There is a story in the Hagakure, a Japanese poem, that comes to my mind as I recall my afternoon in the Jasmine Room, a newly opened oriental restaurant along the Beirut-Junieh corridor. It is this:
Among the maxims hanging upon the Emperor’s wall, there was this one: ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.’ Upon seeing it, a wise man shook his head. ‘Matters of small concern should be treated seriously,’ he said.
Attention to detail – to the little things – is a core of both Japanese and Chinese philosophy. Though its menu spans the East coast of Asia, from Thailand to Korea, the Jasmine Room manages to remain true to this core principle. It is in subtlety, and in a supreme attention to detail, that the restaurant excels.
Unlike most Chinese restaurants, the Jasmine Room avoids a clutter of kitschy or stereotyped props. Here you will find none of the painted folding walls, parasols, or round-bellied Buddahs emblematic of budget oriental dining. Instead, the Jasmine Room opts for an elegant minimalism, displaying at the same time a degree of subtle and intricate detail. Though simple in presentation, all aspects of the interior décor evidence careful planning and selection, from the textured crepe-wallpaper to the rich wooden paneling of the ceiling, from the varying lights to the faint scent of jasmine as one enters the washroom.
The space is broken up by a slight variation of levels which – much like the shifting terrain of a Japanese garden – manage to convey a sense of multiple spaces contained within four walls, without having to fall back on visible barriers. The overall effect conveys a sense of openness and intimacy all at once.
Besides providing a tranquil aesthetic, the Restaurant’s simple interior has another important quality, as explained by owner Mario Haddad.
“We wanted to create a space that did nothing to distract from the food,” he says. “At our restaurant, that is where the principle focus lies.”
This is certainly the case. Like its visual appearance, the cuisine served at the Jasmine room is simple yet subtle, with a clear emphasis on the quality of ingredients.
“Here in Lebanon, it’s difficult to get the right ingredients to make original asian cuisine,” says Haddad. “But we aren’t going to compromise. We have our ingredients delivered directly from China twice a week.”
Guests can select from a range of appetizers, from delicate spring rolls to succulent beef skewers, accompanied by a medley of sweet, sour and savory dips. Main courses span from Thai noodles to Northward through two hemispheres of Asian cuisine. Unlike many restaurants, which offer a few staples with interchangeable meats, the Jasmine Room has a relatively small menu. Each dish, however, is carefully prepared and seasoned to bring out the most in its respective ingredients.
The restaurant takes special pride in the novelty of its desserts, including jasmine flavored ice cream and caramelized bananas.
Anyone with an appetite for novelty, variety, or simply a taste of Asia that’s head and shoulders above the ordinary establishment should definitely give The Jasmine Room a try. Absolute gives it two thumbs up!