Have you tried our Zaatar Man’oushé? Or the fataoush salad? Now these are words I, a fan of the eastern Med cuisines, am more used to hearing in the streets of Cairo, Istanbul or Amman. Except for this was in the middle of Connaught Place in Delhi, where I was being ploughed with these and other Lebanese delicacies at Zizo.
Zizo who? Well, Zizo is a Lebanese cuisine restaurant that plans to be a global chain serving the cuisine in a fast casual restaurants. Malak positions Zizo as ‘fast casual’. He is applying the US standard, by which a meal could be done in half an hour, but will still be one where the customer sits, interacts and gets and an experience.
They are starting from here, well, as the financiers are Indian, but also as the CEO Fouad Abdel Malak, explains, research says India is a ripe market for good quality Lebanese cuisine. “I realised that food from the ‘middle east’ is badly represented,” he says. He points not just to the popularity of the cuisine globally, but also mezze’s rising position as a top favourite among discerning gourmands in global cuisine capitals.
Lebanese cuisine has been sporadically available, but the outlets have either been in fine dining or have not maintained quality. Zizo is more mid market, and stresses on fresh ingredients. While the cuisine is widely regarded to be quite healthy, Zizo goes a step further by using top level ingredients, organic produce and natural oils, promoting a healthy eating experience. The staples of the cuisine, such as falafels, hummus and pita are present, and indeed excellent. Try the traditional Hummus with tahini, or its variant, the Spicy hummus (a concession for India, it seems), Moutabal, also in traditional and spicy variants, chili and diced veggies and fataoush salad.
The Zaatar Man’oushé, a Lebanese breakfast pizza with local thyme based spice mix is a star. While the zaatar topping is popular, it is also available in other toppings, and you can even go half and half! Do try the Foul (yes, it is pronounced ful, and is made from fava beans, the source of the best quality falafels) Mudammas with chili dip.
People behind the show
Chef Maroun Chedid, who is presiding over the kitchen and has designed the menu, is a legend in his nation and a winner of the coveted culinary honour ‘Chef of the Year 2013’ by the Toques Blanches du Monde in Monaco. With his stress of fresh and quality ingredients, Zizo’s appeal is likely to rise. He says that while Zizo will account for local tastes, there will be no bastardisation of the cuisine.Much like the green beetle it is named after, Zizo seeks to bring simple, meticulously sourced and authentic Lebanese food to the world, in an innovative, creative and healthy way, explains Chedid.
Zizo is backed by global giants such as Gulf Petrochem and the Tiger Group. Within the next couple of months, the Delhi-NCR region will have three outlets running, and this is to be followed by expansion to Mumbai, followed by Bangalore. Global wish list destinations include Singapore, Dubai, the UK and the US. It is eyeing 40 outlets in five years, possibly taking on chains such as Just Falafel.
Malak, who has overseen the seed investment of Rs 12 crore, says the chain is targeting the 18-30 age group as his primary client base. The ideal retail outlet he is looking at is about 1,800 to 2000 square feet, though plans for smaller outlets for places such as universities are also being considered. The first outlet, in Delhi’s Connaught Place, has 90 covers in a variety of seating styles. Prices are positioned to be mid range, so a meal for two should cost around Rs 800. “We want to make profit and friends in equal measure,” he says.
There is a lot of attention to detail, from the way the signage has been done to the design of the interiors and cutlery. Malak is confident about creating a brand that can transcend cultures. Zizo is not about the cuisine alone, instead it goes on to showcase the country as well. There’s Arabic music a and films playing, even on the website. The store sells Lebanese products such as baklava and pickles to wine and olive oil from top Lebanese brands. There are also Lebanese cuisine books by Lebanese food writer Barbara Abdeni Massaad.
‘Eat with your heart,” my plate’s text reads. With such delectable fare on hand, that will be a pleasure indeed. Bring on the baklava.
Find more on Zizo at: http://zizo.in
Outlet address: K 18,22 Connaught Place, New Delhi 110001