Habibi (Byblos), a Lebanese Delight in the Hills Outside Zagreb

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February 11, 2019 – International cuisine restaurants are in relatively short supply in Croatia – meet a Lebanese treasure tucked away in the hills outside Zagreb: Habibi (Byblos).

I love the randomness and unpredictability of life in Croatia, where things pop up where you would least expect it. 

A few years ago, for example, I was driving my family from Split to the airport to catch the seaplane back to Jelsa when I noticed the most extraordinary thing by the side of the road in an industrial part fo Kastela – a Korean restaurant!  Having been starved of Asian food living on a Dalmatian island, I was beyond excited. But why in the middle of Kastela? I never got to eat there, as the restaurant never seemed to be open. One friend called and heard the sound of a busy restaurant and asked if he could come over, only to be told that they had no food. Quite a speciality for a restaurant, and we began to suspect that it was perhaps a North Korean restaurant. The reality, I learned, was that an enterprising South Korean had opened the restaurant to cater almost exclusively to the growing number of Korean tourists visiting Croatia. The restaurant is no more. 

And so to last week. I have never bought anything second-hand online in Croatia before, but the need for an older kitchen table for our holiday home rental had me and my wife driving to some obscure address just west of Zagreb, trying to find a garage to pick up the table we had bought on Njuskalo. Our initial pleasure at finding the address was somewhat clouded by the news that the husband had taken the key to work and would not be back until 2 hours later. 


It was a dreary day and pretty cold. We had noticed a cafe on the way up which looked pretty uninviting, and decided to head up the hill to see if there was anything more appealing. 

And there it was! Habibi, a Middle Eastern restaurant which looked VERY invited indeed, just 300m from our locked garage. We looked at each other and parked up. 

And so began one of the most pleasant culinary experiences I have had in recent years. 

It was about 16:45, hardly prime dining time, and the people inside were very friendly but I got the impression they were not open. We were ushered to a table with the explanation that there were in the middle of reorganising the restaurant (it will be changing its name from Habibi to Byblos in the coming weeks). 

“But in the Middle East, we are always welcoming to visitors. Come in and eat.”

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I was a little disarmed by the warmth and attentiveness of both the waitress and the owner, after years of Croatia’s legendary service. There was something heartfelt and genuine that one rarely sees in Croatian restaurants. 

“You can order that if you like, but I really think it will be too much for you. My recommendation is the same, but this and this.” A restaurant advising diners not to overspend. Refreshing indeed. We opted for the mixed mezza for two and the mixed grill. 

“A little salad on the house to get you started.” In a pomegranate sauce. Fabulous. 

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And so to the mezza, which was absolutely sensational. Homemade hummus, baba ghanouj (chickpea puree with sesame paste), labneh (strained yoghurt served with olive oil, dried mint and garlic), fattoush (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, mint, onion, radish, sumac and toasted Lebanese bread with a lemon and olive oil dressing), mouhamara (spicy mediterranean paprika puree with olive oil) and lamb shawarma in hummus. I was already full, but the food was truly outstanding. 

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And so to the main mixed grill, really delicious charcoaled lamb and chicken, and minced lamb. But what on earth was a Lebanese guy doing opening a restaurant in such a remote place in Croatia?

“I am a Croat who was born in Lebanon, and my home is here,” came the reply. His wife is Lebanese and they thought they would try and open the restaurant. Open just over a year, it seems from the reviews that I checked later that I was not alone – those who have discovered Habibi (soon to be renamed Byblos) have been more than impressed. And the majority of other people have found the restaurant not through kitchen table purchases on Njuskalo, but through more regular channels. Just a 20-minute drive from downtown Zagreb, it is a very pleasant spot in the hills. 

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A spicy pepper went down the wrong way and my wife asked for some water. She got that, as well as a glass of milk and ‘the tastiest natural lemonade in Croatia.’ And it was. Neither drink appeared on the bill. 

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There was no room for dessert for us two. Next time – they look delicious. You can check out the whole menu on the Habibi Facebook page.  

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Others arrived, and so the restaurant is still working despite being in the middle of its upgrade, including a name change from Habibi to Byblos, to avoid confusion with a store in Zagreb. It seems that Saturday nights is a great time to visit if you want the complete Middle Eastern experience, including live music and belly dancing. 

A really wonderful experience, with the bill for two including a couple of beers coming to 392 kuna, worth every lipa. We said our goodbyes and promised to return and were just commenting on what a wonderful meal we had had when the owner came running after us, explaining that our tip had been too large. We reassured him with a smile that it reflected no less than the experience we had been exposed to. A really pleasant hospitality experience where one least expected it. And soon, the missing garage key appeared and we drove home triumphantly with our new old kitchen table. 

To learn more about Habibi (soon to be Byblos), check out their Facebook page.  

Orešje ulica 13, Zagreb
Tel 097 748 7792


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