When restaurateurs, Tarek and Vivienne El-Mahmoud, retired in 2006, the Hong Kong community grieved the closing of one of Hong Kong’s first and finest Lebanese restaurants, Zahra. Luckily, a love of food and tradition ran deep in the family and, in 2013, daughters of the retired couple, Nadia and Nysreen, opened Zahrabel Dining Club just a few blocks down from the original restaurant.
The sisters wanted a name that would pay homage to their beloved parents’ restaurant. Zahra translates to ‘flower’ and Zahrabel means a ‘sweet little flower’ – a fitting name to denote the passing of the baton from one generation to the next. With the menu composed of inherited family recipes, Zahrabel represents more than just a restaurant, it’s a strong reminder of the importance of culinary
tradition and preservation.
Family ties run deep at Zahrabel. Nadia and Nysreen assume the roles of head chefs, while their brother, Mazen El-Mahmoud, pitched in to design the interior of the space, which seamlessly incorporates elements of traditional Lebanese culture. You’ll spot his touches as soon as you walk in, from the wall adorned with traditional Lebanese backgammon sets and ornamental trays to heavy brass lamps providing ambient light throughout.
Zahrabel is based on a free membership format that ensures that all food is made fresh daily based on the number of member reservations. Nadia and Nysreen lead a team of experienced cooks to ensure each dish is served with authenticity and pride. Lunch offers the opportunity to taste a little bit of everything with delicious mezze platters on offer, while for dinner you’ll find a wide array of sharing options designed to reinforce the idea of family meals and generosity. Once you’ve selected your dishes, sit back and prepare for an epic feast.
Traditionally, dinner will begin with a spread of mezze, or Lebanese small plates. These can include dips, ranging from hummus to a secret family recipe for a spicy Middle Eastern nut dip made exclusively at Zahrabel, known as jos mahrouse. You’ll also find fresh salads such as tabouleh and fattoush – a crispy salad of lettuce, tomato, onions and croutons with a sumac-based dressing. Next come hot items including crispy falafel, homemade spiced sausages (known as sujuk) and kafta skewers made from minced lamb and parsley. More substantial items include dishes such as samke harra, a tahini-based baked fish; shish taouk, traditional chicken skewers; and grilled lamb or fish kebabs. Vegetarian diners are also well cared for with a variety of delicious dishes with spiced cauliflower florets and potatoes or fousulieh, a hearty bean stew served with rice.
The menu lends itself well to sharing, so it’s no surprise that Zahrabel offers private dining options for celebrations, team dinners and the like. Every meal is a celebration, so
toast with a glass of wine from one of Lebanon’s renowned wineries, including Chateau Musar, Ixsir and Chateau Ksara.
While the red and gold-accented space is modern and sophisticated, there are hidden remnants of the past if you look closer, including a row of polaroids pinned along the pathway to the kitchen, picturing the two chef owners as young kids in their parents’ restaurant. Now proprietors of their own restaurant, there’s no denying that Nadia and Nysreen are successfully carrying on the family tradition.