I love short trips away as if you make the most of it (which we certainly did), it feels like a whole week’s break.
Last time I visited the Massaya winery in Tanai on Mount Lebanon 3 years ago it was mid-summer and Sami and Ramzi Gosn had all of the foundations laid and some of the build completed of their new winery in Faqra, about an hour and a half down the mountains towards Beirut. My most recent visit, a couple weeks ago, was rather different: the new winery with two restaurants was finished, and the mountains were full of snow. So much so in fact, that the morning after I cooked a HIX dinner for everyone, Sami had to shunt us down to the coast to escape a worsening blizzard.
Our party consisted of Catherine Cheek from Christopher Piper Wines down in Devon, Jeremy Hunt of Thorman Hunt, and chef and food writer, Clodagh McKenna. Ramzi and Sami put on a British night in the winery restaurant for friends and family, and we all mucked in to prepare the dinner. We cooked up a storm with some local ingredients incorporated into the HIX menu (see below), watched over by Ramzi who plays the role of chef de cave et cuisine as well as overseeing the winery.
Post evacuation from the hotel in the mountains, we did a little tour of the coastline. Sami stopped in a small fishing hamlet called Okaibe, south of Biblos, at a fishmonger’s shop who sell these unusual scallops called safad, that look like a cross between abalone and an oyster. On closer inspection of the empty shells piled up on the marble slab, they had all been cleaned and the meat put into small plastic tubs which we then bought and ate with sea salt and lime juice as a little late-morning snack. We then realised that the fishmongers had a little restaurant attached where you could select your menu from the marble slab and eat it next door. This was music to our ears and a perfect last lunch before we departed.
Sami sent out for a bottle of his Massaya Arak which we drank on ice to wash down the delicious mezze starters and local fish selection. The Lebanese tabouleh they served us as a starter was, I think, the best I’ve eaten. It had no bulgar or couscous in it, which Sami told us was typically used to bulk it out in poorer countries. This pure version was a true Lebanese salad.
For dinner we went to Sami’s good friend Walid Ataya’s bar and restaurant. Walid always cooks up a kind of Italian-Lebanese fusion that is inspiring and delicious, and his cellar is a gem with really interesting Italian wines from small producers. Walid took rather a liking to the HIX Fix cherries the night before and would keep disappearing from the dinner table to charge his glass with 5 or 6 cherries at a time! I think I’m going to get him a bucket shipped over for personal consumption.
Whipped beetroots with walnuts, labneh and za’tar
Massaya Blanc 2015
Mark’s apple and oak smoked salmon with Clodagh bread
Massaya Rosé 2015
Small fig birds in pomegranate molasses
Massaya “Le Colombier” 2014
Beef fillet and sirloin roasted over Massaya twigs with Yorkshire puddings
Terrasses de Baalbeck 2012
Bread and butter pudding
Massaya Cap Est 2013