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    Visiting chef Ahmed Ammouri from Lebanon brings the country’s cuisine to The Raintree St Mary’s

    Chef Ahmed Ammouri sure knows how to hit the ground running. Cheerful and charming, the Lebanese chef showed no signs he’d only arrived the previous night and that he’d spent his first day in town preparing quite the feast. In Chennai to present Mezze Merise at The Raintree St Mary’s Road, Ammouri plans to showcase the cuisine of his country at dinner buffets from October 2-18. “I am not serving you ‘restaurant food’ but home food,” he explains, joking that he’s been told to bring along Lebanese spices or not come at all. Having worked in India for eight years in the past (at Souk in Mumbai and the Taj in Bengaluru), Ammouri is no stranger to the Indian palate. He presents us a selection of the dishes he has planned for the buffet, tucking in to Indian food (he’s been craving chicken tikka since he left India) while tracking our progress with an eagle eye.

    9.1What to expect
    We start with mezze — “what we serve in any gathering.” Hummus, moutabel (roasted aubergine, tahina and garlic), rahab (a salad of roasted aubergine and walnuts) and tabbouleh (burghul and parsley salad with lemon juice and onions), all served with pita bread. As you may have noticed, the aubergine is somewhat ubiquitous. The food is tasty, fresh and light. Ammouri explains that there is not much by way of vegetarian dishes in Lebanese cuisine, and grills are a big part of the food culture. Several of the popular dishes of Lebanon pop up in other parts of Western Asia and Europe, but with interesting variations.

    9.2We are served a beef shawarma next (assemble it yourself version), a punchier, less greasy version than Indians may be used to and an intriguing, tangy aubergine moussaka that comes with chickpeas, and melts in the mouth. A samare harra (baked fish with coriander sauce) served cold is fine, but is overshadowed by the ludicrously delectable lamb chop — so soft, so juicy and bursting with flavour. Equally mouth watering: the baklava. Made with ghee and butter, with an aftertaste of rose water, it is not hyperbole to say you can’t eat just one.
    If you are a fellow-hater of basa, you will be pleased to know that executive chef Patell has sourced the fish locally for the buffet.
    At Colony, from Rs 1,450 plus tax. Details: 24304050

    Ranjitha Gunasekaran

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