A Lebanese Lunch


Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 18, 2012

Prices in Geneva are quite frighteningly high and though I was prepared for this, it didn't stop me from feeling a bit shaky when I handed over the equivalent of a tenner for two pints. One of the things we have learned on our travels is that 'ethnic' restaurants such as those serving Indian, Middle Eastern or African food tend to be much better value for money, especially in those countries regarded as expensive such as Switzerland and Scandivania.

Being a very multicultural city, Geneva has plenty such places and a good number are clustered in the Paquis area. It's a bustling, colourful part of the city and well worth a wander around even if you don't stop to eat; however, it does have a reputation for crimes such as pickpocketing and special care should be taken if you''re wandering around Paquis in the evening.

"Restaurant El Amir" is an excellent little Lebanese place on Rue de Berne, though restaurant is, perhaps, overdoing it; it is, though, an excellent cafe that offers a selection of Middle Eastern food ranging from shawarmas and other kebabs, to plates of individual and mixed meze items. This is one place where vegetarians are as well catered for as meat eaters. We actually visited this place in 2010 and were so impressed that we recommended it afterwards to some friends who were intending to visit Geneva around that time; in the end they didn't visit until very recently and when they returned they told me that they'd eaten at El Amir and really enjoyed it, so it seems that nothing has changed (except maybe the prices are a little higher).

We arrived around 1.00pm looking for a cheap (for Geneva) lunch and while the place wasn't exactly packed, there was a steady stream of customers to sit in and to collect takeways; among them were other tourists and workers, a good number of whom appeared to be a Middle Eastern descent (always reassuring when decding whether a Middle Eastern cafe is any good). We had dithered a moment or two outside as we inspected some photographs of the food on offer and the owner (or at least the person in charge), a friendly middle-aged man, waved us in.

This place is light and airy and spotlessly clean. Seating, for the main part, is in diner-style booths and after a busy morning sightseeing, we were pleased to get a comfy seat. The walls are decorated with a view colourful pieces of art that lend an air of Middle Eastern influence while maintaining the modern cafe style design.

The menu was easy to follow and people that eat Middle Eastern food regularly would know some of the names without having to request a menu in English. There are French explanations of some of the dishes but the staff that served us all spoke good English and would be happy to help if necessary. We'd been trying to put together our own meze plate to share but when we started reeling off our order, the owner shook his head and showed us a page of meze plates, all with colour photos, and suggested one that would include more or less what we'd asked for, and which would be better value for money.

The plate arrived within just a couple of minutes, a mixute of cold items and quick to cook hot items. Although it was quite simply presented, there were nice touches such as a pool of glistening, green tinged olive oil in the middle of the humus, hardly unusual but so much nicer than just dumping a mound of humus on the plate. If the humus was not made in the restaurant then it was exceptionally good mass produced stuff; the consistency was excellent and there was a good balance between the garlic and the tahini. There was also a helping of moutabal (sometimes called 'baba ganoush', a favourite of mine; it's a dip of smoky aubergine, blitzed with garlic, lemon juice and spices and, like the humus, it was finished with a generous slick of olive oil.

There were some excellent falafel, wonderfully crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft and moist inside. The flavours were lively and fresh and I loved the slightly nutty taste to the outer part. I have a friend who thinks it's wrong to eat falafel and humus in the same meal, something about double chickpeas, but when both are done so well, as with this plate, I don't find it a problem at all.

The other deep fried item in the meze was the courgette balls, one of the things I'd orginally wanted to order. I love courgette balls but as I prefer not to deep fry stuff at home I will always order them when eating out if they are on the menu. These did not disappoint: the outside was just the right shade of golden brown and when you bit cut them open the shreds of bright green grated courgette looked wonderful. They tasted great too, of course, fresh but with a hint of warm spices.

The stuffed vine leaves were competently executed (mine almost always threaten to explode in the pan no matter how tightly I pack them) and appeared to have been made 'in house' rather than having come from a tin. The rice still had a bit of bite and the stuffing was packed with herbs. More herbs came in the tabblouleh, the salad of bulghur wheat, chopped tomatoes and copious amounts of fresh chopped herbs, namely parsley and mint. The tabbouleh was made perfectly; many people make the mistake of using too much grain and not enough herbs but a 'proper tabbouleh' should be a herb salad with some grain in it and the tabbouleh at El Amir was absolutely authentic.

The meze came with two lavash flat breads which were great for ensuring we ate all of the dips. the crisp leaves of iceberg lettuce were good for scoooping up all of the tabbouleh. For two people this made a good lunch.

No alcohol is served so we had the usual accompaniment of Diet Cokes followed by some mint teas as we relaxed after our delicious lunch. This was good value at around £22 for lunch for the two of us and the lunch was pleasingly filling without inducing sleep, allowing us to resume the sight-seeing.

I can't recommend this cafe enough; the food is excellent and in Geneva terms it's quite cheap for the city centre. It's a great option for lunch and if you go in summer, you can take advantage of the small decking area outside.
Restaurant Al Amir
22 Rue De Berne
Geneva, Switzerland
022 731 92 98

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