It is in the festive season of December 2023 that Richard Haddad and Charbel Abboud opened the doors of Yuruba, Lebanon’s first and only restaurant bar to serve Nikkei cuisine (Fusion of Japanese and Peruvian gastronomy) in an unparalleled immersive experience. The partners meticulously crafted every single detail at their standalone outlet in the posh Saifi neighborhood, setting the bar pretty high in both the cosmopolitan culinary industry of Lebanon and the ever-growing nightlife scene in Beirut.
Richard, who is a Dubai-born-and-raised film director and producer based in Qatar, summoned his global culinary exploration in Latin America and the Far East—and everything in between—and paired up with Charbel, an industry guru and operations expert in the food and beverage sector in Lebanon and the Middle East, to bring their vision to life. They both moved back to their Lebanese homeland to lead every step of their culinary chef d’oeuvre.
The chosen location for Yuruba was in the chic neighbourhood of Saifi, right next to the main square of the capital’s central district, which makes it easily accessible to first-comers. At the same time, the restaurant sits on a street where there is no surrounding traffic or neighbouring restaurants or bars, thus avoiding being washed out by the generic circulation of the “hip” areas in the city. Yuruba is not the kind of place you stumble upon while cruising in the city; it’s a place that you have to plan to visit to spend the evening—that is, if you can find a place to book—as it has been fully packed since day one.
The name Yuruba refers to Yoruba, an African tribe also named after its matriarch, the Goddess of Water in Africa. The tribe is highly known for its high craftsmanship, which is highly reflected in the restaurant bar’s interiors. Three Lebanese artists were each commissioned to do a part of the front-of-house decoration: one for the ceiling, one for the walls, and one for the bar. The five senses of the Yoruba clan can be seen all around, in the décor, on the menu, and everywhere else, with an earthy colour array of red clay, burgundy, mahogany, ochre, ebony, and brushed brass that is so well blended that it takes the customers on an immersive journey where, with the artistically distributed lighting and dim setting, each one imagines a story of their own with regards to how they see the place.
Heading to the menu, Yuruba’s carte was artistically curated with both exquisite Japanese and Peruvian cuisines, all with a back-to-the-roots approach that matches the place itself when it comes to how ingredients are selected and processed. The fun part is that there are no “platters” per se, as all the items on the menu are made to be shared. This way, each customer can get a taste of the wide selection of flavours that Yuruba’s kitchen offers. My personal favourite is the chicharone, which is fat belly skin slowly, cooked for eight hours and served with a succulent guacamole dip. The food selection is one that does not bloat you yet quenches your hunger, which was done on purpose because once the clock hit 11:00 PM, the lights went dimmer, and the music cranked louder as the place mutated into a dancy-groovy bar.
The entertainment manager at Yuruba Weekly selects artists from the local and regional scene to curate the tunes for each night. DJs like Romax, Mixologue, and other prominent artists in the Beirut music scene have already performed there, dropping rare Afro House, Organic House, and Nu Disco tracks that you can scarcely find in other places to put the cherry on top of the customers’ journey at Yuruba.
Hopping on to the bar with its crew of seasoned mixology professionals, you can only imagine the art put into each drink. Yuruba offers all the cocktails that come to mind and has a selection of 13 signature cocktails to fit all tastes, out of which I will name my four personal favourites:
- Yuruba Spritz (with rosemary-infused gin).
- Beat the Roots (with lemon zest and beetroot-infused vodka).
- Kalahari Sipper (with thyme infused martini).
- The Morning After (with coriander-infused tequila).
The bar’s laboratory is truly one of the best I have experienced, as some of their mixtures and infusions require up to 48 hours of preparation and curing.
I highly recommend visiting this place, as it is truly a unique culinary experience. Just make sure you book ahead of time!