“Our offering is different […] this is an offering that is not available in Lebanon.”
Between uptight restaurants and dressed to the nines eateries, Meat the Fish is Saifi Village’s latest addition. With its quirky and subtle name, this lunch spot and specialty market, aptly named Meat the Fish, is a refreshing change to the typical eateries of Downtown Beirut.
On a sunny afternoon, I decide to go to Meat the Fish and check out the reason behind its uproar, having heard friends and family incessantly talk about it. Operation manager Lara Kassem, whose brother owns the shop, takes me back to the very beginning of the Meat the Fish journey. They initially started out as a delivery service almost three years ago. At the time, there was no physical shop where customers would come and eat. Lara’s brother decided to launch a pop up shop for five during Christmas last year in December 2014, upon his friends’ request. The pop up store was actually situated where the current one is now, and its success was massive. People today still talk about those insane five days during the festive seasons, which took the word “festive” to a whole new level. The salmon, oyster, shellfish, tuna, mussels and eel crates were wiped out before the day even came to an end. Having so evidently witnessed the potential of such a unique concept within a city populated with foodies who love to experiment new things, the owner decided to open a permanent shop in 2015.
Meat the Fish fills a gap in Beirut in the sense that there is a palpable deficiency of good quality fresh meat, whether to eat on the go or to buy for one’s own cooking pleasure. It also offers a home delivery service for food lovers and home cooks. Crates of fresh oysters, mussels, salmon and tuna, purchased directly from suppliers that typically cater to restaurants, are available for the public to buy. Meat the Fish is actually the sister of one of the most renowned catering companies in Lebanon called Royal Gourmet, based not so far away from the capital in an area called Choueifat. Royal Gourmet supplies food for Beirut’s leading hotels and restaurants. Amongst the restaurants the company cater to, Cocteau and Burgundy, the first two on Beirut’s hit list for foodies. Lara explains that the products of Meat the Fish all derive from that high-end catering company, as they place their orders from there. “Our offering is different. We have a shop not a restaurant. Meat the Fish is a shop with an eatery but the core business is a shop. This is an offering that is not available in Lebanon, combining shopping plus eatery”, states Lara, emphasizing on a core asset that distinguishes this innovative eatery from the ones in Saifi.
The structure of the Meat the Fish company is more complex than it might seem. Do not be fooled by the small shop size in Saifi. Lara explains how Meat the Fish is an autonomous brand in the sense that they smoke their own products for instance and slice the fish. “Nothing comes here as it is”, emphasizes the operation manager. There are over forty factory employees between Royal Gourmet and Meat the Fish who handle product treatment. As for the cozy eatery in Saifi, it actually employs itself from eight to twelve workers.
Lara owes her shop’s success and maintenance of high standards to key work ethics such as “consistency, freshness, and thriving to always outperform always challenge ourselves. Also we care a lot about our sourcing”, explains Lara, in a monotonous and serious tone. With freshness at the top of the agenda, sourcing is very important for the Meat the Fish managers. All items in the market are imported – with flights coming in three to four times per week – including the beef and lamb, both from Australia, the veal from Holland, and the fish, depending on the type, from Japan and the English and French Channels.
Meat the Fish shines within the Lebanese gastronomic sphere as it puts quality and performance above all. Lara confesses that she is a perfectionist, and always strives for the best. Contrary to Lebanese supermarkets that have been reluctant to invest heavily in importing meat and fish, fearing financial loss, Meat the Fish provides these products directly to those who long for them, and thus fills this particular gap in the market.
Meat the Fish is also characterized by its lively fish market vibes. The shop is decorated with crates filled with fresh and mouthwatering seafood, the wall is white and simple, and at the center is a hand painted fish that complements the rest of the interior. With its simplistic yet expressive design aesthetic, the eatery is bursting with freshness and liveliness. The setup encourages interaction and synergy between strangers. People can lunch together at a communal table – a bowl of lemons and cutting board with condiments placed at the middle for all to share – or a bench outside for foodies to enjoy when it’s warm. At the back, there is a bar where they can see chefs preparing the meal, providing an authentic feel to this gastronomic experience. Clients are reassured of the prime quality of the meal they are about to savor, as they witness how it is cooked. Meat the Fish is truly a genuine experience that stimulates all the customers’ senses.
The menu, which changes every day, is all sourced from fine imported products, and stands out for its blend of fresh and subtle flavors. Each item on their menu has been carefully selected to both satisfy your appetite and stimulate your palette while providing you with a healthy and balanced diet. Meat the Fish offers its clients an exceptional stack of signature products: from their own line of smoked fish, shellfish, fresh seafood, to premium beef, to prime cut veal and lamb.
When I went that day to Meat the Fish on a covert visit, the special of the day was a lobster salad, served with a freshly sliced avocado and sesame. Lara recommends the kale Ceasar salad with salmon as a dish, and as a product either the beetroot infused sashimi salmon or the organic salmon sashimi. Thankfully I came on an empty stomach. I order everything she recommends, as well as panko-crusted Scottish salmon with avocado on brown bread, and the market salad, with its seasonal greens and tangy mustard champagne vinaigrette. It was a simple side that went marvelously with my crate choice of salmon. Merely stating that I was satisfied with my late lunch would not be doing justice to the exquisite feast I had devoured.
Patrons have the choice of ordering from the kitchen or selecting shellfish and fish directly from the crates. This is one of the many assets of Meat the Fish. The clientele is not passive and inertly orders and waits for its food. On the contrary, customers participate actively in the physical process of mix and matching lunch combinations and witnessing its preparation on the spot.
Meat the Fish also attracts quite a number of tourists. Just during those two hours I spent at the eatery, a group of Spaniards and two Northern English men came into the shop. The clientele is not age centric, and is more about specialization. “In terms of age you would be surprised as we cater to all age groups”, explains Lara. In terms of demographics, Meat the Fish taps into a specific surface of the market that has a certain purchasing power to eat there. The market’s products are premium, and therefore it does not cater the mass. Lara straightforwardly states: “Our menu is not exactly the cheapest. This is not fast food. We attract foodies mainly”. However, the menu does comprise more affordable options.
It is almost 6pm, just one hour before the market closes, and people are still coming in. Meat the Fish partly owes his success to social media, and specifically Instagram, as well as word of mouth. The eatery does not participate in any advertising of such whatsoever, which is why only genuine foodies know about this hidden gem. “For now word of mouth hasn’t reached touristic places”, states Lara in relief. Tourists usually pop by the shop after being advised by friends or family who have persistently praised the eatery, just like my case. “We are not into tourism ads and commercials.” The eatery’s mindset of secrecy preserves its locality and authenticity.
The Meat the Fish family vows to protect its little gem, refusing to over-expose it to all the public I ask Lara before leaving whether they have considered resizing the shop, as it is quite concentrated and dense. She firmly replies: “Resizing no, as the concept would change. Our core concept is crates and a fish market sort of it. We want people to experience to food and experience the different types of fish before buying it. We do not want to be a restaurant.”
Conveniently located in Downtown Beirut, Meat the Fish benefits from the lively pedestrian streets. Cars are banished, an arrangement that provides an island of breathing space in a sea of noise and danger. The rest of the city is a pedestrian nightmare. So if you are looking for an escape from the city within the city itself, or for a light lunch spot or even early dinner during the working week, Meat the Fish’s menu will suit you. Meat The Fish is above all a fish and meat market, and secondly a restaurant, which is what distinguishes it from other eateries within the area. If you are in the mood for dense interactions, compressed crowds, and pleasant brouhahas, come on a Saturday. The Meat the Fish family call that day the “crazy day”, clearly because it is the busiest. Otherwise, visit the market during the week. Careful: Hit the market as early as possible, before the crates get emptied. It’s world hunger when it comes to the Meat the Fish delicacies.