Since opening its riverside location in 2008, Lebanese restaurant Hummus House has developed a loyal base, but chickpea devotees who rarely venture north need now only head to Basaac Lane for a taste of Beirut.
Though it shares a name with the original - to distinguish it, founder Mohamad “Mike” Abbouchi affectionately dubs it “Mini Hummus House” in conversation - the restaurant’s new branch has a more understated setup, save for the flashing fairy lights at the entrance. The decor is minimal, with the Arabic-style lights on the wall the only link to its Middle Eastern origins. Mike describes the vibe as “grab and go”, but that does somewhat of a disservice to the quality of food on offer and the welcoming staff. It also contradicts his own philosophy, which is that the good stuff is not served up in an instant.
“I always tell people, if you want good food, wait. Be patient,” the chef turned restaurateur says sternly, before cracking a smile and slapping a ball of dough onto a counter.
Fittingly, then, all Hummus House dishes are made on-site and on request, although the all-important chickpeas are blended into hummus and falafel balls using a heavy-duty machine at the riverside location. The wraps are baked on a cart in the doorway, at which chefs take turns to methodically pound dough and shape it over a domed hotplate, called a sag, to create the thin, round, ever-so-slightly crisp bread of the same name.
The menu will delight vegetarians and vegans. While Morn Chanravy, manager of the new branch, says he and his fellow Cambodians prefer the shawarma wraps, Mike clearly takes pride in the meat-free majority of the dishes. He also talks excitedly about the addition of cheese-stuffed falafels: “A world first … from what I could find on the internet.”
Post Weekend tried the classic falafel wrap ($3.50), a simple, hearty combination of salad, sauce, hummus, and the eponymous deep fried balls. Venturing outside of the menu’s staple wraps brings rewards - the sujuk sausage ($4) is garlicky and succulent, the potatoes of the Batata Harra flavourful, while as sides, a tart tabbouleh ($4) and bowl of Hummus Beiruti ($4.50) dolloped on sag were both excellent.
“At the original Hummus House, the menu is very traditional, like you would find in Beirut. Here, I want to be more experimental, like in the villages of Lebanon,” Mike says. Depending on how the feta and mozzarella-stuffed versions go down, he may try more falafel variations, including - purists look away now - meat-stuffed.
Mike, who has always worked as a chef cooking Middle Eastern dishes, lived in northern Lebanon until his family moved to Beirut. Not long after, in 2008, friends encouraged him to move to Cambodia. It felt like a relief, he says, to stop working in someone else’s kitchen and curate his own menu.
“When I first arrived, there were only a few [non-Khmer] cuisines you could get - French, Indian, Asian. Since then, it has changed so much and there are lots more places doing better food. That has been good for us, I think,” he says. Indeed, business for him is so good that he is also planning to open a branch in Sihanoukville.
The new Hummus House opened last Friday without fanfare, as Mike wants to continue training his new chefs and servers before holding an official launch. But with a location so convenient, it will undoubtedly quickly draw in the revellers on Bassac Lane. To find it, just follow the fairy lights.
Hummus House is on Bassac Lane, off Street 308. Open Wednesday-Monday, 3pm-11pm or later on busy nights.