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Sunday, May 1, 2011

El Falamanki Review

I've been meaning to talk about this place for a while now, but I hadn't been there that often and didn't want to judge based on one experience. So here it comes now.

El Falamanki is a middle eastern restaurant slash lounge in the Sodeco area in Achrafieh. I kept hearing about it here and there and until I tried it a few weeks ago for the first time, I never understood the fuss.
But now I do... or do I?

Location: 10/10
The main entrance is very tidy and worthy of a castle. You are instantly greeted by our loved valets who are just dying to get a hold of your car keys, and later, your money. But that's everywhere. You give up your car and walk a few meters through a small terrace with a few trees scattered around and into the main dining area. Very tasteful and very "out-of-Beirut" feeling slightly - very slightly - reminiscent of Locanda Corcini if you've been there.

Atmosphere: 10/10
It's a very nice middle eastern atmosphere with a tasteful mixture of retro and modern decoration, and you'll be surprised to see things such as a nice LCD flatscreen laid in the  center of a very old middle eastern bronze frame, and retro furniture. The massively predominant but pleasant smell of nargileh tobacco, middle eastern music in the background, the static of scattered conversations, and the sound of dice furiously flying around backgammon boards puts you in an overall very pleasant dining area and if you're a first timer, you're smiling already.

So far so good.

Service / Welcome: 2/10
This is where it all goes wrong. Every time I have been to this place, I personally had to call on one of the waiters for us to be seated. Not once did they notice us stepping in. Not good. After being seated and almost prepping the table on our own, it usually takes another similar effort to get the waiter to come round and take your order. Felt special on the way in? Well not anymore. Now you're just another customer and feel like a burden every time you ask anything of the waiter.

Menu / Pricing / Taste: 3/10
More wrong here. The first thing that strikes you as you look through the menu is how poor it is. And the second thing is the pricing. At best a measly, measly mix of a few usual lebanese overpriced mezze and somehow as you look at it, you can guess - and straight up, I guessed it the first time - that the portions will be just enough to feed a moderately hungry bird. In the grill section, you get platters consisting only of two skewers of either beef or chicken or one of each for LBP 20,000 - 25,000. Yes, TWO skewers, for 25,000. That's 5-6 pieces of chicken or beef for the price of 1Kg of the same in a supermarket. This is the most outrageously overpriced food I've heard of in a middle eastern setting. Somehow I'm thankful for the fact that they don't have those big mixed grill platters they offer in other restaurants! It's sad that they don't, but can you imagine how much that would cost?!
And another thing, you don't even get the usual garnish you expect with a good old lebanese Masheweh platter. All you get is the skewers, some crunchy fries (not the regular ones), and a stupid excuse for a yellowish dipping sauce that I don't want to taste again ever in my life. Where are the parsley, grilled onions and peppers, the exquisite garlic paste that no decent BBQ lacks?? Am I at a steak house or something? Don't give me !@#king Bearnaise sauce with my Masheweh for god's sake!!

So once you get over the abomination that is the Falamanki Grill Menu, here's what we're looking at in terms of finances! (lol)

A Typical lunch or dinner for 2:
1 nargileh, 1 fattouch salad, 1 Lebanese sausage order, 1 Hummus order, a small basket of fries, 2 diet cokes, and one of the delicacy grill platters will set you back around LBP 100,000. And sadly unless you've just undergone a gastric bypass, you'll still be as hungry as you were when you came in.

Too expensive? Go thrifty and replace the lame grill platter with 1 turkey and cheese sage manousheh and you'll still end up paying LBP 90,000 for the lousy meal made up by a few fries, a salad, and a dollop of hommos complemented by a lousy LBP 10,000 Manousheh.

Now keeping in mind this is a middle eastern restaurant, and not a gourmet's heaven on earth - faaarr from it- , and that the portions are simply microscopic - all of this felt exactly as consistent as a happy meal - , this price is just astronomical in my opinion. And frankly, although the atmosphere's good and the food tastes great, both are just as good at any branch of Leila where you get a MUCH wider choice, MUCH larger portions, MUCH better service, for a lower price.
I gotta hand it to them though, they have THE best nargileh of any other restaurant in beirut. Hands down.

Overall: 6/10
El falamanki. An overall pleasant place for a nice afternoon nargileh and perhaps a cup of coffee or a Jellab. As a restaurant though? It flunks miserably, because any Lebanese person who knows what they're talking about will tell you that taking lebanese food and contorting it, overpricing it straight into almost a european fusion gourmet menu is just flat out wrong.
But hey, it's working for them and business seems good.
I give the place an all inclusive -generous-  6/10 grade.