It was a love of Lebanese culture and frustration with the lack of information about artists in the region that inspired Nour Salamé to launch Kaph Books in 2016. In the two years since, the publishing house has become one of the leading voices in fine art and photography in the Middle East. Here Nour suggests some activities for creatives visiting her beloved home city.
“My favourite independent bookstore in Beirut is the cosy, characterful and absolutely charming Papercup, which is tucked away in a quiet street in Mar Mikhael. They have a great selection of art, design, architecture and photography books. It’s a great spot to hang out, relax and meet Beirut’s art crowd. They also make a great chai latte.” papercupstore.com
The dying wish of wealthy Lebanese aristocrat and art collector Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock was that his palatial villa be turned into a museum so the public could share his love of the arts. After his death in 1952 his wish came true and today the Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum is one of Beirut’s main cultural attractions, exhibiting local and international modern and contemporary art. Book ahead if you want to have lunch in the fantastic museum restaurant, Resto, which serves traditional mezze with a twist. If the weather’s fine, reserve a table outside on the tree-lined courtyard and make sure you try the halva-inspired chewy sahlab ice cream topped with tahini floss and crunchy pistachios. There’s also a great museum shop selling a tempting selection of art books, locally made crafts and jewellery. “Go for the art, stay for the food,” says Nour. sursock.museum
Sfeir- Semler Gallery is at the cutting edge of Lebanon’s contemporary art scene and stages thought-provoking conceptual and minimalist mixed-media exhibitions at its sprawling space in the industrial neighbourhood of Karantina. Its founder, Andrée Sfeir- Semler, was born in Beirut and runs a sister space in Hamburg, Germany. “A standout exhibition for me was Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué’s A Leap Year, which was staged at the gallery last year,” says Nour. “Kaph Books published the related book, Diary of a Leap Year. It’s our best-selling title so far.” sfeir-semler.com
one of a kind
“Marfa is a small independent art space which opened just two years ago in the busy port district. They represent up-andcoming young artists from the region, all very conceptual and contemporary. The gallery really is a one of a kind in Beirut.” marfaprojects.com
Home And Away
Maison Tarazi is run by a family of master craftsmen specialising in woodwork, copper, mother-of-pearl and glass who have been creating exquisite handmade furniture for the Middle East’s A-list since 1862. Their showroom is a real Aladdin’s cave of lovingly made pieces influenced by Syrian, Lebanese, Ottoman, Moroccan and Indian styles. “This is artisan carpentry at its best,” says Nour. maisontarazi.com
“My favourite place for an authentic Lebanese breakfast is Al Soussi in Mar Elias. Try the traditional foul (fava beans with lemon, crushed garlic and cumin) and the scrambled eggs with qawarma (aromatic fried chopped lamb).”
Located in the hip Achrafieh neighbourhood and occupying the second floor of a former 19th-century palace, Liza Beirut is the stylish hangout of Beirut’s bright and beautiful, so dress to impress. The opulent interiors have a contemporary Middle Eastern flavour— think tropical wallpaper, geometric tiling, artsy hanging lanterns and ornate latticework. Eli recommends the Sunday brunch from noon to 4pm. Wash down delicious Lebanese treats with a glass of Château Kefraya Myst Rose from the Bekaa Valley. lizabeirut.com
“Restaurant Joseph serves one of the best shawarmas in Lebanon. It has layers of perfectly thin, delicious fresh bread filled with generous layers of juicy, tender meat served traditional style with lettuce and pickles. Everything is the best quality, which is why it tastes so good.” This charming no-frills restaurant can be found in the heart of Sin El Fil. Just follow your nose.
Another of Beirut’s buzziest hangouts is Meat the Fish in Saifi Village. Diners often spill out onto the pavement where they perch on wooden pallets sipping local craft beers. As to be expected from such a cool culinary institution, the produce is fresh, seasonal, sustainable and of tip-top quality. There’s also a mini market area selling seafood. “It’s without a doubt the best-quality fish in town,” says Eli. meatthefish.com
Baron in Mar Mikhael is a small restaurant with a big reputation. Chef Athanasios Kargatzidis sources ingredients from Beirut’s farmers markets, Tripoli’s fishing boats and the fields of the Bekaa Valley. Expect traditional recipes and local ingredients presented in an imaginative new way. “Athanasios is one of the most creative chefs in town,” says Eli, who has been a regular since Baron opened in 2016. Watch Athanasios in action by securing the chef ’s table, which seats seven and overlooks the open kitchen. tastykitchens.com/baron
Cultural Callings From top: Nour Salamé at Papercup; Maison Tarazi; Sfeir-semler Gallery
a taste of beirut Clockwise from opposite page: Eli Rezkallah hanging out at his favourite coffee shop, Sip; Baron restaurant; an edition of Eli's Plastik magazine; halloumi, sesame and tomato salad at Liza Beirut