10 Shelley Street, Shelley Street, Central, Hong Kong
Halfway up the Mid-Levels escalator – the beating heart of Hong Kong’s SoHo district and the longest outdoor escalator in the world – sits the exotic oasis, Maison Libanaise. French for ‘Lebanese house’, this Middle Eastern canteen is inspired by 1960s Beirut – a time when the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ was a lively cross-section of arts, culture, politics and philosophy.
The rise of contemporary Beirut was characterised by freewheeling discussion and the sharing of ideas. Maison Libanaise recreates this vibe with its convivial three-storey setting, encompassing a first-storey takeaway counter – which also functions as a mini Lebanese grocery mart – a main dining level, and a rooftop terrace that’s ideal for balmy evenings.
The eye-catching, vibrant facade, decorated with a colourful, Middle Eastern–inspired mural, is enough to draw in curious passers-by, but it’s the fresh, flavourful food from Head Chef, James Harrison that keeps customers returning day in and day out.
As an Australian native, James adopted a love for Middle Eastern cooking from an early age. He kicked off his kitchen experience at MoMo Restaurant, a Lebanese restaurant in Melbourne run by Michelin-starred chef and master of Middle Eastern cuisine, Greg Malouf. After attending culinary school in 2004, James continued his mentorship under Greg, helping him open additional restaurants in Melbourne as well as his first Hong Kong concept, Olive.
Now with more than 12 years of experience under his belt, James is striking out on his own with Maison Libanaise, drawing from his arsenal of exotic ingredients and traditional recipes to create a colourful menu of authentic Lebanese dishes. Adhering to conventional methods and preparations, James looks to emphasise fresh ingredients with almost everything made in-house daily, from the hummus and the labneh to the aromatic spice blends.
Unsurprisingly, Maison Libanaise lends itself well to large tables and group gatherings, where dinner almost always starts with a round of mezze (Middle Eastern small plates) to share. There’s hummus and baba ganoush paired with warm hearth-baked pita, golden-fried eggplant with tahini yoghurt and pomegranate, halloumi dressed in a honey glaze, and lamb kibbeh mixed with bulgur and fresh herbs.
In fact, you could have a whole meal comprised of mezze alone, accompanied by a bottle of excellent Lebanese wine (the impressive wine list features every major winery in Lebanon). However, it would be a shame to miss out on some of the larger items, including a tender and juicy za’atar-spiced fried chicken, pulled lamb shoulder with goat’s cheese and a soft herb salad, and sole served with preserved lemon and tahini.
James also places a heavy emphasis on vegetables, and the harissa-roasted cauliflower is one of the best items on the menu. It is rubbed with a Tunisian chilli paste until it’s turned a brilliant shade of orange and given a slight char to lock in smoky depth, creating a tangy, spicy and wonderfully satisfying main.
After dinner, head upstairs to the spacious rooftop for one of the best views of SoHo. Here, you can carry on into the odd hours of the night, armed with more fabulous Lebanese wine and extra servings of pita and dip as the conversation flows under the starry night sky.