May 12, 2014 Gemmayze & Mar Mikhael Beirut Lebanon Middle East

Villa Clara's: French Inspiration in the Heart of Beirut

Phone Number: +961 70 995 739

Address: Mar Mikhael, Next to Spoiler Center, Beirut, Lebanon


Price Range: 90-125 $


Welcoming: 3/5

Food Temperature: 8/10

Ambiance / Music: 7/10

Menu Choice: 4/5

Food Taste: 26/30

Architecture / Interior: 8/10

Food presentation: 8/10

Service: 7/10

Value for money: 7/10

I can't explain the coincidences but Villa Clara took me so much time to be reviewed due to my extensive traveling and it’s taken a while to be published. I visited Villa Clara more than three weeks ago and had to travel afterwards, so I didn’t have the luxury of time to write very much. I didn't want it to be short or quick, because a place like Villa Clara deserves a detailed review. Returning from London, I remembered the night at Villa Clara.

Villa_Clara_Restaurant_Beirut06 An old house, dimmed lights, a few candles, a chandelier… The faint air flowing through a metallic sign made it squeak ... tree leaves rustled at the floor… Old souvenirs, memories from the past... Located in the Mar Mikael area of Ashrafieh, surrounded by restaurants and art galleries, the Villa Clara Boutique Hotel is five minutes’ drive from Martyrs' Square in Downtown Beirut. The Architect, Ramy Boutros, created the charming atmosphere of this old home from the 1920s, where you can find carefully chosen pieces such as couches from the French Senate, or a zinc bar dating back to the same period. Mrs. Marie-Helene Gougeon gathered old tiling from traditional Lebanese houses that were being destroyed to pave the beautiful flooring. You will discover two outdoor areas, one for your cool hangouts, and a separate one for children, which is a small grass area with slides and toys, especially designed without steps or levels

Managed and owned by Chef Olivier Gougeon and his lovely wife, you are welcomed into their home for a fine dining experience blending extensive French knowhow with Lebanese hospitality.


The place's little details:

  • Leave your car in the parking down the street and walk the few meters up to the hotel
  • Dimmed lights, chandeliers and candles welcome you into a cozy space and you’ll want to know what's hidden inside
  • A metallic door than a wooden one, small enough when opened wide but you’ll have to push the left side open to enter easily
  • Inside is one large space, rectangular, with its high ceiling and orangey colors. Salmon colors decorate the walls while white with decorative flowers is found on others
  • Over your head, metallic birds seem to look over you. A bit creepy I think!
  • Overall, an enjoyable dimmed lighting, while our table was well lit by individual spots from above
  • Villa Clara’s restaurant seats 25 people on several large tables scattered around the room, creating a spacious feel. All tables are covered with thick white table cloth and decorated with a candle, a flower pot, a pepper mill, a salt cellar and a metallic oil container
  • Ceramic plates painted with flowers blend well with the place's decoration and are protected by a fork and knife posed on the table napkin to the right side of the plate
  • A chimney occupies the right side of the restaurant
Some things you should know:
  • Villa Clara's restaurant is closed on Sunday night
  • The menu is changed every day depending on the arrivals and the chef's mood
  • Service is incomprehensibly slow; plates take too much time to come out of the kitchen and two waiters can't do it by themselves, so breathe and relax, you will be eating before sunrise
  • Most ingredients are organic and freshly prepared from the family's vegetable garden in the mountains where they also produce their artisanal ham and other products from the terroir
Today's menu:
  • 13 starters (Four salads, snails, Foie Gras, a seafood platter, carpaccio...)
  • 14 Plates (Beef filet, duck confit, beef tartare, chicken roast...)
Dinner started with a loaf of bread cut in thick slices and delivered in the middle of the table; fresh bread with a rich smell and a condensed texture. I liked it, it was coupled with olives and fresh thyme while we ordered and prepared ourselves for Villa Clara's renowned creations.
Let's indulge in a fine French cuisine:
  • The Scampi (Langoustines): pealed and served warm, the scampis are well cooked and full of taste, served with fresh, homemade smoked salmon on the side. Those were served along with homemade walnut bread with chestnuts and dried raisins. The Smoked salmon, on the other hand, is just perfect; Free of oil, soft and with a subtle flavor of smokiness; a salmon that has a mouthwatering color and taste. A simple dish reinvented to be unique showing the finesse behind Villa Clara's creations..
  • The Pan fried Foie Gras comes in two pieces and is served with a poached pear in red wine. The plate I ordered was simply excellent. Warm, with crunchy borders, every piece melts under your teeth like butter, erupting with a interesting, sweet aftertaste. Lovely textures and flavors combined into a redefined simplicity. I enjoyed it very much .
  • The octopus salad is a great way to start your dinner, my friend tells me. I personally didn't taste it but he enjoyed its textures, generous portion size and spicy aftertaste.
  • Boudin noir:A dark-hued blood sausage, containing pork, pig blood, and other ingredients. Variants of the boudin noir occur in French, Belgian, Cajun and Catalan cuisine. My first introduction to Boudin Noir was at Yannick Alleno's Terroir Parisien in June of 2012. Back then, I loved this creation that's surely not for the faint hearted. I loved the crunchiness of the sausage envelop and the richness of the content. Tonight's Boudin is a close replica, adding to that, caramelized fruits add the sweetness needed to neutralize the feeling of inner filling's blood. The fruit texture is a bit annoying and too sticky, but as an overall experience this plate was good for me. .
  • We also ordered the veal and the grouper fish, which were as good as they should be. Fresh, juicy and tasty.
Villa_Clara_Restaurant_Beirut67 With the main plates, we were offered a gratin. A casserole approached our table and each one was served with a tiny portion of gratin already seen on other tables. I didn't find that too appealing to say the least. For a table of 6, I think the casserole should have been dedicated to us, positioned in the middle of the table, especially since the potatoes mentioned on the menu were not sent.
 A meal is not complete without trying a chef's desserts:
  •  Hot baba cake with rum and whipped cream: That was the first time I taste a hot baba au rum. Served in a round plate, a portion of cake is floating in rum and accompanied with whipped cream on the side. I personally didn't like it at all. Heating the rum is a guarantee for a stomach acid burn while the cream melts unpleasantly. Not a successful innovation in my opinion
  • The dark chocolate mousse is rich and enjoyable. That's something innovative and mouthwatering. A rich texture and a strong dark chocolate felt in every bite.
  • What made a superb last impression, making us forget about the small imperfections during dinner, was the giant mountain of meringue. Meringue is not the easiest of things to prepare sometimes gives off a bad, repulsive smell only professionals know how to master. This meringue was extremely tasty, beautifully presented and worth coming back for. Light crunchiness and subtle creaminess where every bite takes you on a journey around the world .
The things I enjoyed:
  • The food was good specially the langoustine, the Foie Gras and the walnut bread
  • The meringue dessert is to die for
  • I liked how the tartare was prepared live by the chef himself
What I'll improve:
  • I'm not a fan of the "changing the menu everyday" concept: when customers love something, they'll come for it again and again.
  • The menu contains four salads, but they weren’t grouped together and many meat items separated by fish dishes. It's not a menu easy to browse.
  • I respect using the French language in a French restaurant but would think that half the Lebanese population doesn't read this language. A translation on the menu is a must.
  • A place like that should have a thick, well presented menu, not a piece of paper decorated with oil spots.
  • The attitude: can we be more welcoming, joyful and simpler around here. There's heaviness in the air that's better given an escape route.
  • I think it might be slightly overpriced for what it is.
I'm going to be honest, hoping not to be misunderstood. I came here expecting to discover one of the finest restaurants in town, one of the remaining few that serve some really good French cuisine. I believe that Villa Clara's food can be better; I enjoyed my experience but was not amazed. Something is just missing; something could move those plates from good to excellent. The knowhow is there, the will is there... but something's missing.
For the price paid... The welcoming could be warmer, the service could be better, the portions should be bigger, the menu could be clearer, the plates and the offerings could be more generous... I believe that Villa Clara can be rated the best on all levels with only an open mind to improvement. I encourage you to try it out and I'll personally be coming for more soon... and maybe visiting their rooms and farm up the mountains.





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