Taoufik Hammami’s unusual Lebanse/Morrocan restaurant on the banks of the Lee brought something new to Cork city when it opened in 2013, and quickly earned a following for its atmosphere and Mediterranean fare.
Expectations rise as you pass through the Shisa Lounge, which doubles as reception and waiting area, complete with traditional pipes and a display of herbs and aromatic spices that are used in the cooking.
Many ethnic restaurants in Ireland concentrate on the takeaway but here (while takeaway is available too) the comfortable and smartly atmospheric restaurant takes pride of place. Reception is very friendly and helpful, with plenty of explanatory information for customers and Taoufik himself will join guests when he has time to leave the kitchen. Although there is no bar, there is plenty of comfortable seating in the lounge and drinks special to the region are offered.
Menus arrive promptly to the table and, as all dishes are freshly prepared, some delay is to be expected. They do not serve alcohol, but it’s not a problem if you have to wait as there will be something interesting to pass the time. You might begin with a big pot of sweet Lebanese tea, for example - and, at the end, the traditional hospitality continues with a Turkish or Lebanese coffee and, maybe some baklava.
Vegetarian dishes are prominent here but meat is not neglected - there are excellent lamb, chicken and beef dishes dishes, although no pork or fish. The choice is enormous - Kaftas, Shish, Kofta, Kebab, Cous Cous, Shawarma, Salads, Baba Ghanoush, and Falafel all feature - and the key flavours of the region are gently aromatic. “Think of our spices as flavours,’ says Taoufik. “They are not very hot, we do not use chilli, for example.”
A Mezze choice for two makes a great introduction to the food here. Number Two is recommended, this varied and very tasty vegetarian selection includes Falafel, Hummus, Moutabal, Warak Inab (Vine Leaves), Fatoush Salad, Potato Hara and much more.
There are both Lebanese and house specialities - the popular Lamb Shish, for example, is a delicious dish of grilled lamb cubes marinated in lemon juice and mixed spices, served with mixed salad, parsley, onions, tahini sauce on top and traditional Lebanese bread.
And , if you don’t feel like dessert, you can take some of that Baklava or Turkish delight away with you to enjoy later.
The Sultan also offers takeaway and they are to be seen at food festivals - and, for anyone interested to find out more about Lebanese cooking, The Sultan runs cookery courses every Sunday.