items on the left. What I didn’t appreciate though was the small scroll button on the right side in the middle used to change the radio frequency as I would hit it accidentally while flipping through radio stations.

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There’s a cool display screen in front of the driver that can be set to three different modes (Eco, Elegance and Performance). I loved how the speeds light up as you go faster. The LEDs light up the cabin at night but can reflect on the front windshield if the brightness is set to the highest level. The panoramic glass roof adds a good feel to driving the V40.

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On the Road
If you thought the V40 is a family car, think again as the T5 is equipped with a five-cylinder 2.5 litre engine producing over 250 hp. With this much power, the V40 is a beast on the road and I had a lot of fun driving it. It’s fast and responsive, with a quick acceleration and has a good grip to the road. I wasn’t really comfortable sometimes with the handling when speeding on turns as I felt a slight loss of balance but otherwise it was satisfying enough.

The T5 goes from 0 to 100 in around 6 seconds. It is mated to a six-speed Geartronic automatic with sports mode.

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The reverse mode is very practical as you get two cameras showing you on a seven-inch LCD display in the dash the proximity from the obstacles around you and behind you. The two right and left front mirrors are directed towards the floor to prevent you from hitting your car from the front while reversing. You could disable this option if you wish so.

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I tried backing the car into the sea and the sensors did not beep at all. I think it is the case for most cars but it would nice if they work on improving those sensors since we now have cameras and all.

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Screenshot from the video I took that I will not upload as it will take forever

Safety
The V40 “received a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests, with 98 per cent for adult occupant and 100 per cent for safety assist making it officially the safest car Euro NCAP has ever tested. Every V40 comes fitted with the firm’s City Safety system – which uses a laser to detect an imminent collision and automatically brake the car to prevent a low-speed accident – and a U-shaped pedestrian airbag that triggered by sensors in the bumper and pops out from under the bonnet to soften the impact. Volvo finished a solid 10th in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, proving that buyers still have faith in the ownership experience and reliability of the brand despite a few problems in recent years.” [Link]

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I think this excerpt from one of the V40 reviews I read says it all. Safety is a priority for Volvo and they make sure to let the driver know about that. There are plenty alerts and warnings that you can activate and de-activate to make your drive the safest possible. There’s also the impressive pedestrian airbag that pops out to minimize injury. Check out a demonstration [Here].

There’s one alert that surprised me the first time, which is the distance alert. It is triggered every time you are closing in on another car quickly in order to avoid collision, and makes a loud sound while lighting up the front windshield with a red alert. I turned it off eventually.

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Verdict
The V40 is a great hatchback that offers you quality, comfort, safety and performance. It’s a very nice-looking car with a price that starts at $39,900. That’s quite pricey but reasonable when compared to the Mercedes and Audi in its category. Having said that, it is hard for me to say that it’s my favorite hatchback as I haven’t tried any others but it’s definitely a cool car to have and most of the reviews seem to agree with me.

You can check out more details about the V40 [Here].

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Iron Man 3: Quick Review

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Iron Man 3 was definitely a major improvement from Iron Man 2 but the first Iron Man is still my favorite by far. In fact, IM3 was fun to watch with a lot of explosions, chases, a very menacing villain (at least at first) and Robert Downey Jr played his role to perfection, but there are few things I didn’t appreciate.

– The trailer built up a bad guy, The Mandarin, as terrifying as Batman’s Bane or Bond’s Javier Bardem but the way he gets caught and who he turns out to be were quite disappointing.

– I don’t think the little boy character was needed in the movie. This part disconnected us from the action and didn’t last long enough to draw us further into the story. To be honest, I thought the whole movie wasn’t very well paced.

– There’s a lot of humor in the movie, a bit too much in my opinion.

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Otherwise, Gwyneth Paltrow was great as always and Happy Hogan was hilarious and like I said previously, it’s a lot of fun and is a must-watch. What remains to be seen if it will be the last time we see Robert Downey Jr. as the Iron Man or not.

PS: The movie was in 3D, which I still think sucks in theaters.

First Impression + Pictures: Empire Premiere

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I couldn’t resist not taking a nap on these couches

I just got back from Empire Premiere‘s launch in Sodeco and I have to say it wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought it would be a new VIP theater with some additional features and a more expensive entrance but it turned out to be cheaper (20$ the ticket) than the so-called VIP theaters (30$ the ticket) we currently have and comfier. It doesn’t feel like the VIP theaters we currently have, but rather more like a refined place for people aged 35 or more to stay away from the crowded theaters and enjoy a calm and relaxing experience at the movies.

One of the things I loved most is that they joined every two or three seats together, unlike VIP theaters I visited where you are 1 meter apart from the person next to you.

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Food-wise, you can either have Sushi with your wine glass from the awesome Le Sushi Bar or just popcorn and soft drinks. I was told they will have a new flavor for the popcorn every week. They were showing the new movie Hitchcock which I highly recommend that you watch.

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All in all, Empire Premiere is targeting Lebanese who want to enjoy their movies, avoid crowded theaters and get a little pampered for an extra 10$. There’s nothing wrong with that if you can afford it.

Shawarmanji: First Impression

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Almost a year ago, I was having a talk with a restaurant owner that we need in Lebanon small shops that sell Shawarma the same way Kiosks are selling Hot Dogs and Crepes everywhere these days. He told me back then that it’s a good idea specially that there are very few decent Shawarma places but its only inconvenience is that you can’t keep the Shawarma “Sikh” for more than one or two days which could prove costly in the early stages if business doesn’t pick up.

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Having said that, the people behind Shawarmanji seem to be confident that such a concept will pick up quickly and decided to open in 5 key areas in Lebanon as a start, in Hamra, Achrafieh, Sin el Fil, Zalka and Kaslik and are planning to expand later on in Lebanon and in the Arab world.

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The idea behind Shawarmanji is simple: “Bringing The best Shawarma closer to you!”, but when it comes to Shawarma, I honestly don’t think anyone could compete with Boubouffe and after trying Shawarmanji for the first time last week, I still think Boubouffe is the best.

However, it’s really hard to compare both as one is a 30 year old restaurant in Achrafieh that sells very expensive Shawarma sandwiches among other things and with no plans to expand while Shawarmanji is only about Shawarma and is a new brand opening all over Lebanon. Aside from the convenience, Shawarmanji is very clean and the people working there are very professional from what I saw, and this is a very important feature specially when most Shawarma places in Lebanon are not that hygienic.

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Picture taken from Shawarmanji’s Instagram

Price-wise, sandwiches range between 5500 and 6250 Liras (4$) for both meat and chicken while platters cost around 13,000 Liras (8$) which are very affordable prices in my opinion. There are other items on the menu, such as Sambousek and Rolls, Hummus, Salads and even desserts.
You can check out the whole menu [Here].

All in all, it’s a place worth trying and the best alternative to Boubouffe for me at the moment.

You can read more about Shawarmanji [Here].

Dual Play is Awesome!

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One of the coolest features that I’ve been wanting to try on the LG Cinema 3D TV is the Dual Play. I’ve been playing PS3 games for years on a split screen against my two brothers and it really sucks even if you have a 60 inch TV. As much as you try not to cheat, there’s always someone eyeballing your part of the screen to check your location, specially in shooting games like Call of Duty.

Well all of that has changed with LG’s 3D Dual Play where each player sees a full-screen image simply by wearing the Special Dual Play glasses. I thought at first that the 3D glasses you get with the TV are the same ones you use for the Dual Play but as it turns out, there are different ones. I asked LG if they could provide me with the glasses and they were kind enough to do so. In order to understand why they are different and how LG’s passive Dual Play mode works, I did some research and posted below an excerpt from a website that explained it best in my opinion.

3D is achieved by tricking your brain into seeing “depth”. In order to see depth from a 3D TV, each eye has to have a slightly different image. Just like if you were to alternate closing one eye at a time, the image you see with your right eye, will be slightly different that what you saw with your left eye. This is the basis of how your brain is “tricked” into see “depth”. LG achieves this with their polarized TV panel and 3D glasses. Each lens of the polarized glasses has built-in filters that block lines of resolution; normally the left will block the even and the right the odd lines. When Dual Play is activated you’ll see two full screen images on one screen with the naked eye. While viewing through the special glasses made by LG for Dual Play (essentially two left lens in one pair and two right lens in the other pair). One of the images shown will use all even lines of resolution and the other will use all odd lines of resolution. Yielding full screen game play for everyone. All LG Cinema 3D LED with Smart TV have this feature built-in. Each player can see the full game from their own perspective. [Source] [Video]

Dual Play is very easy to set up as you can turn it on and off from the TV’s remote control. There’s one thing I noticed though is that you need to be sitting on the same level as the TV to get an optimal picture. If you are looking up or down at the screen, you might see a bit from the other player’s screen but they are not visible enough to annoy you. I uploaded a small video while playing Black Ops II to show you the different image each Dual Play glass is showing.

Last but not least, the great thing about Dual Play is that it works on any passive 3D TV, which means that you can use it with any console game that supports a split-screen mode, not just a few selected games. I think that’s pretty cool as more people will be able to enjoy this feature.

I know many of you are waiting for the competition to kick off to see who’s gonna win this awesome TV. I will be announcing it on Monday when I post the full review. Until then, I will be enjoying Dual Play Gaming and testing other features.

First Impression: LG 42″ Cinema 3D LED TV with Smart TV

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I got a call from LG a week ago asking me if I was interested in reviewing their 42″ Cinema 3D TV. I haven’t bought a TV in years but I’ve started looking for one lately as my house will be finished in 6 months time so LG’s call came at the right time. To make it even better, I asked them if I could give away the TV to BlogBaladi’s readers as an early Christmas gift instead of returning it and they were kind enough to accept!

When I picked up the TV, the first thing that caught my attention was how light it is. The TV without the stand only weighs 28.9 lbs (around 13 kg) and is 35.5 mm thick. After I took it out of the box and set it up, I went through the menu quickly and noticed it has a considerable number of in-built apps and online tools, including a web browser, and shortcuts to various social media tools. While having so many services may sound like a good thing, it’s sometimes hard to toggle through those options using the buttons on the TV remote but the LG remote is very practical and has a “Home” button as well as “My Apps” and “Settings” buttons that make it very easy to access the various features. The “Home” button is the most useful one as it takes you to an LG Dashboard that contains everything you might need to access. I read online about a “Magic Remote Control” that usually comes with LG Smart TVs but mine didn’t have any.

I tried next connecting the TV to my WI-FI network but I wasn’t able to as it asked me to insert a WI-FI dongle into the USB Port. I connected using a LAN cable for now but I am sure there’s a way to do it wirelessly without a dongle as I’ve read it on some reviews. I will hopefully have an answer for that when I post the full review.

Using the browser or social media tools is not very practical using the Remote Control but you could easily plug in a keyboard and use the internet and all the features. You don’t have to worry about empty slots as there’s a handful number of AV Inputs/Outputs, including 4 HDMI™/HDCP Inputs and 3 USB 2.0 ports.

As far as the picture and sound are concerned, the quality is superior and there’s nothing much to say about that. I’ve already watched movies and tested the sound quality and 3D in one of LG’s showrooms and it’s more than you could ask for. For those of you who like to make changes, there’s a lot of flexibility in enhancing the picture and sound capability.

One of the best things about this TV is the 3D. I will not go into the details at the moment but LG uses passive 3D technology that is based on cheap polarized 3D glasses, the ones that are given to you in movie theaters today. It’s almost as good as active 3D and is a cheap and user-friendly solution. To make it even better, LG gives you 6 pairs of 3D glasses that don’t need to be recharged, which are more than enough and far better than other TVs that require 100$+ glasses.

Having said that, the question that comes to your mind is: Who’s gonna watch 3D everyday? Well I most definitely won’t be doing so but what I am dying to try is Black Ops II using LG’s Dual Play Technology. Instead of having a split screen, you can now play on the full screen. I’ve already tried it with a car racing game and it’s amazing!

To cut it short, there are a lot of features that I haven’t tested yet but my first impression of the TV is a very positive one. Here are some of the stuff I will be testing thoroughly in the next few weeks:

– Watching 3D movies every 2 days or so to see if I could get used to it.
– Call of Duty®: Black Ops II Dual Play
– Linking storage devices/PC/Tablets or Smart Phones to the TV
– Trying to play around with picture/sound settings.
– Installing and Using LG’s SMART TV Remote App

As far as the competition to win the TV is concerned, and given that it’s a a big prize this time, I am thinking of making it a bit more challenging and complicated this time and will be posting about it soon.

Marion Bistro – Cafe

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Marion – Atelier de Gourmandises

I passed by Le Mall Dbayeh last Thursday to have lunch but had no idea where to go. I walked across Level2, which is packed with all sorts of restaurants, before I finally got to Marion Bistro and decided to give it a try. Marion is a French Bistro located at the best possible spot on Level2, with an outdoor terrace overlooking the highway and Marina Dbayyeh. It serves brunch, lunch and dinner and has one of the best salad bars!

What I liked most about this place it that it’s spacious and situated in a relatively calm corner of the mall. It’s the ideal place for families but also for couples to hang out away from the overly-crowded diners, pizzerias and burger places. It also overlooks the mall, the highway and part of the Marina Dbayyeh, which I know is not that great but better than not having any view at all.

As far as the food is concerned, you can choose from a large selection of salads, appetizers, sandwiches, pastas, hot dishes and of course their list of desserts all at reasonable prices. I’ve been to Marion 3 times already and was pleased with most of the dishes I ordered. I liked their Club Saumon, the “Australien Black Angus” steak, Coq au Vin and the Vitello Tonnato appetizer. The quiche however wasn’t that great and overpriced.


Filet de Boeuf Bresilien

Added to that, I am a big fan of salad bars and Marion has one of the best salad bars in Lebanon. The display is great, there’s a decent selection of ingredients and the salad dressings are put in small pitchers on the side, which is better and neater in my opinion than those large bowls and ladles.


Salad Bar

Moving on to my favorite part, which are the desserts, I strongly recommend the Mi-Cuit Au Chocolat and the Creme Brulee. I didn’t like their Tiramisu though.


Mi-Cuit au Chocolat (Using Belgian Chocolate)

All in all, Marion is my favorite type of restaurants, as it’s spacious, has a decent salad bar, some good desserts and fine dishes. Price-wise, the majority of items vary between 15 and 20$ (excluding desserts) and the salad bar is priced at 22,000 which I think is a reasonable price.

If you wish to know more about Marion, visit their Facebook Page [Here].

St. Elmo’s Seaside Brasserie

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I’ve been to St. Elmo’s four times already, twice with friends, once on a tweet-up and the last time on a personal invite and I’ve enjoyed my meals and drinks every single time. I was planning to review the place earlier but they have so many items I wanted to try that it was hard to post about it after a single visit.

Located on Beirut’s Zaitunay Bay, St. Elmo’s owes its name to St.Erasmus of Formaie, the patron saint of sailors, and is decorated with nautical vintage stuff to offer a retro-urban seaside setting [Taken from Website]. The restaurant is divided into three parts, one outdoor area overlooking the Zaytounay harbor, an indoor lounge/pub area overlooking a more formal dining area suitable for lunch and dinner.

Before you order any food, there is a long list of drinks and cocktails that you can choose from, ranging from a rich selection of white/rose/red wine, beers and champagne to Sangrias, Mojitos, Bloody Marias and House Elixirs. I am not a big fan of Bloody Marias but one of my friends had the Bloody Mess (see below picture) and he loved it. I recommend trying the Sangria Pitchers, Lynchburg Lemonade (Sour drink), and the Caribbean Shrub.

You can check out the list of drinks and cocktails [Here].


BLOODY MESS: Vodka, Elmo’s clamato juice, giant shrimp & fresh oyster

Moving on to the starters and salads, I recommend the fresh Summer Rolls, the Black Carpaccio (see below picture), the Grilled Calamari and the Tataki Tuna Nicoise salad. All are healthy and delicious choices. The Smoked Salmon Bagel is a must-try in the Sarnies section. It’s a real shame that we don’t have any bagel shops in Lebanon, or at least none that I know of. The only one I used to go to was Euro Deli on Bliss Street during my AUB years but last time I checked, it was closed.

If you want to start with something rather unhealthy, I recommend you go for the Mac & Cheese as a starter. Just don’t have it by yourself because you won’t have any space left for the main dishes.


BLACK CARPACCIO :Cold-cured Black Angus Tenderloin topped with arugula, fresh artichoke hearts, fennel & shaved parmesan with truffle oil

Speaking of main dishes, St. Elmo’s is the place to visit if you are a Fish & Chips or Lobster fan. I haven’t tried the Poached 750g Nova Scotia lobster yet but heard good reviews about it, but I can assure you that the Fish & Chips are the best you can have in Lebanon. The dish is big enough for two people and is awesome! For those of you who don’t drink alcohol, watch out though because they are beer-battered. (All items that contain alcohol are pointed out in the menu).


Fish & Chips: 275g of Beer battered Mediterranean bass served and our home-made tartar sauce & parmesan fries

Last but not least, the desserts offered at St. Elmo’s are the perfect ending to your lunch/dinner. If you are feeling full, order an apéritif and take a small break because some of them are not to miss, especially the Chocolate chip cookie and Nutella Cheesecake.


SOFT CENTER CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE Oven baked & topped with vanilla bean ice cream

All in all, St. Elmo’s is Beirut’s only English SeaFood Brasserie and is located at the most suitable place, the Zaytounay bay. It’s a new concept that I encourage all Lebanese to try and is rather affordable given its location and when compared to some restaurants around it. (30-50$ per person for a full meal)

If you wish to read more about St. Elmo’s:
[St. Elmo’s Facebook page]
[St. Elmo’s website] [Menu]


The outdoor area overlooking the yachts and boats

PS: St. Elmo’s also serves brunch from 10am till 1pm, check out their brunch menu [Here].