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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

From Lebanon to London: the global appeal of manoushe

Brothers Samer and Bassam Chamoun have found success opening a manoushe spot in London

The Lebanese Bakery serves up manoushe in a variety of ways. Courtesy The Lebanese Bakery
The Lebanese Bakery serves up manoushe in a variety of ways. Courtesy The Lebanese Bakery

Can the manoushe, the Lebanese staple that is ubiquitous in its home country, conquer London’s cut-throat food scene? Two brothers, Samer and Bassam Chamoun, are hoping it can, as they’ve just launched a restaurant that makes the flatbread the star of the show.

Squirrelled away behind the Theatre Royal, a stone’s throw from Covent Garden, The Lebanese Bakery is bringing a little piece of Beirut to the British capital. In recent years, London has become one of the hottest culinary destinations in the world, with food trucks and start-ups sprouting up right across the city.

There have always been Lebanese restaurants in London, but none that have based their whole offering on the humble manoushe. Enter the Chamoun brothers, who set up the first branch of the chain in 2016 in the Furn Al Hayek district of Beirut – the brothers’ hometown.

The decision to expand abroad, specifically to London, came about, the brothers say, because “we strongly believe that the brand will be even more successful outside Lebanon as our product is new and unique. Brits tend to embrace any new concept that is true and loyal to its origins and we offer an ethical experience beyond just the food experience.”

The menu in both establishments is the same, meaning that Londoners are being introduced to such delicacies as zaatar and sujuk. There is a wide range of meat and cheese-filled manaeesh on offer, all of which are baked in-house in an Arabic basalt rock oven, plus there are bite-sized mouajjanet bakes and kaak breads, as well as sweet manaeesh.

“We are excited to bring a taste of Lebanon to the United Kingdom, especially London, which has one of the world’s greatest, and growing, food scenes,” say the brothers. Neither has a long background in the food industry, with Samer working as an architect and Bassam in real estate, but they are both deeply committed to maintaining what they see as a national treasure and helping to expand its global reach.

“Manoushe is strongly rooted in our food heritage and tradition so we are thrilled to be able to offer Londoners Lebanese food that is both new and exciting, while remaining authentic to our roots.”

Globally, there seems to have been an awakening in interest in the manoushe in recent years – it’s the perfect street food to eat on the go after all, for cities where people are increasingly cash rich but time poor. A slew of establishments dedicated to serving it have set up across the United States, which has a significantly larger Lebanese community than that in the United Kingdom.

Manousheh NYC was opened by Ziyad Hermez in 2015 in Manhattan’s West Village, where he says he sells upwards of 200 flatbreads a day. ­According to an article in Fortune magazine, Hermez has received ­franchising inquiries from people in Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, Berlin and even Amsterdam. On the West Coast, restaurants and pop-ups at farmers’ markets have spread across cities such as San Francisco and Seattle.

Meanwhile, back in the British capital, how are Londoners taking to this latest food import? The bakery has only been open for a month, but it has already built up a brisk daytime trade, as curious office workers, guided perhaps by their noses picking up the delicious scent of the baking breads, pop in for lunch.

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Being situated slap bang in the middle of Theatreland and other similar attractions, there is a large flow of tourists through the area, and it has been discovered by Lebanese visitors to the city, who were missing their daily flatbread fix, according to staff at the restaurant. Initial reaction has been good – already they have a five-star reputation on TripAdvisor and are attracting local repeat customers.

Terrance, 33, who works at the nearby London School of Economics university, has been coming back on a regular basis since it opened. “I had eaten manoushe when I was on holiday in Beirut years ago, and I loved it but I had never been able to find it in London. It’s the perfect street food.”

First-time visitor Kate says: “it can be hard to get Middle-Eastern food for a quick lunch in central London, so it’s good to find somewhere you can just pop into.”

The Lebanese Bakery, Drury House, Russell Street, London. For more, visit thelebanesebakery.com