More Tex-Mex than authentic Mexican, this Lebanese fusion restaurant in Achrafieh still manages to charm.
With a Lebanese population in Mexico of around 400,000, it’s perhaps not such an incongruous fusion. And there’s possibly no lovelier building in Achrafieh than that which houses Frida; a gracious period palace that heaps jasmine onto the pavements and casts golden light from its ranks of arched windows and balconies. The choice to pay homage to Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo has paid off – the austerity of the South American casa blends beautifully with the traditional colourful Lebanese tiled floor.
What most people consider Mexican cuisine is already some form of fusion adapted to North American tastes, and Frida makes no attempt to return to Mexico’s authentic roots; the waiter informed us with a straight face that ‘cheddar cheese is Mexican’; presumably the same goes for sour cream. But the menu is no Tex-Mex fat-smeared carb-fest; our welcome basket of wafer-thin markouk bread and crisp homemade tortilla chips was heady with zaatar, sumac and toasted raisins, along with a dish of spicy olives and the dreaded cheddar cheese (which seems to have been elevated to the status of gourmet ingredient). But a glorious salad of avocado, pine nuts, pomegranate and lemon juice followed, excellent hummus, and crispy cups of kibbeh with a rich cherry sauce filling. The ‘Frida’ house specials of eggs and potatoes with – yes – cheddar and sour cream were far less exciting than the other Lebanese dishes, but the menu also listed markouk with guacamole and other more promising variations.
We ended with three perfect pots of creamy rice with chocolate fondant, and ashta with figs or pistachios, and lingered over our arguileh. We didn’t feel particularly inspired to go and paint or learn Spanish, but Frida has undoubted charm – even if its namesake probably wouldn’t have recognised the menu.