New Delhi: Tucked away in the heart of Delhi’s bustling Connaught Place is Zizo, a restaurant plating bite-sized Lebanon, just the way a local cafe in Beirut would. Here is where food lovers can get a taste of the simple yet hearty Mediterranean life, with an interesting Indian twist.
The grandeur of a Levant country mirrors in this 92-cover restaurant, right from the doorstep. The luminescent glass lamps, geometric-textured walls, and bright colours – all add up to an ever-lasting spring at this place.
As I was seated, I spotted Fouad Abdel Malak, the CEO of Zizo, welcoming guests with his hospitable smile, suggesting dishes, and sharing a hearty laugh. He is like any other Lebanese man, proud of his country’s hospitality. For a chat on cultures to politics in Lebanon – he could be your man.
To begin a heart-to-heart conversation, Malak said, there’s got to be some good food and drinks accompanying. Going by his words, soon the waiters, also dressed in traditional attire, rushed to get us some mulberry lemonade and a mezze platter.
The platter, as the menu says, was a “bite of simple life” – simple yet exciting. Presented on a wooden base, it had a good selection of pita bread, traditional hummus, mint and tahini to nibble your way to the main course. The falafel was crisp and crunchy and not too oily and the freshness of mint came through very well. The tahini sauce coated your palate, taking you away to faraway lands.
The hummus was smooth and creamy with just the right touch of lime. It is usually quite difficult to get the hummus right but the chef scored a 10 on 10 for this. The very rich blend of yoghurt, extra virgin olive oil and the spiced za’atar (a Mediterranean spice close to thyme) mix was the best spread on the warm pita bread. If you want a richer experience, ask for some of the pickled vegetables fresh out of the jars that are on display.
Hummus gets a contemporary Indian twist here, with a chilli variant too!
After a refreshing sip of the mulberry lemonade (mulberry juice with a dash of lime), my host, who had been an advertising professional for many years in many countries, started speaking about the restaurant.
“It was over a conversation with a few businessmen on a flight that I decided I was going to open a Lebanese restaurant in India. And here I am in Delhi with a piece of Lebanon,” Malak said.
It was a piece of Lebanon, indeed, with a majority of ingredients and spices sourced from the homeland itself. The fattoush salad stood as an example of that. Pita crisps were pepped up with sliced cucumber and cherry tomatoes topped with the native Lebanese sumac (a powdered reddish purple fruit used as a spice) and dressed with pomegranate molasses!
Like all those who visit Zizo I had an obvious common question to ask the host, ‘what is Zizo?’.”Traditionally, Zizo (a pet beetle in Lebanese) means a lot to every Lebanese child and it always makes us crave to go back to those days when food was organic yet flavourful,” Malak said, explaining the name.
Next up on the table was Man’oushe, the closest cousin of a Moorish flat bread. There cannot be anything better than this thin crust pizza, with just simple spice rubs. Be it the simple rub of za’atar spice and olive oil, or chicken and chilli paste, Man’oushe fresh out of the oven is the perfect accompaniment for conversations with friends or family.
Znoud el Sett, literally translated to the “Lady’s arm”, was exactly what I was hoping to finish with. A custard-filled deep-fried crispy pastry and then dipped in syrup, this classic dessert was a whole bite through the crisp exterior to the creamy custard center.
Zizo is a Mediterranean discovery to all those wishing to relax in an informal atmosphere and taste simple food yet with an interesting twist.