It's a phrase that's become a bit of a cliche since international travel has been taken off the table. "You may not be able to get to Lebanon (for example) but Lebanon has come to you."
But with all cliches, there are certain situations - that are as authentic as they come - where there's no other way of describing the experience. And Bar Beirut is that.
The Garema Place bar - formerly known as Beirut Bunker Bar - reopened its doors this week, with a new name, new look and new experience. Because that's what owners Chantelle and Soumi Tannous want to create - an experience. They didn't want just the tastes of Beirut but they want to capture the very essence of Lebanon.
"Lebanon teeters on a knife's edge with regional tensions but the locals just get on with life," Chantelle Tannous says.
"They have big hearts, great energy, a yearning for fun, and a true appreciation for life. We wanted to capture that spirit in our venue."
Building on the bar's popularity as a late-night cocktail bar, Bar Beirut now offers shared mezze plates influenced by Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine in a revamped setting.
The bar's big drawcard has always been Soumi Tannous himself. He learnt his skills in the underground nightclub scene of war-torn Beirut, perfecting incredible cocktails by experimenting and creating harmonious recipes. It was there that he actually met Chantelle Tannouse who was travelling at the time.
The bar's drinks menu features an ever-changing cocktail lineup with a handful of stable signatures as well as a long champagne list, boozy bubble tea, and top-shelf Lebanese wines.
Imported directly from Lebanon, the offerings include a sparkling wine, Mersel Leb Nat Pet Nat Gold 2020 which pairs the viognier with a merwah - a grape native to Lebanon. These 120-year-old vines are grown at high altitudes at 1600m above sea level facing the Mediterranean Ocean. There is also a Petit Couvent White 2020, which combine sauvignon blanc grapes with the obeidi variety - another native Lebanese grape.
But Bar Beirut's redesign is not just limited to the drinks menu.
"People have been asking us for food for quite a while and to be completely honest, in Lebanon, they don't have a culture of just going out and drinking. It's always shared with food," Chantelle Tannous says.
"So it is a really important part of that experience that goes hand in hand with socialising and drinking. And so it just seemed like a natural progression to bring food into the fold.
"But Soumi made it very clear that unless he could find someone who could cook Lebanese food as good as his mum, then don't bother."
It can be a hard bar to meet - being able to cook food as good as your mum - but it seems head chef Struan Preston was up to the challenge.
Formerly of Kokomo's, Preston is behind the food menu that is a modern interpretation of Middle East meets the Mediterranean of shared mezze plates of big, bold, punchy flavours.
Expect the usual favourites like hummus and baba ghanoush along with some reimagined traditional Lebanese and Levantine dishes like kibbeh nayyeh (a raw spiced lamb delicacy) and dirty rice. The menu also includes dishes "that give you a big hug from the inside" like the 10-hour slow-braised lamb shank with cashew tarator, chicken jus, and salt-baked sweet potato and date mash.
Seafood is celebrated both in Lebanon and at Bar Beirut and the new menu needed to reflect that. That's where dishes such as the signature oysters with a pomegranate mignonette topped with a yoghurt pearl come in.
"We didn't want to go down the traditional route of a Lebanese restaurant," Chantelle Tannous says
"I think there are a lot of places, not so much in Canberra, but certainly when you go to a Lebanese restaurant in Sydney, it's a very traditional banquet that you're served.
"And the flavours are really interesting in that Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, that we wanted to give it a modern spin.
"Straun's just come up with a really beautiful menu and that celebrates Lebanon's place on the Mediterranean as well because there is a lot of seafood eaten in Lebanon, and Beirut. I think often when you go down that traditional route, it tends to be more lamb and chicken and the seafood is forgotten."
Bar Beirut is open Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm for cocktails and dinner. For more information go to barbeirut.com.au.
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