BEIRUT: It all started when Rabih Salloum invited his Italian friend Filippo Gerundini Gherardi to Lebanon, where he introduced him to five local friends: Bashir Wardini, Georges Hermes, Yaacoub Hage, Karim Frangieh and Rayan Ismail.
Three of the six friends, Wardini, Hage, and Frangieh, already owned Butcher’s, which is a restaurant in Mar Mikhael that serves American-style Soul Food. But, they had been planning to open another restaurant as an extended version of Butcher’s, adding to it a Prosciutteria.
Wardini, in particular, is interested in knowing how food is made before serving it to people. So, he asked Gherardi to take him on a tour in Italy to do some research on the most important products of a Prosciutteria, including all types of meat and cheese.
Now the seven friends partnered and started MRQT in September of last year, turning the original Butcher’s into a place for deliveries only.
Located in an alleyway off the crowded avenues of Mar Mikhael, MRQT distinguishes itself as a quiet place with a relaxing ambiance. In the middle, a large tree stands supervising other little plants placed on every table. These plants include basil, mint, and peppermint.
Gherardi indicated the importance of these plants to the venue.
“We want people to experience the freshness of scents, along with the freshness of food. These herbs are essential to create a mixture between taste and smell,” he told Annahar.
The tables’ setup at MRQT is not fixed, but rather flexible, as it changes according to the ambiance and visitors.
On a slightly higher platform in the restaurant, there is a premium bar with drinks, like Nikka Whiskey and a long list of organic wines.
When it comes to food, MRQT is a combination of Butcher’s original Soul Food menu, which includes dishes like Southern fried chicken and waffles, smoked beef brisket, classic grilled cheese sandwich, hash browns, French fries, fried eggs, beans and slaw; and the Prosciutteria’s top selection of Italian cold cuts, such as salami and prosciutto, served with organic vegetables, seasonal fruits, homemade jams and dressings..
There is also a large selection of Italian cheeses.
From the Italian charcuterie, diners can get either mixed boards of cheese and meats or sandwiches, along with a smoked salmon sandwich.
We are talking about comfort food here, and everybody counts. So, vegetarians fear not, there is the Veggie Burger with truffle oil.
Lara Al Hachem, one of MRQT’s customers, enjoys MRQT’s “exquisite fries” and the “toothsome Merguez burger,” which is made up of seasoned Merguez with spices, caramelized onions, coleslaw, wild rocca, and a special Butcher’s sauce.
“It’s called MRQT to refer to a market: a single place where you can eat several types of food. The menu satisfies almost all tastes and preferences,” Gherardi said of the name of the restaurant.
The staff at MRQT includes food artisans from Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, and Yemen, and it is led by a head chef from Spain.
The staff uses biodynamic products that they buy from chosen farmers. Gherardi said that this is a “tastier and ethically better choice.”
They also make their own pasta and the place holds workshops to teach people how to do their own in a fun and easy way. MRQT also serves its own of the classic Italian focaccia bread.
“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Our key of success is the team; each person brings his added value to the business,” he told Annahar.
Market chef and partner Filippo Gerundini Gherardi giving a pasta making class. (Courtesy of MRQT.)
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